5 Facts to remember before you visit Thekkady!
It had been about twelve years at least since I last visited Thekkady, and on the eve of 2013, the place looks drastically different. Home stays have mushroomed all along the way that leads to Thekkady from Kumili, and the sleepy town looks busier than ever. Thankfully I was offered a bed at a remarkable home stay that was a stone’s throw away from the stunningly beautiful Periyar Tiger Reserve. A boat ride on the sparkling waters of the Reserve sounded as appealing as ever before, but I should say I was in for a few very important lessons this time around. Here are 5 facts that you should remember before venturing out to Thekkady.
1. Hundreds of tourists are said to throng the place every day, and my host had advised me to “park the car in a queue” by 4.30 am to get the entrance passes, if I ever intended to go boating inside the Reserve in the morning. I didn’t have a clue as to what he meant, but I was surprised to see that a long row of cars, buses, trucks and auto-rickshaws had already made a beeline for the entrance by half past 4. I parked my car behind the line, and waited inside for a while, until something told me that something wasn’t right. I walked along the vehicle line right up to the entrance which was a five minute walk away to see that a queue (this time a human one) had already formed in front of the counter. My inquiries led to the understanding that one needs to park the car in the queue, get an entrance ticket from the counter, rush back and race your car in when the gates open at 6.30. Which means that having a friend along could be quite handy. Or you could merely dump your car somewhere, get an entrance pass, hop into an auto-rickshaw and dash inside.
2. In case you are wondering what I mean by “dashing” inside, it was precisely what I saw this morning. Once inside the gates, a long winding road through the forest runs for about three kilometers into the reserve, that would take you to the – hold your breath – boating ticket counter. It still escapes me why they cannot issue you all the tickets at the entrance counter itself, but I am sure they might have some reason for it. Coming back to the story, several cars and trucks, including some driven by some seriously skilled drivers, rush past you along the road, making you feel like you are on a race course. They screech to a halt at a point, where its commuters jump out and start running to the ticket counters that are about a five minute quick run across, to find a place in the next queue.
3. The sprint run to the ticket counter is due to the fact that only a very limited number of seats are available for boating, and you would be extremely lucky if you get one for the 7.30 rides. The next ride is at 9.30, then at 11.30 and so on till 3.30. The previous day I had heard of several tourists who had come from far and wide returning without having been able to get a ticket.
4. I watched the 7.30 boats speed away, since I hadn’t honed my cross-country runner skills! Result? I had to wait for about one a half long hours in the passage leading to the ticket counter, where you get pushed around and jostled, tramped on and if you are extremely (un)lucky even run over by fellow wannabe boat passengers. There is no one around to control the crowd or the intruders, and you are made to fill up the ticket forms (!) with your toes barely touching the ground. This seemingly never ending ordeal leads you to the ticket counter where there is more pushing around and finally you get to feel that ticket in your hands, which by then looks like a ticket straight to heaven. You walk out, hugging it closely to your chest, every now and then glancing at it, beaming with pride. (Oh yes, and here is an update, which I had forgotten to mention earlier. Only two tickets per person are issued, so if you are a family of four, two of you have to be on the queue!)
5. You realise that you have still some time left before the boat arrives and you head over to the food counter, where more surprises await you. There is another long queue (Oh no, not again!) in front of the counter, and yet another one in front of another counter that screams ‘Self Service’. A board that points out that the use of plastic is strictly prohibited hangs beside the counter, even as they hand out banana chips and what not neatly packed in fresher than ever plastic covers. Just as you reach the counter, the person behind it flashes a card that goes ‘Closed’ on your face and disappears into the adjacent room. You realize with a shudder that its where the more fortunate ones who had managed to grab a food coupon earlier have lined up to get their food!
Dismal is the state of affairs on a busy day at Thekkady, with an extreme shortage of staff members, and you wonder what their strategy would be in the face of a real crisis! One does however tend to forget everything when one is finally seated on that boat and gets to make a spectacular ride all around one of the most scenic spots, this side of the world. But if you do have plans to head over to Thekkady for a weekend, be early, be fast and be as patient as you possibly could be.