THATTEKAD There's more to this Kerala town than just birds. Sukanya Ramanujan returns smitten by its pristine and tranquil beauty
Thattekad is no stranger to visitors. Located about 60 km from Kochi, the town nestled along the banks of the Periyar River receives both a variety of migrant birds and avid birders from different parts of the world. The renowned Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary (now partially closed) is a haven for bird watching. Frogmouths, hornbills, drongos, minivets… you will spot these and more at Thattekad. Birding is so ingrained in the spirit of the place that when I got into the cab to reach my destination, I spotted a pair of powerful binoculars and the ‘Birds of the Indian Subcontinent' book by Grimmett & Inskipp (the bible for Indian birders) on the dashboard.
What led me to Thattekad was not just birding. I had primarily wanted a break from the hustle and bustle of city, and after much research on the Internet, I zeroed in on the Hornbill Camp at Palamattom, Thattekad.
I learnt this was lean season for birding and that I would be able to sight only the resident birds as the migrant birds would have left. The birding season in Thattekad runs between mid-August and February, with monsoon setting in during May, June and July.
The eco resort was located on the banks of Periyar river and amidst lush vegetation. The view across the river of the mountains and the woods was breathtaking! The cottages were simple, and we were happy to while away the daytime watching birds and butterflies flit past us. Cormorants and kingfishers perched themselves on the dead branches protruding out on the river provided ample entertainment. The treat was when we got to see the Southern Birdwing one of the largest butterflies in India hovering over the flowers in the garden.
Thattekad had more in store for us — kayaking. I had never been on a kayak before, and thanks to guide and State champion in kayaking Praveen's brief (and useful!) training session, it turned out to be a wonderful experience. Floating in the kayak and looking at the terns and the herons fly overhead, it was almost like being one with the universe. We ventured into a few of the hidden coves in the river and spotted sambar deer and monkeys playing around in the trees. “The elephants come out in the summer. You can even see the path they have made right there,” pointed Praveen.
There were bicycles one could use to explore the nearby villages and plantations during humid afternoons when the skies seem pregnant with rain. It was a marvellous opportunity for me to admire the beautiful Kerala-style houses built in the area. It was also interesting to look at the plantations — rubber, plantain, cocoa and more, all in the surrounding area. “I developed it as an eco-resort for birders six years ago, but this place can attract a broader range of visitors as well,” says Motty Mathews, owner of the camp. No trip to Thattekad can be complete without the birding, and our expert guide took us hiking to Irulanthanny amidst the woods. The highlight was sighting a frogmouth so well camouflaged that it looked like a piece of deadwood and learning that a racket-tailed drongo could mimic over 20 different sounds. If this was off-season, I wonder how many more birds I could have seen during the peak season. On our way back, we noticed a line of pilgrims making their way to a Devi temple nestled in the hill.
With more time, we could have visited the Kodanadu Elephant training camp and also the Bhoothathanket Dam. Unfortunately, we had to leave much too soon to our liking, but feeling refreshed and recharged for the days ahead.
With so much to offer, Thattekad can be an ideal destination for a variety of tourists. Whilst its core attraction is the birding and the bio diversity, the location lends itself not only for adventure and activity but also as an idyllic location for a quiet weekend getaway.