During the Dassera holidays, we traveled to Kumily, a market town in Idduki district of Kerala and the main staging point to visit Periyar lake and the Thekaddy forest reserve. Whilst the boat ride on the Periyar lake is a must-do on the itinerary of most tourists, it can safely be skipped without much ado.
Instead, if one is really interested in eco tourism, the Kerala Forest Development Corp. Ltd.(KFDC) has put together a number of packages. One of these packages is a day trip to Gavi Reserve Forest. Developed into an exclusive eco-tourism project, Gavi is listed as one of the must-see places in India. Active involvement of tribals makes Gavi one of its kind on this count.
We have to thank, Kumaran, the Activities Manager at Club Mahindra’s Tusker Trails, for the jeep and the entry passes to the Gavi forest reserve. And yes, getting the entry pass is important, since only a limited number of tourists are allowed into Gavi each day. The reason for this restriction is that the Gavi forest is Nature in its pristine form. In an attempt to preserve this, the Kerala Government has imposed the quota and every tourist has to be accounted for.
Around 5 am, we were picked up by our driver, Benny, who has been doing the Gavi run for around ten years.The years of driving the same route has endowed Benny with an uncanny ability to sight wildlife whilst at the same time maneuvering a 4WD jeep through the forest!
A 40+ kilometre drive from Kumily, you turn off the Kumily-Kottayam highway at Vandiperiyar. From there the road is blanketed by tea plantations and the last 20 kms of the drive to the base camp is through the jungle.
We reached Gavi around 7.30 in the morning and after completing the registration process got down stuffing ourselves. The food was wholesome and unlimited. Eggs, toast, poha, idlis, sambar, puris and chole and fruit was on offer. I didn’t notice any one complaining and everyone seemed to be doing justice to the food.
After breakfast we were assigned guides, jeep-wise, and given leggings to keep the leeches from getting under our trousers. As part of the eco-tourism project, these guides are the locals mentioned earlier. Born and brought up in the forests around and they use their knowledge of the area to guide tourists. Providing them with a livelihood, reduces the temptation to poach. Now, they are, in fact, the protectors of Gavi.
We were offered treks of one, two and three hour duration. We opted for the one hour trek, during which we got a panoramic view of the Gavi forest including the Sabarimala or ‘Poonkavanam (forests) of Lord Ayyappa‘. The pics below are only some of the spectacular scenes we saw.
We returned to the base area, where we rested after the strenuous hike and waited for those who had opted for the longer treks. During this time, some of the tourists who had not opted for the hike were taken for a boat ride on the lake.
We got our turn in the boat after lunch and again were overwhelmed with the scenery and the wildlife.Our guide rowed a boatload of six so effortlessly that Corinne remarked that it seemed he was knitting wool.
Around 3.00 pm the day trip was declared over, though as per the itinerary we were supposed to visit a cardamom plantation and have tea. But given the strenuous activities of the day, I didn’t hear anyone complaining about the program being truncated. And no demands for refunds! 🙂
On the return drive too, Benny kept stopping the jeep to point out wildlife. We too got into the spirit of things and pointed to what looked like an elephant in the distance. But Benny, with one cursory glance, declared that it was a cow, which was established when we checked with the binoculars!
During the trip we sighted deer, elephants, Nilgiri langurs Malabar squirrels and various birds, including kingfishers. And of course, the cows. 😉
- Wear trousers, else you will have leeches attaching themselves to your legs.
- Rugged footwear is a must, if you are planning to trek. If you are not planning to trek, sit at home at look at pictures of Gavi on the internet! 😉
- Binoculars are essential, preferably a pair for each person.
- Carry a camera but don’t only focus on taking pictures. You may miss the larger picture, quite literally!
- Thankfully mobile phones do not work in Gavi – there is no signal. So social media addicts beware! 😉
- Be polite to the guides; they know were the wildlife is located, sometimes right under your nose or over your head!
I would recommend an overnight stay at Gavi rather than the day trip we took. The next time, we go there we’re going to stay in one of these Swiss cottages, on the banks of the lake, for a night or two.