Clouds Walk, Thekkady
To make the most of your visit to Periyar, skip the elephant rides and boat tours of Periyar Tiger Reserve. Instead, contact Clouds Walk for a guided trek up the mountains. Clouds walk has been open since 2006, founded and operated by the local Tribal villagers who have a passion for the protection and preservation of this area. The main information office in town can provide contact numbers as well as most hotels/homestays/accommodations. Our host at Chrissie’s Inn called ahead to arrange a morning slot tour starting at the hotel at 7:30 AM.
From Clouds Walk: The program is a long guided trek for approximately 3-4 hours starting from Gandhi Park at Kolathupalam, passes through the Kurisumala viewpoint, gets down to Tribal Heritage Museum located at Mannakudy Tribal Settlement, and concludes at Anavachal.
By participating in the program you are protecting a fragile habitat, conserving a watershed, and ensuring livelihood to the fringe area people. You can have a feel of the lifestyle and land-use of tribal and non-tribal communities in the fringe areas of PTR. From the vantage point, you can have a look at grasslands, evergreen, deciduous and riverine forests, and the expanses of irrigated arid land across the border where the nectar from Periyar provides the breath of life. Visitors can see the exuberance of Cumbam Valley, the dizzying heights of Mangaladevi, Kumarikulam, and other escarpments of the fort of Periyar, and the glory of Palni hills farther away from the viewpoint. Possibility of sighting some habitat specialist birds and butterflies including endemics like Nilgiri pipit, broad-tailed grass bird, tree nymph, etc. You can visit the rich cultural heritage of the Mannan Tribe from the yesteryears that have been preserved in the form of artifacts, metaphors, and cultural remnants for the posterity in Tribal Heritage Museum. You will, in the end, have many reflections on the pace of transitions of life and traditions along the time of times.
At 7:30 sharp we were met by our guide Rajan M.K. and taken to the main office for ticketing (Rs 200 per person) nearby one of the entrances to PTR. Rajan changed from his street clothes into a more official dark green, military designed uniform more in keeping with a person in charge.
The opposite side of the office was the starting point for our tour which included just my travel partner, myself, and the guide. Two slots run daily with room for up to 5 people per group. The morning group begins between 7:30 and 8:30 AM ending before 12:30 PM while the afternoon slot begins between 1 and 2 PM, concluding by 6 PM.
Before leaving the hotel I sprayed for bugs and applied sunscreen. For the trek, I brought a few granola bars and a bottle of water, along with a camera. Long pants are a must even with the heat unless you like your legs scratched from the underbrush. A long sleeve shirt (rolled up) made of nylon kept me fairly cool and running shoes worked well for traction and comfort.
Our trek started right into climbing the mountain, no precursor to the hard stuff. Within an hour we had reached the maximum height of 4500 feet with 360º views of the surrounding valley and mountains. Fortunately, the skies were mostly clear allowing views of the Tamil Nadu border as well as the local Tribal village and the city below. We lucked out having an overcast covering at the beginning as we climbed, but the sun poked through just as we reached the summit. A sturdy breeze whipped past us keeping the temperatures just right for the level of activity.
Along the way Rajan stopped, listened, identified, and described the various types of birds flying and chirping past us. Claw marks on trees were all we could see of tigers as well as the notorious scratch marks from elephants trying to relieve that pesky itch on their backs. Many “trophies” or droppings could be seen belonging to the numerous bears and dear the reserve housed.
As we made our way down the mountain and into the Tribal village I wondered if we would be hit with the usual “shopping” stop. I can report with great enthusiasm our guide never once deviated from the hike. Although we ended where we started, the trail never overlapped which meant no-repeat views during the route. Your interest is maintained throughout the entire hike. No question seemed to stump Rajan whom we highly enjoyed not only for his demeanor but his quiet personality that came to the surface with a little coaxing.