Towards the end of last August (2016), we decided we needed a vacation, even if its a short one for 3-4 days. I looked around for options out of Hyderabad and we zeroed in on a trip to Kerala, flying into Kochi in the 2nd week of October around the Dasara holidays.
After a couple of days in Kochi and Kumarakom (I will write about the lovely Aveda resort there another time!), we drove to Thekkady.
I accidentally hit upon the “Lake Palace” run by the KTDC (Kerala Tourism Development Corporation) while looking for an option to stay in Thekkady (while searching on the internet) and was initially skeptical – I haven’t stayed in a government run property for years and I wasn’t quite sure how it would be – well, it turned out to be the best decision of the trip!
It turns out this is a bit of an exclusive property with a royal lineage. It was built as a summer resort for the Raja of Travancore almost 100 years ago. The Raja was actually concerned about the massive deforestation happening and thought that if he moved there for a part of the year, it could possibly be controlled – call it leading by example!
So, the palace was constructed in the middle of the Periyar lake on top of a small hill, with wonderful views all around. It is so nicely tucked into the middle of the forest on the sloped hill, a casual onlooker from the many boats which bring in hordes of tourists every day can easily overlook that there’s a property in the middle of the lake!
In fact, we got into the normal big tourist boat (the KTDC official receives you there, just be sure you are there by 3pm (check seasonal times) at the wharf – that’s the only way to get there!) and after about a half an hour ride, we were wondering where we were headed. Quite a few faces in the boat turned when they noticed us alighting near a flight of stairs at one end of the lake (that’s the only stop for the boat) and unloading our luggage as well – people were genuinely puzzled that someone can live there as there was nothing visible except a flight of stairs – isn’t that a good sign to get away from the crowds?
The first impression was wow – a long flight of stairs up and we realized we are in the middle of the dense forest with hardly any connection to the outside world (you don’t get a mobile signal and the only way to call anyone is with a BSNL mobile phone provided by the resort people – even that gets a signal only at one or two places on the property!).
The views all around are breathtaking – the place is at a split in the lake,so you can get to see like 3 branches of it. We noticed many deer and bisons lazyily lying around at the other edge of the lake and other smaller animals hanging around.
The natural sounds of the forest are a thrill to the ear – that evening our very pleasant guide from the resort alerted us to a killing – a pack of wild dogs most likely took up some deer behind the property – we couldn’t quite see it as a large part of the resort is cordoned off (both to keep out the animals from the property as well as keep us away from the animals :)) and there is dense growth on the rear of the property.
The onset of darkness was exhilirating – night in the forest, with hardly any lights around is difficult to describe. That’s when a lot of the animals are active and the elusive tiger and leopards go for their hunt – there are so many sounds that you can clearly hear, an expert would probably be able to decipher them very well. Even just going to the edge of the property in the pitch darkness can send a chill down your spine!
I woke up early next morning (and the morning after) to some marvelous views with the mist and then the brilliant sunshine seeping through it, it formed a lot of stunning mirages around the water. The weather is so beautiful with a slight chill in the air with the end of the monsoon and prior to the onset of winter in early October – this adds some oomph to the experience!
The previous night, I had noticed what seemed like a fire on a small piece of land in the middle of the lake – the guide told me that it’s tribals who go fishing at night in their log-like boats. We couldn’t see much in the darkness, but stayed well away because we should not be disturbing these people. The next morning, just before sunrise I noticed that log near the edge of our end of the lake. I kept looking on, just before daybreak, a couple of tribals emerged out of nowhere and they got onto the log and rowed away. I was speechless – what a simple, anonymous life they lead!
With the bright sunshine, about 7:20am, came the ones we couldn’t catch a sight of the previous evening – elephants! 21 of them came out of the forest in search of the water and spent almost the entire day. What a treat to the eyes! They were in their natural habitat and in their elements – playing in the water, fighting each other or generally just basking in the sun! We were right there just across the shore, soaking in this natural atmosphere, so pristine and untouched by the ages!
We had some friendly and beautiful neighbors too like this peacock! It apparently comes regularly to the resort for the food and is is domesticated by them to keep away the snakes from the property!
The resort staff do make us feel pretty pampered with the custom-made food, it does feel quite cosy as there are only just a handful of other families visiting, so they do enquire about personal preferences for food.
My daughter quickly made friends with the kids from the other families (quite coincidental that one of them was her school mate!) and enjoyed her first real experience of living in a jungle.
It’s a small property with only 6 rooms and quite difficult to get, so I advise you book online on the KTDC website well in advance.The tariff includes breakfast, lunch and dinner – it cost about 16,000 per night (after a 10% discount) – we were there for 2 nights and it was well worth it!. I believe the fares are higher in the so called peak season.
You might have to be prepared for a few things – we lost power for a few hours on the 2nd night. Apparently, the power is only through generators – the external power to the property was cut permanently after the unfortunate electrocution of a couple of elephants a few years ago when the power line fell on them. I would say keep your expectations minimal and you would thoroughly enjoy everything this place has to offer in its natural setting. Like most places in Kerala, your hosts (the resort people) are smiling and cheerful and fill you with anecdotes worth remembering for a lifetime.