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Old 9th August 2022, 11:08   #1
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Default Our road-trip to Kabini, Parambikulam & Mamalakandam

I stay in Silicon Valley, California as part of my work and we couldnít visit India since the pandemic started due to one or the other reason. As the travel restrictions relaxed from both sides, we planned a visit to our native Kerala during summer vacation of 2022 in June-July. This is a writeup about a few of our travels when in India.


Being a wildlife enthusiast, I never stayed at Kabini, and It was in my wish list for a very long time. The expensive Jungle Lodges at Kabini kept me away. After watching some recent vlogs about Kabini, I decided to plan a visit during this trip. I had my reservation done at Kabini River Lodge which is a part of Jungle Lodges. I reserved a Tent Package with my friend who is my usual companion on these types of trips. I reserved another trip to Parambikulam with my family.


It was an eventful Kabini trip.
It was a bumpy ride from the beginning. My friend who was supposed to join me couldnít make it due to some work-related issue. So, I asked my father, who will always be ready to join me if it's anything related to nature or wildlife and he agreed. We started early in the morning around 4:00 Am and it was humid with heavy rain in central Kerala. After an hour of driving my windshield turned foggy and I noticed that the AC was not working. The visibility was almost zero due to the rain. I played with all my AC knobs, and nothing seemed to be working. So, I waited till daylight, luckily the rain also stopped by then and started driving with windows open. I tried to find a car AC mechanic shop and most of the shops are not yet open. By around 8:00 Am, I was able to find a shop and we stopped there. What the mechanic found was that the switch that controls the cooling vent was broken and the mechanism that controls cold airflow is stuck in a closed position. He did a temporary fix and opened the vent manually and asked us to continue the trip and not touch the AC control Knobs. Everything was fine for a while after that. When we were about to reach Kabini, I felt the engine occasionally showing some missing during heavy acceleration, but we continued driving. By the time we reached Wayanad, the rain stopped.


Our road-trip to Kabini, Parambikulam & Mamalakandam-k32.jpg

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There is a bridge that separates Kerala-Karnataka forest and after the bridge, the Kabini forest starts. Kabini forest started showing us its inhabitants immediately after crossing the bridge. We came across three tuskers. They were not together, but quite a distance apart. First two were old, medium sized, but with huge tusks and were very calm, but the third one was young and huge bull that was radio collared for tracking and was active. He was walking very fast. Then we saw some painted Storks near an almost dried small pond. We reached Kabini river Lodge by around 1Pm and checked into our tent. The hospitality of the staff was well above our expectations compared to other places we stayed. We got our printed itinerary. Day one activity includes a tea/snack followed by a Jeep safari through the forest, then dinner and a campfire. Day two has a morning Boat Safari and breakfast after that.

Our road-trip to Kabini, Parambikulam & Mamalakandam-k12.jpg

Our road-trip to Kabini, Parambikulam & Mamalakandam-k1.jpg

We had our evening tea/snacks and went towards where Jeep safari starts. Jeeps were Mahindra pickups or Scorpio getaway modified with front facing seats in three rows and are comfortable. As soon as the journey started, our first sighting was a herd of elephants followed by several herd of Spotted deer. What I liked about the driver/ guide was his enthusiasm in showing us what the Jungle was hiding. Occasionally at the crossroads, he would stop the jeep and shut off the engine to listen to the jungle for a while and then decide which route to take.


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The next 45 minutes went without any major sighting other than elephant herds and then it happened. We heard an alarm call from a lone chital deer somewhere close to our Jeep. The driver immediately drove in that direction and switched off the engine as soon as we reached the spot. We waited and the alarm call continued. Only reason for the call could be that a predator is on prowl, it could be a Tiger, Leopard, or Wild dogs. Then he revealed himself for a moment, the famous Black Panther of Kabini, `The Blackií. He went inside the bush in a splash before anyone could take a click or a proper look. The lone chital continued its alarm call, then followed by the Langurs. We waited there for almost 40 minutes, and nothing happened, and the alarm call stopped. It means that the predator is out of sight of the jungle watchman. We continued with our trip. On the way back, we again came across the huge tusker that we met while entering the park and this time he was much closer to our Jeep. I felt the Elephants in Kabini tolerate the human presence more than the elephants from any other parts of south India. The ones from forests around Athirappilly > Malakkappara > Valparai Routes are much more aggressive, the reason may be, there used to be conflicts between elephants and neighboring villagers. We also saw Monitor Lizards, Sambar deer, Hanuman Langur and birds like woodpecker, Indian Roller, Stork-Billed Kingfisher etc. After returning from safari, we had our dinner. With that, the day one activities were done, and I stayed at the verandah for some time and went to bed.


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Next day we had an early morning tea and went to the lake for a boat safari. The place where boating starts, we saw two types of cormorants perched on a dead tree and some painted storks on the other side of the lake. The Jungle lodge charges for a camera on each trip rather than per day or reservation and cost depends on the lens. For my 500mm it cost around 1200 per trip. Also, it started raining and I didnít want my lens to get soaked during the boat trip. I was not expecting much animal sighting either, so I didnít take my camera which I later realized was a big mistake.


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Boating started at 6:00 Am and initially we came across some aquatic birds and their nesting site. Then as soon as we reached the reserve forest area, there we came across two big Tuskers on the banks. Chital Deer and wild boar were everywhere. Then some herds of Bison and Sambar Deer. There are lots of dead trees in the lake and several types of birds perched on them. There were Vultures and Fishing eagles, several Cormorants, Gray Herons, and Egrets. Again, more lone tuskers. At one side we saw the Chital herd and they were looking at one side as if there was a predator. Driver stopped the boat and people started looking eagerly expecting something was about to happen. The culprit soon emerged from the woods. A pack of three wild dogs. It targeted two of the Deers and the chase began shortly. The Deers were faster, but the dogs had stamina. At last, the chitals were lucky and they escaped the dogs by jumping and swimming to a small island in the lake. These Wild dogs have the highest kill rate among any predator in the Indian Jungle, but this time they missed. Again, we saw more tuskers. This is the one trip I saw the highest number of big wild tuskers till date.


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We came back to the tent after having breakfast. While sitting on the veranda, I started hearing some noisy birds at one side of the tent. I went there to examine and observed that itís made by a colony of giant fruit bats. There I saw a huge fig tree and it had a few gray hornbills, but I couldnít photograph it since it's already time for checking out. Now itís time for us to head back home. We checked out and during the return journey, as soon as we entered Kerala, it started raining again and the missing from the engine increased. The issue was occasionally during hard throttle. I felt like one of the cylinders was malfunctioning. Mine is a Duster RXL 110, 2012 model which is due for a replacement. I bought it when I was in India since I used to do lots of trips like this. We were able to reach home safely without another incident.

Our road-trip to Kabini, Parambikulam & Mamalakandam-k30.jpg

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Next day, we took it to a Renault authorized service center and service advisor indeed confirmed it as either injector or fuel pump issue. He cleared the error codes and suggested we continue using it for the next two days to rule out the issue of adulterated diesel and asked us to try refueling from a different pump. Problem was, in the next two days, we had planned a trip to Parambikulam with my family. I decided to risk it since it's not too far from our place.
Attached Thumbnails
Our road-trip to Kabini, Parambikulam & Mamalakandam-k13.jpg  

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Old 9th August 2022, 20:16   #2
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Default re: Our road-trip to Kabini, Parambikulam & Mamalakandam

The Parambikulam Trip.

Parambikulam was not in my original list for this vacation. I had some pictures on my laptop from an earlier visit to Parambikulam were we stayed at the treetop hut. My daughter saw those pictures and wanted to stay in the treetop hut.


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We started early in the morning and took the route via Angamaly > Trichur > Nenmara > Parambikulam. We crossed the check post and reached the forest area around 11Am at Aanamalai. While driving uphill after the first check post, I felt that the engine vibration has increased especially during idling and there is a loss of power. Felt like one cylinder totally stopped functioning. So, the fuel pump may not be the culprit, instead one of the injectors may be. I called my service advisor over the phone, he suggested that it's OK to drive slowly without giving too much load to the engine. I felt dishearten, but we continued till our destination.


About our reservation at Parambikulam, the treetop hut is a 2+1 accommodation, and there is only one treetop type of accommodation. I also reserved a tent for my parents. During check-in at the forest office a guide will be allotted for each reservation. We got the same guide who accompanied us on our previous Visits. I know he is good at spotting birds which helped me take pics of Malabar Pied Hornbills during my earlier visits. The day one itinerary included a Minibus Safari through the forest covering a few points of interest and a river rafting. On the second day, a drive through the forest in our own car accompanied by the Guide and a small trekking. Since entering the forest we only spotted some peacocks, Nilgiri Langurs and Chital Deers.


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Once we reached the treetop hut, we found its condition degraded a lot since out last visit due to lack of maintenance. Tent was clean and good. We went and had our lunch and came back to the tent. The treetop is supported by three teak trees on three corners and a manmade support on the fourth corner. It is on the bank of the lake and from the Verandah, there is a stunning view of the Lake which made us all very happy. I totally forgot about the car engine issue.


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Minibus picked us around 4:00Pm for our Safari. Unlike Kabini or Top slip, Parambikulam doesnít offer a Jeep safari even for guests who opted for night stay, instead what they offer is this minibus safari. For somebody who is interested in wildlife photography, this is the biggest downside because photography is almost impossible if you have a DSLR with a big lens. Visibility is also not great, and the bus goes only though some main roads, not to the interior forest. Even in case of an animal sighting, we cannot photograph it properly from the bus.


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The first stop was Aliyar Dam where people got down and took photographs. Next point was Kannimara Teak, the largest naturally grown Teak in the world which is estimated to be about 500 Years old. Tree shows signs of a broken main trunk from sometime during its young age and regrowth after that. On the way we came across a spot where a young tusker was killed by a tiger. It was a three-week-old kill and the entire kill was devoured and only some bones were left to rot now. Other than that, we saw some Gaurs. Our next spot was the rafting area. The raft is made of bamboo and is rowed by four people. It was a 30-minute rafting, and the purpose is just rafting and not animal sighting since we barely go very far from the starting point. The motorboats are not allowed in the lake and by rowing manually itís impossible to go far with around 15-20 people onboard. There are mugger crocodiles in the lake which we saw and some bison crossing the lake. During our earlier visits, it was a 1-hour rafting which was done by tribal people, but now it looks like itís done by some contractors.


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After boating itís time for return and the bus stopped at Parambikulam round for a tea break. It was around 6 Pm. Our guide delayed the return trip as animal sighting improves with night fall. We again came across some Gaur (Locally called as bison) and Sambar Deer. Then came the spotted terror as mentioned in Kenneth Andersonís stories, the leopard. He was sitting in the middle of the road. After seeing the headlight of our bus, he just got up and climbed to the high ground on the side of the road and started walking parallelly to our bus. It was a sub adult and was very calm and stayed long enough so that everyone in the bus could watch it for a few minutes. It crossed the road and disappeared into the dark. After that we continued our return journey. The treetop hut comes first, and the tent is around 7km further. My Parents who stayed behind on the bus after we got down at the treetop hut got lucky with a few more sightings. They came across a sloth bear and herd of elephants. The elephants started trumpeting on seeing the bus which we could hear from the treetop hut. We went and had our dinner. With that, the day one program ended.


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I sat on the Verandah for some time watching the lake and opposite banks for any animal activity and listening for any call from the jungle. During our earlier visits, we heard a call of a tiger during the night from here. The night went without many events with occasional alarm calls of a langur. Sometime past midnight some animal jumped over the roof of our treetop hut. I am guessing it might be a palm civet or something of similar size (It couldnít be monkeys/Langurs because they rarely move during night). I woke up early to see if there was any animal activity around the treetop and saw some Chital deer on the opposite bank. Few Brahminy kites and common Kingfishers were hunting in the lake for fish. Our Guide came by 6:00 Am and he told us that a sloth bear came near our treetop hut sometime during the night. He showed us the tracks it created while walking through wet clay near the treetop.


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Day two started with a drive through the forest with the guide accompanying us in our own car. Chances of animal sightings are more during early mornings. We headed to the tent to pick up my parents and then we started driving towards Kannimara Teak which usually has animal sightings during early mornings. After a short drive, we came across a herd of three elephants on the road with a tiny calf. Then an orange mongoose which is a rare animal ran across the road and we also saw a tiny spotted owlet.


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Once we were close to the teak our guide spotted a fishing owl perched on a tree a bit far from us. This is a comparatively a big sized owl. Later we realized that he is not alone and there is a pair, the second one sitting somewhat hidden behind the branches. Then a herd of elephants, this time with more than 10 and two medium sized tuskers like bodyguards. We stopped the car and our guide recognized the tuskers and told us it's safe to drive a little closer for some pictures. After that we returned for breakfast.


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Next activity is a short trek through the forest, and I was expecting to do some birding. Parents and kids stayed at the tent and only me and the guide went for the trek. Since it was already 10Am, birds had already started taking rest in the foliage. For birding, it's better during early golden hours as the sun just rises. For predatory birds, itís one or two hours after sun rise. Shortly after leaving the road, we came across the pugmark of a tiger, and looks like it was created during previous night. Then we reached a huge rock that showed signs of water flow during rain. Tiny pools were created here and there on the rocks which still have water with fishes, tiny crabs, and tadpoles. Bear poops were everywhere on that rock. I still remember during our last trip, me, my friend, and guide escaped an elephant chase by climbing on the same rock. We saw some Nilgiri langurs, Malabar Giant squirrels, Orioles, and peacocks during the trek. But bird activity was very less. After trekking, we were pretty much done for the day and it was time for us to head back home.


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My hometown is near Kochi and one of the main attractions of parambikulam trip for me is the return drive via Parambikulam > Valparai > Malakkappara > Chalakudy > Home. It is a long and time-consuming route. But the Parambikulam Valparai is a scenic route with 41 hairpins uphill with some breath-taking views of Amaravathi Dam from the top. The Malakkappara -> Chalakudy is known for thick forest with Elephant, Leopards, Tigers, and a variety of birds including gray and Malabar hornbills. The sad part is we could not take this route this time since my car was running on three cylinders instead of four and I didn't want to stress it. Hence, we took the normal route via Nenmara and reached home safely.


Next day again we took the car to the service center. It was observed that an injector is dead. Luckily, they had the spare to fix it and agreed to give the car back by noon. That night we had another planned drive to Bengaluru. Car was perfectly fine after replacing the injector and our Bengaluru trip went fine without any issues.

From Parambikulam:-



From kabini:-

Attached Thumbnails
Our road-trip to Kabini, Parambikulam & Mamalakandam-p13.jpg  


Last edited by arunrajk81 : 9th August 2022 at 20:27. Reason: Edited Pics
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Old 10th August 2022, 21:32   #3
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Default re: Our road-trip to Kabini, Parambikulam & Mamalakandam

Wonderful travelogue and awesome photographs.
Glad you were able to spot wildlife despite being monsoon season. Thanks for sharing.
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Old 11th August 2022, 09:55   #4
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Default re: Our road-trip to Kabini, Parambikulam & Mamalakandam

Nice travelogue, awesome pics. Kabini is beautiful place, good to see you have spotted animals during this season.
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Old 11th August 2022, 10:51   #5
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Default re: Our road-trip to Kabini, Parambikulam & Mamalakandam

Superb photography, may we know the camera and lens specs. Also would advise to check on the vehicle health before going on long rides, small things can be fixed but if you get any mechanical issues, then all the plan will be spoilt.
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Old 11th August 2022, 11:42   #6
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Default re: Our road-trip to Kabini, Parambikulam & Mamalakandam

Amazing pictures and I am sure you had a wonderful trip. Parambikulam is the only place on my visit list in Kerala which I couldn't make it to. The irony is that my hometown is Palakkad! Last time I tried, I was a bit late and they didn't left me in quoting that the permitted number of vehicles for the day was over.

Do they still have any daily limits?
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Old 11th August 2022, 20:46   #7
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Originally Posted by VNair View Post

Do they still have any daily limits?
After it was converted to Tiger Reserve, they only allow the vehicle of people who reserved for the accommodation. If I am correct, there is a limit of 100 Vehicles per day.
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Old 11th August 2022, 21:02   #8
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A day Trip to Thattekad

I was able to click some pictures from around my house. There is a well-known birding place not far from my home, where I have never been once. Thattekad is a bird sanctuary which is known in the name of famous ornithologist, Salim Ali. So, I planned for a day trip with birding in mind. There are few trails for birding. Unfortunately, around the last few days we have been having nonstop rain. Situation is much worse around Thattekad area since it's close to the High-range area in Kerala. But we still decided to go on with the drive. On reaching the place, it was still raining heavily and I realized birding is impossible. So, we decided to have tea from the canteen. From the canteen employee we got the idea of continuing with the drive to Kuttampuzha, Pooyamkutty, Mamalakandam which are some places of scenic beauty especially during Monsoon.


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These are villages close to the forest and have some tribal colonies too. After reaching Pooyamkutty, it was observed that the river there already started flooding due to rain and water is flowing over the bridge across the river which we needed to pass. So, we decided not to cross it because if the rain continues, the water level may increase and crossing the bridge will be impossible on our return. This area is also known to have flash floods due to rain up in the mountains. Hence, we turned around and decided to drive to Mamalakandam which is a small village inside the forest.


The route to Mamalakandam from Pooyamkutty is a beautiful narrow forest bus route. In case a bus comes from the opposite side, the road is not wide enough for both vehicles to cross each other, unless one vehicle must back out for a considerable distance at some places. This route has occasional wild animal sightings, but small waterfalls that formed during monsoon and greenery are the main attraction. Some places the streams are overflowing through the road which creates a thin layer of water that looks like glass which is a stunning view. We stopped at some scenic points and took some pictures. Once we reached Mamalakandam, it’s like any forest side village in Kerala that has its own lifestyle which is slightly different from a normal village in Kerala. We saw the Government High School of Mamalakandam which has a waterfall in its background from the adjacent mountain which has a stunning view. Instead of turning back, we decided to take a different route which goes via Neriamangalam which takes us through Cheeyappara waterfalls where we stopped for a little while. We also came across a few more waterfalls on the way back. We again went to Thattekad, and it was still raining, so we decided to drive back home.


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Attached Thumbnails
Our road-trip to Kabini, Parambikulam & Mamalakandam-m8.jpg  


Last edited by arunrajk81 : 11th August 2022 at 21:23. Reason: Paragraph Split
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Old 11th August 2022, 21:14   #9
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Default re: Our road-trip to Kabini, Parambikulam & Mamalakandam

Quote:
Originally Posted by s.sriram1989@gm View Post
Superb photography, may we know the camera and lens specs. Also would advise to check on the vehicle health before going on long rides, small things can be fixed but if you get any mechanical issues, then all the plan will be spoilt.
Mostly done using Nikon D500/ Nikkor 200-500 f/5.6 Combo and iphone11.

Yes, you are rite. Since I was away, and my parents were using the car, I lost the track of its condition to some extent. It never had any issue prior to this. Also, a service was done a week prior to our trip, I trusted it.
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Old 11th August 2022, 21:58   #10
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Default re: Our road-trip to Kabini, Parambikulam & Mamalakandam

Amazing photos. Surely a professional hand at work. Please do share the camera and lens details.
Again, both places has become on top of the must-do list.
Thanks for sharing.
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