ALL THINGS WILD.
YOU HAVE landed in the capital city of Kerala and you do not want to be lured into the age old touristy trap. What do you do for salvation? Head to Peppara.
About 50 km from the Thiruvananthapuram city en route to Ponmudi ( another spot that shouldn't be missed) lies this wildlife sanctuary that was established in 1983.
Wilderness. That's the first thing that comes into your mind while crossing the huge bamboo stockade that separates Peppara Wildlife Sanctuary from rest of the world. And your instinct turns out to be more than true.
Sadly, accommodation facilities inside the sanctuary are yet to come up. The only guest house is the inspection bungalow of the assistant engineer of the Kerala Water Authority which is not generally open to public. If you have a government employee reference, you could get a room sanctioned by the assistant engineer at the Aruvikkara electricity authority office. But for others, there is always the option of the KTDC hotel at Ponmudi that is a 45 minute ride from Peppara.
The ride to Peppara is an uphill one -- an efficient driver and a tough vehicle will make it easier.
Of course, good friends are the better alternative. Eucalyptus trees and the slash and burn pulp wood plantations take up the view on the either side. My friend tells me of a recent study which attributed the low water level in the dam to the high absorption rate of these plantations.
While the entire car mulls over the dying dam, another friend comes up with a much lighter trivia. He reminisces about a time when he saw a million yellow butterflies that clung to the banks of the reservoir. It looked like a yellow carpet.
There is always something to look forward to at Peppara.
Ideally, it should dawn upon you before drinking in the amazing vista of the Peppara dam and the surrounding reservoir that, it is this 423m long structure that augments drinking water supply to the entire city of Thiruvananthapuram.
The banks of the reservoir are mostly empty, so there's no fuss about taking a dip. But do not wander too far from the bank. The local fishermen have a valid reason. They say the reservoir is deep enough to accommodate a family! The small canteen that serves food to the authorities of KWA has authentic local cuisine.
When I say authentic, I do not mean the ' hoity- toity authentic' that five- starred hotels serve.
Baby chettan , the canteen man- ager, a pleasant man, handpicks the vegetables and fruits from the forest. He is more than excited to treat you to a scrumptious lunch.
After lunch and a bit of walking around, it would be ideal to venture into the woods. When you express your wish, Baby chettan steps in with a 1997 model Mahindra, all ready for the roller coaster ride. Don't be surprised if an occasional branch grazes your arm that was audacious enough to take a peek out of the jeep window. At some places, the foliage is so chunky that the jeep practically cuts its way through the woods.
Drop by a few Adivasi settlements and stop by a gurgling stream to wash your face with crystal clear water. These are just a few perks in addition to spotting Sambar Deers, lion tailed macaques, Nilgiri langurs and wild elephants.
But the extra sweetener of the trip is the zero network on your cell phones! The only link to the outside world is the old cable television perched atop the shelf in Baby chettan's canteen where the workers gather around to watch a match.
When you leave Peppara, head for the Ponmudi hill station ( translated as the ' Golden Peak') 30 kilometres from the sanctuary. The peak and the 22 hairpins that lead upto it gets a little too foggy during June but otherwise, one can always climb to the highest point, sip tea and enjoy the curling river below.
The most remarkable thing about Ponmudi lies in its name.
The legends goes that during a particular time of the day, the whole peak is covered in sunshine and ages ago, an onlooker was creative enough to name it the Golden Peak.
After a stay at the hill resort in Ponmudi, you are all ready to pack your bags and head off to another destination but Peppara will haunt you for days to come, the songs you played on the ride will become dearer and Baby chettan's chicken thoran will be missed terribly.
Peppara dam supplies drinking water to Thiruvananthapuram
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