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Idukki – a dream destination

Idukki. The name doesn’t quite capture this scenic destination in Kerala – a haven of rolling tea gardens, spices, lush forests, and wildlife sanctuaries. I learned via Google that Idukki is a place of unparalleled beauty and quickly it added to my bucket list.

The word Idukki derives from Idukku, the Malayalam word for gorge. When I finally visited, I discovered Idukki is truly gorgeous – quite simply, a dreamscape.   

Surrounded by three main rivers –Periyar, Thalayar, and Thodupuzhayar and their tributaries,  Idukki is famous for its massive, icon-like arch dam. An impressive structure spanning the River Periyar between the Kuruvan and Kuruthi hills, the 40-year-old Idukki Dam is one of the tallest arch dams on the continent.

The picture shows forests and a lake
Thekkady, Idukki district. 2023 March24. In Wikipedia. httpsen.wikipedia.orgwikiIdukkidistrict

Poonjar to Periyar

The Rajas who established the Poonjar Kingdom assumed control of Idukki in the 16th century and eventually leased the land to European planters in the late 19th century. Thekkady still bears the marks of the colonial era.

Colonial reign changed the character of the Idukki district. British planters replaced evergreen forests, rubber trees, and ragi fields with tea and coffee plantations. They built summer houses – bucolic bungalows with brick fireplaces, libraries, and charming English gardens that sprang up in tea and coffee estates among the high ranges. They established a lucrative spice industry that shipped pepper, cardamom, and cinnamon across the seas.

Today, Thekkady with its rolling hills and spice plantations offers the perfect relaxing getaway. Look forward to therapeutic morning runs in cardamom plantations and opportunities for treks and mountain walks in the hill towns, surrounded by deciduous forests. Before the Mullaperiyar Dam rose, thick canopies of trees served as an abode for several species of migratory birds. Today, an artificial lake dotted by shriveled tree stumps bears testament to those once dense forests.

Th picture shows tree stumps in a lake
Periyar National Park by Bernard Gagnon, Own work-CC-BY-SA-3.0-image-credit:wikimedia commons)

Yet Thekkady is still spellbinding. Experience its majestic charm on a boat ride. You might spot a Malabar grey hornbill, a Nilgiri wood pigeon, or a blue-winged parakeet lazing on these remnants that fleck the lake as a reminder of a long-gone period.

Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary

The picture shows an animal with horns
Nilgiri Tahr Adult (Idukki district. (2023, March 24). In Wikipedia. https///en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idukki_district).jpg

The Periyar forests of Thekkady are one of the most visited wildlife reserves in India. Spread across 680 kilometers, the lush green slopes and misty hills offer nature lovers and adventure seekers a closeup of animal habitats and endangered species.

The best way to tour Periyar’s wildlife sanctuary is from the edge of your seat on a boat. Adventurous souls who want to look straight into the eyes of Periyar’s denizens – simply hop on a bamboo raft and row!

One of the older tiger reserves in the country, Periyar is home to 24 white tigers, leaping sambar deer, and Nilgiri thars lazing through the grasslands. Lion-tailed macaques and Nilgiri langurs lounge on the high branches of the trees.

 Over 171 species of grass, many with medicinal properties, grow here.

Turning mauve in Munnar

Munnar, at the confluence of mountain streams, with coconut palms, thatched huts, and bird life, is a popular honeymoon destination. It has budget-friendly resorts and fun activities. You can enjoy leaf-to-cup tutorials at the tea factory museums or travel a little further to spot the endangered Nilgiri Tahr at Eravikulam National Park.

Once every twelve years, Munnar turns purple because of a mysterious floral phenomenon. When the Neelakurinji shrubs bloom simultaneously throughout the hill ranges and Shola grasslands. Shutterbugs can take a cab to the Top Station for a bird’s-eye view of the hill station. It offers a stunning panorama of the Western Ghats and the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border. Stop at Echo Point to hear your words bounce back at you.

Vagamon‘s whistling pine forests

Strong breezes whistle through the Vagamon pine forests lying on the Idukki-Kottayam border. It’s formed from a unique collage of hills, valleys, waterfalls, ravines, and rivulets. Three hills, Thangal, Murugan, and Kurisu, embody the three main religions in Kerala. They symbolize its religious harmony and the peaceful atmosphere characteristic of this hill station.

In the evenings a smudged sun fades between the bald hills of Vagamon into the palette of the horizon. Munnar’s grass-covered hills and the cool mountain air, make it a perfect holiday retreat.

It’s a cozy town laden with tea gardens and velvet meadows and plenty of activities like trekking, para-gliding, and rock climbing. Both the dairy farm managed by the Kurisumala monks and the breeding center of the Kerala Livestock Board is worthy of a half-day visit.

On the way to or from Vagamon, along the route to the hanging cliff, stop a moment at a 20-foot-tall tower—a memorial to the six men who died during the construction of this road.

Idukki was fun-filled and peaceful all at once. I walked through acres of tea plantations. Sifted through fragrant cardamom pods, sampled a fresh cuppa, and held ripe cocoa pods in my palms. Packed a picnic basket to the Rainbow Waterfalls, helped bathe an elephant on the outskirts of Kumily, and explored temples and churches perched on hilltops. Got drenched in seasonal showers, and breathed fresh, gently spiced air. For an enthusiastic traveler like me, Idukki was blissful rejuvenation.

Suman Bajpai is a freelance writer, journalist, editor, translator, traveler, and storyteller based in Delhi. She has written more than 17 books on different subjects and translated around 160 books from...