Munnar is one of the most sought destinations in Kerala, a place called God’s own country. There are hidden gems in the picturesque region. One of them is Idukki. Here is a pictorial tale of that place.
I can already see many hands up when you read Idukki. I give you the credit of being to Munnar and Periyar!
Munnar is my most favourite and Periyar is almost my hometown. So I will not write about both destinations to put myself at risk of wild opinions. Instead, I shall tell you a story on how best you can explore a drive to the challenging destinations of Idukki.
I still can’t recollect when I got stuck with my drives through a few of the most fascinating, lively and mesmerising routes of Idukki. It might have been a progression towards an addiction. And why I did not promote such drives much? Maybe my selfishness that not many should experience such vibrancies of Nature! Too selfish-Isn’t it?
I can only tell you that I am addicted to such drives in Idukki. Most of my drives were without companions especially during my weekend drives to visit my ancestral village and plantation. I should acknowledge the revelation I got about the drive and my village when I took my German friend Ms Jana Tschitchke during one of my drives. She complimented both the drive and my village as one of the best ones. If you ask me what is the most missed thing during these crazy lockdowns, I would jump to shout that I missed my weekend drives to my village!
In this story, my routes may not end up in a known destination. But I can assure you that my routes will take you to breathe the AIR and expand your imagination to see the world better!
Route 1: Thodupuzha-Ila Veezha Poonchira-Illikka Kallu-Vagamon
The mesmerising climb towards Ila Veezha Poonchira is an off beaten attraction for light adventure lovers. The narrow winding road takes you to the clifftop at Ila Veezha Poonchira which is a hikers’ paradise. The unique climate and the unimaginable greenery around are unmatchable. This can be your picnic lunch spot en-route your drive to Vagamon. The best time of the day for this visit is early morning until noon.
Hike back to the car parking area and take another direction hike to Illikka Kallu which is an amazing grassland walk. The region is decorated green with grass fields interspersed with Malabar Dates an endangered species. The challenging view of the surrounding hills and valleys are beyond comparison.
Later hike down to continue your drive towards Vagamon. I never had a fancy for Vagamon as a destination as the growth of this tourist destination was unsustainable as there are absolutely no regulations. But the drive through the above route is amazing. Though you don’t see many people around on the route, the vegetation is tempting. There are many spots where you can have photo stops within the frame of Mother Nature Unlimited!
Route 2: Thodupuzha-Kanjar-Moolamattom-Idukki
A route that is known for its life (Human life, wildlife and bio-diversity)!
I can’t count how many times I drove this route in my lifetime. But it should be more than 400 times but still looking forward to my next drive immediately once the lockdowns are lifted. It’s such a refreshing drive. You will start loving the drive starting with a short break at Kanjar River bed which takes its life from the water left by the Idukki Hydro Electric Project at Moolamattom. With the stunning reflections of nature around, this river keeps flowing calm throughout the year.
Further, the 13 Hair Pin bends take you to Nadukani Pavillion where you can have a panoramic view of the District with the catchment area of Idukki reservoir in the distant background. It’s an experience to drive above the Kulamavu Dam which is one among the three wings of Idukki Reservoir. Though photography is not allowed, the dam security will not stop you from parking your car and look around.
You will head towards another 12 km of a proper sanctuary drive through Idukki Wildlife Sanctuary. You should just be watchful of elephant crossing but without missing the Nature on both sides. There are few points where you can have the breath-taking view of the Idukki Reservoir hugged by the Western Ghats. I was lucky enough to watch herds of wild elephants and other animal life in this route on many occasions. But please take care not to disturb the elephants as there are many incidents of attacks too.
The winding road with tempting greenery and fresh air will refresh you like you are in a different world. On a light note, please drive carefully as every bend; you can expect a vehicle coming opposite. Overtaking in this route should be with the utmost care if you are not familiar with driving this route. Also, please extra care in taking breaking in this elephant route. During one of my recent drives early morning, I was shocked to see two young men sleeping in a tent on the roadside. Absolutely not advisable, as there is not even a human presence in this elephant gap during night hours.
If you wish to explore the Idukki reservoir, you may stop at the Boating point organised by Forest Department. You can enjoy boating in the Reservoir and visit the park adjacent to Cheruthoni Dam.
This route will end up at Idukki Arch Dam which is one of the highest dams in India. The speciality of this structure is that it is arch in shape from both sides and from the top. It’s a gigantic structure beyond words. Dam visit is permitted during most periods of the year. Once I had an opportunity to go with a government inspection delegation when we went down through an elevator that goes through the dam walls from top to down. It’s a long journey until we reach the bottom of the dam. I can’t explain with words about that experience as you are travelling through a mighty structure that holds an unimaginable load of water. That experience still chills me as one of the best explorations in my life.
Though Idukki is a popular name, you may wonder to see how small a village it is! A small hamlet with few shops and a small township. I heard that the city was active during the construction of the dam which is an Indo-Canadian project.
Route 3: Idukki- Calvary Mount-Kadamakkuzhy-Anavilasam-Thekkady
For someone who is a real explorer will love this drive due to its extreme closeness to nature.
Calvary Mount is the first stop which should never be a mess. It’s still a rustic destination with its entire pristine atmosphere. You will meet local people who are all farmers and normal life around. A nice medium hike towards the top of Calvary Mount will take you to a panoramic view of the Idukki Dam Reservoir. It’s advised to keep your vehicle downhill to avoid polluting the serene hills. Please carry your drinking water to avoid dehydration. This is a unique spot where I used to find foggy mornings and evenings throughout the year.
There are amazing spice farms, tea gardens and orchards around the spot. If you wish to interact with a local farmer and farming styles, it’s possible too. If someone wishes to explore a bit more village-like, you may take a drive to nearby places like Thankamony and Thoprankudy. The local cuisine is so unique to these high ranges where you have the best spicy non-vegetarian delicacies at local restaurants.
Continue your drive to Vallakadavu near Kattappana to start a stunningly beautiful drive through cardamom plantations. The black tarred roads are a total contradiction to the greeny cardamom plants on both sides. You will also see huge bungalows owned by the local planters. It’s one of the richest areas of Idukki. Kadamakkuzhy to Anavilasam is so rich in cardamom plantations with tall trees and many cardamom processing centres. A renowned luxury plantation boutique stay “Mayapot” is located inside the plantations here.
From Anavilasam, you will again feel the smell of another tourist “destination”, Periyar or Thekkady. I don’t need to explain on Periyar as enough information is there on Google.
Route 4: Thekkady-Vandiperiyar- Sathram-Peermade
This drive is again mesmerising through sprawling tea plantations and small villages. There is a tea factory at Vandiperiyar which was there since the colonial period. Tourists are welcome here for a one-hour session on tea making process. One can buy factory fresh tea from their outlet too.
At Vandiperiyar, take the Gavi road to try a hike through Sathram hills. The hike starts through a tea plantation and I never know why many tourists are going for a “hike” in jeeps! Actually, vehicles should not be allowed in this place which pollutes the entire atmosphere around. Sathram hills remind one of Switzerland or Austria and ideal for a two-hour hike in nature.
Return to Vandiperiyar to continue your drive to Peermade through the amazing tea plantations and small villages. Pattumala church is a major attraction as it stands on the top of a hill to give you a challenging view of the entire area.
I don’t want to explain more which may spoil the beauty of the hidden treasures in Idukki. A discerning travel enthusiast may consult a sustainable Tour operator in Kerala for more personal assistance.
(All the photographs were clicked by the author.)
Also Read: Hills now and hills then: Changing faces of homestay tourism and Teesta river
(George Scaria is the Managing Director of Keralavoyages India Pvt Ltd, a Travelife Certified Tour Operator.)
(Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Partnersincrave.com. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.)
All images: Author