Thekkady Trekking - Pugmark Trail, Nature Walk, Green Walk, and Bamboo Rafting - Review



Thekkady got a major face-lift in 2012 when a modernized information centre was opened at boating-landing-site. A state-of-the-art building with new ticket counters, information displays, and a modern eco-shop were opened at the time. A newly designed self-guided nature trail (pugmark trail), and an office complex were also inaugurated in October 2012. The forest department offers several trekking programs but pugmark trail is unique in that it is self-guided, although much shorter compared to their escorted treks. Most of the trekking programs start at different locations around the boat launching site although a few including the pugmark trail starts elsewhere.

It is not possible to get trekking tickets inside the park. For that, one has to visit the forest department office (aka Ecotourism Centre) located between Kumily and the park entrance - when coming from Kumily, the office is on the left at Ambadi Junction. The centre offers many trekking-only (half-day and full-day) and overnight camping+trekking programs (one-day and two-day in tents or cottages). Some treks also include a stretch of bamboo rafting in the Periyar River. Same-day tickets are not usually available for most programs - each program is conducted with groups of 2 to 12 tourists and two or more forest personnel go with each group - there are limited number of groups per program per day. Pugmark trail is the only exception as that trail is self-guided. When we went, same day Nature Walk & Green Walk (two of their half-day treks) tickets were sold out, but next-day tickets (7AM & 2:30PM - Rs 300pp with a Rs 1200 minimum for a half-day trek) were available. Also, got Pugmark Trail (self-guided) tickets for same day at Rs 100pp. Border Walk (full-day trek) tickets were sold out for the next two days while Bamboo Rafting (full-day and half-day) were available. They are in the process of setting up online booking and we noticed some had managed to get the tickets in advance that way - when we tried, the interface appeared very cumbersome and so decided to try our luck at the site.


Pugmark Trail: 

Pugmark trail is a nice ~3KM stroll. The starting point is in front of the “Office of the Deputy Director, Periyar Foundation” building. To get there, when coming from Kumili, take the first left after park entrance and drive up to the building - there is a direction marker indicating the building location but it does not say anything about the trail. Once you get there, there is a sign-in sheet as well as a waiver sheet that needs to be filled up. Parking is outside the gate. Pugmark Trail is not a loop and so you basically walk back the same way once you reach the end of the route - there is a marker identifying the End but it is also obvious as the trail ends on the road that runs through the park - saw black monkeys, mountain squirrels, and a bunch of birds - also several endemic trees on either side of the trail are marked.

Nature Walk:

Nature Walk start-point is near the boat launching site. For all treks, they check whether your park entrance tickets are valid for the day. If not, you will need to get it renewed - thankfully, renewals can be done at the Forest Department counter in the boat-launch area at the ticket centre. A guide goes with you for the 3-hour trek and each group is limited to a guest-size of four. We hiked in our own group along with the guide. The start of the trek involves crossing a small marshy area - the place was overflowing with bi-colored frogs (a small endemic species - they go down to the water during the night and go back to the forest as daylight falls - some get stamped and/or gets eaten by boars and such) . As the trek progressed, we were lucky to see wild boar, goar, rat snake (right on the hiking trail), plenty of birds, elephant herd (other side of the river bank), etc. The guide was very experienced and guided us through a different route in order to avoid us getting caught on the path of the elephant herd. They are quite flexible and adjust to your needs - with another group, they stuck to the preset trail, as the group did not mind the risk of potentially having to wait indefinitely until the coast is clear.

Green Walk: 
 

The reporting point for Green Walk is Bamboo Grove - to reach there, from Forest Department Office (EcoTourism centre - the place were you get the trekking tickets), going back to Kumily, take the next Left (there is a stone wall on the opposite side of the forest department building, and one can follow that as well). After the left, there is a small bridge to cross and follow the same road till you reach the Nature Camp site - the start point is in the Forest Department office opposite that. The trek is similar to Nature Walk in some regards although the terrain appeared flatter and there was a lot more tribal presence in the area. Saw antelopes, sambar deer, bison, and an elephant herd with baby elephants (nearer this time). Also saw several birds including the Emerald Dove. Park entrance closes at 5PM and so if you are staying inside the park, you will need to hurry back. 



Full-day Bamboo Rafting & Trekking:

The full-day bamboo rafting & trekking has a reporting time at boat-landing of 7:40AM and they provide both a breakfast and lunch pack - it comes in a shoulder bag with a liter of water as well - so, no need to take any shoulder bags with you. We were taken in a group of ten and there were six guides and a gunman from the Forest Department escorting us. The program consists of a 4KM hike through the forest to the bamboo rafting area (this is the location of their Jungle Camp tents), a 3KM bamboo rafting trip, a 2KM loop around the area, a 3KM bamboo rafting trip back to the Jungle Camp site, and a 4KM hike back to the boat landing site. Overall, we had a very good time - got to see a herd of elephants and a bunch of other animals and birds as well. The breakfast and lunch packs were OK size-wise but it was a combination of carbs and sugar mostly - somewhat disappointing. We left around 8:45AM and was back by 4:30PM. For the bamboo rafting, two of the guides sit in the back and up to four guests are accommodated in the seats to the front. There were three rafts and so a group can have up to 12 people. You are offered oars but using it is not mandatory - the guides will do the work for you, if required.



There are several tree trunks that stick out in the lake and many are under the water. This can be a hazard for the rafts as it can get stuck in one of them. The way to get out of that jam was interesting. Basically, you use another raft to bump into the jammed one in the opposite direction and that jerks it off…


2016 Update:  The original review above is based on our 2014 summer trip but has been updated based on a repeat experience in 2016. Trekking programs have changed somewhat compared to 2014. Below is a summary: 
  1. Nature & Green Walk treks had guide and a trainee escorting a group of up to four last time. This time, it was only the guide. Pricing remained steady at Rs 300pp, 
  2. As the water level was higher this time around, the trek included crossing over a small stream in the Nature Walk program - they used a bamboo raft to get us across. Last time, that area was just marshy and so we walked across. The total experience was very worthwhile and we will probably visit again, as time allows - among all our trips within Kerala, we still rate the Thekkady experience at Number 1 overall.
The repeat was especially worthwhile as we got to see the elusive vezhambal (hornbill) in flight - a truly majestic experience - the bird makes a "hom...hom..." sound and that along with the fact that it was being "escorted" (chased really) by a flock of irate crows made the sight all the more memorable. Red-tailed foxes chasing their prey, otters making their way downhill for a swim, and the mouse deer were the other new sightings for us this time around - the former two during the boat safari and the latter during the bamboo rafting trek.

 
Overall, the Forest Department's trekking programs are very good. However, the visitor experience can be vastly improved easily. Basically, the visitors who come for these programs choose to stay within the park at one of the three KTDC properties or at a nearby resort/hotel. Getting in and out of the park is a hassle in either case as the Forest Department requires daily renewals for the visitor and the vehicle. They could easily alter the system to take it all in one shot thereby avoiding daily delays at the entrance.   

Related Posts:

  1. Thekkady Boat Safari - Review
  2. Thekkady Trekking - Pugmark Trail, Nature Walk & Green Walk - Review.


Last Updated: 07/2016. 

 







Thekkady Boat Safari - Review



Thekkady (Idukki district, Kerala, India) is located around 170KM from the Greater Kochi area. Periyar National Park is in Thekkady and the nearest town is Kumily. The direct route is via Muvattupha-Kothamangalam but it is less scenic than the route via Muvattupuzha-Thodupuzha-Vagamon-Vandiperiyar. If you have not visited the Vagamon area before, taking the latter route is the better option.  There is another route via Pala (the default one on Google Maps) but that has several stretches with rough roads. Park Entrance is about 3KM from Kumily Town. Services are very limited in Thekkady (no ATM) and so for most things you will need to get back to Kumily. The park is open from 6AM to 5PM - there is a forest department check-post and by the side of that is the ticket counter: tickets are for the day and they collect Rs 33pp (foreign nationals pay Rs 350) and Rs 75 for cars.

There are three Kerala Tourist Development Corporation (KTDC) run lodges inside the park - a budget place called Periyar House, a premium property called Aranya Nivas, and a luxury option with a stunning location in an island in the Periyar river called Lake Palace. The one disadvantage with choosing one of these options is that there is nothing to do after 5PM - the park entry gate/check-post is closed and so you cannot go out either. Periyar House, the budget property comes first as you enter the park and is to the right. Further up the same road, there is another forest check-post to the boat-launching-site. Immediately after that to the Right is the entry to Aranya Nivas, the premium property. It has the best location as you can literally walk down to the boat launching site (it is also the start point for most of the trekking trips). Lake Palace hotel has the least access but they arrange a boat to get to the island, if you have a reservation. Facilities-wise, Periyar House is practical but bare-bones, Aranya Nivas has a swimming pool, lounge bar, premium restaurant, etc. while with Lake Palace it is pure luxury in a stunningly beautiful setting. The boat tickets can be arranged directly from the reception. The Lake Palace hotel area is not accessible to the general public as the only way to reach the place is via a KTDC boat and they provide that only if you have a reservation - an option to experience the island and the Lake Palace hotel is to avail the Rs 1500pp Lake Palace lunch ticket: it includes the 11AM boat-safari, lunch at Lake Palace hotel, and 3PM boat-safari back.

We had reservations at Aranya Nivas and were asked whether tickets needed to be arranged for the boat-trip: check-in before 3PM to ensure that you can get a same-day boat-safari ticket (the facility is open from 6AM to 6PM with the last boat leaving at 3:30PM - tickets are Rs 225pp). We reported at the reception at 3PM and were given tickets - our tickets were for seats in the open deck on the larger KTDC boat. The 3:30-5:00PM boat-trip was really nice and well organized - the security pointed out the animals and also effectively disciplined people in the boat - you are to stay on your own seat through-out the trip (they are very strict about this as there was a disastrous accident that killed many people several years ago - basically people in the boat moved en masse to one side and that caused the boat to tilt precariously to that side and sink). Saw wild boars, bisons, goars, antelopes, elephants, deers, and many birds - colonies of cormorant with babies was a very special treat! We were very lucky as it is not uncommon for a boat-safari to conclude without seeing a single animal. The timing (first and last boat-safaris have the best chance), the season (peak of summer is good as animals tend to come down to the river for water), the climate and water level in the river all play a role. 






2016 Update: The review above is based largely on our 2014 summer trip (pricing and other logistical info has been updated to the current level). We did a repeat this summer and the experience was equally good - there were fewer animal and bird sightings this time around probably because the water level was higher. The highlight was a couple of rare sightings: wild dogs and otters - the former was a group of around ten in the process of setting up to attack a bunch of deers and the latter also in a group going into the water. Changes compared to last time included: a) the ticketing area appeared less chaotic and the basic ticket pricing has increased from Rs 150 to Rs 225, b) for Aranya Nivas residents, it is a very smooth process now - collect the tickets at the hotel reception and walk down to the waiting room - earlier, there was some paper work and hotel staff had to escort us, and c) the guides and support staff on the KTDC boat appeared less strict - we saw several people without  life jackets and also saw children precariously hanging on the railings on the side of the boat - an accident waiting to happen.

The one area that would vastly improve the experience for visitors is to streamline the process at the park entry - basically, every person and vehicle needs a ticket and so for buses and such it is a very time consuming process - there is usually a long line of vehicles waiting to purchase the tickets to enter the park. Also, for re-entry, the same wait applies. This can be easily avoided by having a parking area for visitors and by setting up proper entry-ticket counters.

Related Posts:
  1. Thekkady Boat Safari - Review
  2. Thekkady Trekking - Pugmark Trail, Nature Walk & Green Walk - Review

Last Updated: 04/2016. 
 

HAL Aerospace Museum, Bangalore Review


HAL Aerospace Museum (aka Heritage Center and Aerospace Museum) is located on Airport Road, 8KM from MG Road and just 1.5KM from Airport. Hours are 9AM to 5PM, Saturday & Sunday Closed. The location is within Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) premises and it was inaugurated in 2001 as India’s first aerospace museum. Adult (over 12) ticket pricing is Rs 55 and children are fee. There is limited parking in front of the facility.

The main hall (Hall-1) has a good photo exhibition  of HAL’s growth from the 1940s in chronological order at the entrance.. During World War II, allied air-crafts were serviced here and that marked the start of present-day HAL. The hall has a circular design with several rooms highlighting HAL’s achievements by decade, starting from the 1940s. B&W photographs of the assembly lines of Vampire and the GNAT fighter aircraft, the mainstays of Indian Air Force during the early wars that did India proud are very special.

Hall-2 has two floors. The ground floor has a video program that highlights HAL’s contribution to the country’s aerospace programs - it is being continuously shown.  It also has photo exhibitions showing:

  • the evolution of Research, Design, and Development at HAL,
  • the evolution of world aviation, and
  • benefits to society from aeronautical science & technology.

The second floor has two flight simulators. Our kids tried it but were disappointed - it is a lame video game not comparable to what is now available in Nintendo and Xbox consoles. The ground floor also has some air-crafts/models on display. They include the Basant HA-31 indigenous aircraft of the 1970s (agricultural use), the Pushpak indigenous aircraft of the late 1950s (for flying clubs), models of Vampire and Light Observation Helicopter (LOH), and a parachute ejection system.

The grounds of HAL Aerospace Museum has a couple of interactive exhibits and several air-crafts and rockets on display:

  • The ATC (Air Traffic Control) tower shows the history of navigation. The tower also has sweeping views of the surrounding including the airport runway.
  • The Sea King MK 42 Indian Naval workhorse helicopter from 1969 till date: Visitors are allowed to enter this helicopter and sit on the cockpit. Manufactured by GKN Westland Helicopters, UK, the roles include anti-submarine warfare, search and rescue missions, casualty evacuation, search and strike, and cargo carrying and troop transport.

Highlights from the outdoor exhibits include the Lakshya pilotless target drone, Ajeet fighter aircraft (variation of the British Gnat built under license), the Canberra bomber, Advanced Light Helicopter, the De Havilland Devon HW-201, the Hansa indigenous training/sport/hobby composite light aircraft designed and developed by National Aerospace Laboratories of Bangalore, the Kiran trainer aircraft (basic jet liner with the Rolls Royce Mk11 engine), the PSLV heat-shield, and a GSLV (Geo Satellite Launch Vehicle) 1:10 model.

The premises also a canteen but there is very limited fare on offer here - chocolates, soda, and a small selection of other snacks. A gift shop that existed before has since been closed. Overall, the museum is a nice place to spend a few hours while in Bangalore. The place is not very popular for some reason and so is usually not crowded - an added bonus!







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  1. Bannerghatta National Park, Bangalore
  2. Lalbagh Gardens & Viswesarayya Museum, Bangalore - Review
  3. HAL Aerospace Museum, Bangalore Review

Last Updated: 02/2015.










Lalbagh Gardens & Viswesarayya Museum, Bangalore - Review


The huge 200-odd acre Lalbagh garden, located a few kilometers south of MG Road (Bangalore, India) is well-connected by public transportation - BMTC buses from Shivaji Nagar to Jayanagar area pass through one of the four gates of Lalbagh. The garden is very popular with joggers and primarily for their benefit the entry is free from 6AM to 9AM and after 6PM. Entry at other times is Rs 40 for adults with kids free. Hours are from 6AM to 7PM all days. Cars/scooters are allowed only through the East gate (Double Road). There is plenty of parking in that area as well.


Gala events are occasionally hosted at Lalbagh and the most famous among them are the biannual flower shows that happen in January and August on the occasion of India’s Republic Day and Independence Day celebrations respectively. The purpose of the flower show is to develop public interest in plant conservation and cultivation. It is held at the famous glasshouse of Lalbagh - called the “Jewel of Lalbagh”, it was built in 1889 on the lines of the Crystal Palace of London, to commemorate the visit of Prince of Wales.

The garden has a tremendous diversity of exotic flora, made possible by the painstaking process of introduction, acclimatization, and development of plants obtained from various parts of the world since inception - close to 700 genera and over 1850 species of plants are found in Lalbagh currently. Highlights of Lalbagh include the Kempegowda Tower (sweeping views of Bangalore city areas from the top of the hillock), several huge specimens of the Kapok (aka Java Cotton or Silk Cotton) tree including the largest known one, the Lalbagh Lake, Japanese monument replica, specimens of the weeping willow trees, statue of Sri Chamaraj Wodeyar (ex-ruler), the Lalbagh Rock (one of the oldest rock formations on earth dating back 3000 million years), Rose Garden, and the giant electronic flower clock built on the grounds by the HMT watch company. The garden also has a deer park and an aquarium.

Visvesvaraya Industrial and Technological Museum, located on Kasturba Road in the heart of Bangalore is more an “interactive science center” than a museum. Currently under the National Council of Science Museums (NCSM), the objective is to popularize science through interactive exhibits. Entrance is Rs 20 and the exhibits are spread-out over four floors. Hours are from 10AM to 6PM all days except Dusserah (Monday October 14, 2013) and Ganesha Chathurthi (Monday September 9, 2013).

Visitors interested in science should plan to spend at-least a day at the facility. The overall structure of the museum is as follows: First floor has machinery parts, second floor science and technology, third floor entertainment and space research center, and fourth floor food court. The building is not air-conditioned. Carrying plenty of water will help with saving energy to enjoy all what is on offer. Highlights of the museum include the rolling ball exhibit that travel endlessly through roller-coaster metal tracks ending with the drop and bounce to the basket, the virtual game area, the mini-planetarium show, the full-scale replica of the 1903 plane by the Wright brothers, and the 3D theater.

Cubbon Park, the Aquarium, Children's Park, Chinnaswamy Cricket Stadium, Vidhana Soudha, and Attara Kacheri are other attractions in the vicinity. Parking in the area can be a problem. Cubbon Park has some parking although it is not strictly legal. Another option is to use the parking lots of one of the shopping complexes in the vicinity- for Visvesvaraya museum, parking at UB City (Rs 50) is a good option - it is a five-star shopping mall that caters to the rich and has a good number of world renowned brand outlets.


Related Posts:



  1. Bannerghatta National Park, Bangalore
  2. Lalbagh Gardens & Viswesarayya Museum, Bangalore - Review
  3. HAL Aerospace Museum, Bangalore Review

Last Updated: 02/2015.




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