The morning was to be spent at the bird sanctuary. It was no point to visit it in afternoon, or even after 10.00, when sun would be shining brightly. We reached the sanctuary at 7.00 A.M., and started the walk.
There is a marked walking path in the sanctuary. The path is about two kilometers long. The main birding attraction lies at the far end of the walk. I did not have any high expectation from this sanctuary, primarily because I do not have the eye to spot a green bird in a green branch on a green tree eating a green fruit. Some people are naturally gifted in such things. They’d say to the group:
‘Look! A elephant-leg-bull-butt-sparrow!’
‘There! See, right in front my fingers’ and they would point a shaky finger in general forward direction.
‘Don’t you see it you great buffoon? Ohhh… damn your commotion made it fly! Did you see it now at least?’ Suddenly that bird watcher would get a permit to scold.
‘Oh yeah. Right. The name seems exaggeration though. Only sparrow would suffice.’ A small revenge.
After getting one too many experiences of similar kinds, I have now trained myself to bluff.
‘See that bird?’
‘Totally. That’s nothing, see that beak pointing out of the leaves?’
And while that bird watcher is stretching his vision and squeezing his binoculars, I would have some triumphant moments.
Given my position on bird watching, it was no wonder that my expectations from this walk were low. But the path is nice. It’s good to stroll with your loved one(s) in morning light, to see the jungle come alive in form of sounds of unrecognizable birds.
The walk ends suddenly, and when one looks closely, the road is still remaining, but you have to cross a dicey looking small foot bridge. We were told many over sized specimen return from this point onwards. We crossed the bridge, and found the other side didn’t look as frequented as the first one. There are few watch towers, they say total 3, but we spotted two only. They towers were locked on the top, which was a bummer for us who had taken no guide. We satisfied ourselves by hanging out of the closed rooms on the top of watch towers.
The walk is pleasant, and while there was hardly anyone for any emergency situation, we could not see the need for the same unless one decides to overrule the laws of common sense.
After having breakfast at hotel, we moved for Periyar. Again crossed that forsaken road, thoroughly dirtying ourselves and the bike. We had planned a detour for the route. The usual route from Kumarakom to Periyar is good, and passes on the ground without any ghaat section. But this tour was as much for sight seeing as it was for scenic riding. So we took a diversion at Vagamon, a tea-producing hill station.
We were pronouncing the name as ‘Ve-ga-mon’, which no one could identify. When I spelled out the name to a person whom we were asking direction, he exclaimed ‘Vaag-man’! So much for English names in local language. The road to Vagamon is immensely enjoyable. It is a steep ghaat road, with each passing kilometer brings you shockingly high. Children sitting backward-facing in rickshaws were waving and cheering at us when we overtook them. Most of the passing vehicles were looking local ones, and not touristy.
The town Vagamon can hardly be termed as tourist town though. Even if there is a board saying where to visit and what to do in Vagamon, in reality I doubt its possibility. No hotels for eating even, finding something for stay would be too hard. The ride is beautiful though. This was our first ride through the tea plantations, and we enjoyed it a lot.
There was a tea factory on route. We stopped there, in hope to see tea making in progress. But some people flatly denied that there was any such factory, where some gave mysterious reasons about it being closed today and such. Thus had to get a move on, without any tea factory visit. The sight that could be the only attraction of the town denied to be so.
We reached periyar at 4.00 P.M. Had it not been that detour at Vagamon, it would save us at least 50 kilometers and 1.5 hours. But the scenic ride was worth the extra efforts. In Periyar, as per the guide book, we went to a suggested hotel I wouldn’t write name of. It was made of laterite stone, and frankly looked surreal and perhaps suitable for hippies. The owner was charging unreasonably despite the low season, and hence a deal could not be made. On a short distance, we found another hotel, and this was the best hotel we stayed in our entire trip. It was the Anjuna Hotel, located on the Sanctuary road. It is a new building, and the owner was a good host. But the room was so welcoming, that in our two days of Periyar, we settled in that room like it was our home. For some reason, may be because of similar view as of our home in Pune or the feeling of the room itself, we were quickly at home in Anjuna hotel. I would highly recommend this hotel to a tourist in normal budget.
There are few shops around the hotel. The sanctuary road is inside of the town, away from the main bazaar. While the main bazaar is crowded and noisy, this inner road is peaceful. Many foreigners were jay-walking and window shopping, and we joined them. It was a relaxed evening, and we walked to and fro the road many times. Finding good hotels for eating was tricky though, and we did not succeed in it on this night. This made us wiser, and next time onwards, we found good hotels.
The sanctuary’s main attraction was its 3 hour boat ride that goes crisscross in the protected lands, and they claim you can see the wild animals from the boat itself. Well, unless you have eyes of hawk and allure of an animal, there is absolutely no chance of seeing any interesting animal on shore. There are some regular useless animals that can be spotted like wild pigs and stuff. But nothing really of value. The ride gets boring pretty fast. I had done this ride on previous tour, and had it not been for Nandinee, I would have happily skipped it. The guide book suggested that the first boat at 7.30A.M. maximized your already dismal chance of spotting any animal. I had already given up on seeing any wild life, but in the hope of getting good photos of the lake, we decided to go for the morning boat tour next day.