Fort Cochin to Thattekad – A Fortuitous Bird Sanctuary
Despite our love of Fort Cochin, we were excited to escape the heat and make our way to cooler (and higher) climes. We had decided to ride 60 km (around 37 miles) to Kothamangalam, a junction town that seemed to have plenty of hotels, and not much else. Starting out early has its benefits – mainly avoiding the worst traffic and beating the heat – but also some drawbacks. We reached our destination by 10:30AM.
Dmitry went into a hotel and was shown a perfectly decent fan room for 600 rupees. So that would have worked out great, except… Kothamangalam. Not much going on – just another loud, dusty Indian town with nothing to coax us out of our $10 fan room for the rest of the day. Faced with this prospect, and given the fact that we were both still feeling pretty strong after the 60km, we checked Google Maps on our phones to see if there was a more appealing destination we could spend the night. We saw that we were about 15km away from a national park, the Thattekad Bird Sanctuary, and that there was a small handful of lodges scattered in and around the park. We tried phoning a couple of them but, as often happens in India, no one picked up, or it was an invalid number. With plenty of daylight remaining, we decided to chance it and ride that way anyway.
This is one of the best things about bike touring, the independence and flexibility to change plans on the fly and go see something different. We already had our route planned for the following day – our first long and difficult climb into the Western Ghat mountain range en route to Munnar. The bird sanctuary wasn’t quite on the way, but it wasn’t too out of the way, either. We had a cool and breezy ride through totally different terrain than we’ve seen so far: deciduous trees, clear-flowing streams, and, unsurprisingly, tons of birdlife.
It didn’t take very long to transition from this…
The last couple of kilometers before the sanctuary was a pleasant descent, with one nasty caveat: We knew we’d have to ride back the same way tomorrow, which would kick our long climbing day with an extra, unplanned climb. Once in the park, we rode for a bit past the alleged locations of a couple of jungle lodges, only we didn’t see any jungle lodges. The sun was high, the day had finally gotten properly hot, and we weren’t sure what to do – keep riding to a small town 10km away with no guarantee of hotels or double back and try to find the lodges we may have missed. We decided to double back, and found a turnoff from the main road which brought us to Jungle Bird Homestay, which, thankfully, was the opposite of Kottumangalam.
We were greeted by the friendly, somewhat harried patriarch of the establishment, who was decked out in a full camouflage jumpsuit and had just come back from taking a group of Mumbai visitors on a guided birding tour. Just before our arrival, both the electricity and the water were cut, so he was in the middle of moving some visitors to anther lodge next door. We contentedly sat around sipping water while it all got figured out, knowing that we at least had a bed for the night, if not a fan. We got a room and a bucket full of water from the property next door for an Indian shower. It was enough for us, and within an hour the power came back on.
The afternoon was spent sitting on our terrace, watching the rain fall, and congratulating ourselves on finding such a lovely, quiet spot to end the day. Jungle Bird is a family-run operation (complete with a baby and a 90 year-old grandmother) and a birder’s paradise, with huge portions of home-cooked food and twice-daily guided trips into the sanctuary. Sadly, we missed out on the guided tour, but did enjoy the food, the views of the forest from our terrace, and the conversation with other guests.