Athirapally is a magnificent part of Kerala’s tropical Sholayar Forest, a sprawling area of deciduous and evergreen tree cover spanning 400 square kilometres. The waterfalls at Athirapally are particularly spectacular, and there are plenty of other falls within hiking distance too, including Vazhachal and Charpa. The rainforest in this very special part of India is home to many exotic bird and butterfly species, as well as sambar, elephants, Indian leopards and macaques. If the Sholayar Forest isn’t quite enough to quench your thirst for nature, Parambikulam Forest Reserve is also easily accessible.
The Kadar, Mannaan, Muthuvara, and Malayar tribes are native to the region, all coexisting peacefully from work activities such as hunting, medicinal plant gathering, fishing, and collecting honey. You can interact with the members of the tribes on request, take part in their rituals and share meals with them.
PERIYAR NATIONAL PARK
In southern Kerala, this sprawling protected area of deciduous forest and grasslands in the Cardamom and Pandalam Hills is home to sambar, gaur (Indian bison), langur, elephants, wild boar, and 30-40 rather elusive Bengal tigers. Due to its close proximity to several other towns, you might also hear Periyar National Park referred to as Kumily, Thekkady, or Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, sometimes interchangeably. Whatever you call it, come to Periyar National Park for, hiking, natural beauty, gentle bamboo rafting and glorious birdlife; if you’re lucky, sights of Elephants too, but definitely not tigers.
Entry to the park is through Thekkady, just a few kilometres away from the popular town of Kumily, where you can visit chocolate and spice shops and experience an Indian homestay. The surrounding landscapes include tea, coffee, and cardamom plantations while popular destinations Kottayam, Madurai, and Cochin are all in relative proximity.
Bird spotting is world class at Thattekad. The Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary (also known as the Thattekad Sanctuary) spans just 25 square kilometres, but it has become a world-renowned destination thanks to the quality and rarity of the species that call this region home. The sanctuary is just far enough off the beaten track to get overlooked by the majority of the tourist crowds, but for those who have time on their hands, a bit of experience, and a desire to get up close and personal with nature, birding has never been sweeter.
Thattekad Bird Sanctuary is located in Southwest Kerala, on the Periyar riverbanks. 500 species call Thattekad home, including rare and beautiful birds such as the sunbird, the crimson-throated barbet, the night heron, and black-winged kite. Bird lovers also report spying large-billed warblers, Indian cuckoo, Indian pitta, frogmouths, yellow-browed bulbuls, and whiskered terns. Bamboo rafting in the river is a wonderful and relaxing way to spot colourful species and admire the surrounding rubber plantations.
Just 15 kilometres away, the Edamalayar Forest is also rich with birdlife, and enthusiasts take the time to spot mountain hawk eagles, needle tails, and brown-cheeked fulvetta among the evergreen trees.
High above sea level amongst the Anamalai mountain range, Valparai is surrounded by forest and lush green tea plantations in abundance in Tamil Nadu. Coffee was actually the first crop grown here back in the 1800’s when planters first arrived to the area. Now, rows of tea stretch as far as the eye can see, and the area is home to many major plantations. Tour around the Monica Tea Factory to watch the process from plucking through to drying to drinking and exporting. You can even admire the ladies in colourful saris picking the tea and have a go yourself.
Home to an array of wildlife, such as the Malabar giant squirrel, Nilgiri langur, rare lion-tailed macaques, the Indian gaur and large elephant population, ETG will provide you with an English speaking naturalist to take you on treks through the area. The birdlife here really is spectacular and it is arguably the best place in Kerala for variety and endangered species.
For accommodation, a favourite of ours are the Briar Tea Bungalows. This cluster of basic tea bungalows are scattered around the scenic, working Briar Tea Plantation, with a focus on connecting guests to the environment.