Topslip (TN) and Parambikulam (Kerala) really worth visiting?

Parambikulam is a reserve forest in Palakkad district in Kerala. Due to its remote location and hilly terrain, it is accessible only via Tamil Nadu side. Parambikulam is notified as a tiger reserve and has an area of close to 400 sq kms. A bit of tourism is allowed here via forest safari and overnight stay in tree huts and lodges. Nearest big cities are Coimbatore in TN and Palakkad in Kerala.
I had seen most of the places worth visiting around Coimbatore. Isha Yoga, Valparai, Ooty/Coonoor, ISKCON temple, GeDee Carmuseum, Pollachi, Silent Valley and so on. However, Parambikulam was something I couldn’t visit so far. Last weekend I made a day visit to this place and this post shares all my observations and tips, which will be useful if you’re planning to visit Top Slip/Parambikulam area.
Things to know while planning your visit to Top Slip/Parambikulam:
Day visit or Stay overnight?
There’re two options at a high level- Option 1: Day visit – enter in the morning return before sunset- this is what I did. Option 2: Stay for a night or two inside Parambikulam. This will cost a lot more but lets you stay inside the reserve overnight and have a more leisure exploration. I’ve not tried this- will share few of my observations on this option. You can check Vivek and Saakshi’s post on this for more details as they have stayed overnight in Parambikulam.

Timing: One and only Entry point to Topslip and Parambikulam will be via Annamalai Reserve Forest near Pollachi. Forest check post gates open at 7 AM and close at 4 PM. You need to sync your visit to these timings. On the day of my visit they actually opened 20 minutes late as the officer concerned arrived late. Again forest department staff may ask you to wait so that 2-3 vehicles can go in a convoy.

Two-wheelers not allowed: Bikes are not allowed into Annamalai forest reserve. You will have to park it near the check post and go up in a bus (public transport available, details in next point). This is due to elephant scare- if elephants were to attack, bikers will be lot more vulnerable compared to cars.

Public transport: Both TN and Kerala state government buses operate into Parambikulam. First bus arrives at check post at about 7 AM (Begins from Pollachi at about 6.30 I am guessing, I saw one more bus coming up while were returning at around 12.30 AM. Another Kerala RTC bus also came in at about 12 noon. So in summary there’re a few buses but you may have to wait for hours for next bus. Arriving by bus will be the cheapest option, as you don’t have to pay entry tickets.

Entry fee: Visiting topslip/Parambikulam will cost you lots of money. You'll have to pay at multiple stages-Below are the rates:

Money to be paid at Annamalai Check post: Rs 150 for cars, Rs 80 per person, camera extra (I didn’t buy, guess it will be Rs 100/150). So without a camera, it is Rs 310 for two people so far. (The display says it is Rs 100 per car but looks like the department has increased price but too lazy to update the display)

Entry fee to be paid at Kerala border: Money paid to TN Govt checkpost gets you access only till Topslip. Entering Parambikulam costs extra. Once you enter Kerala border, another entry fee applies- Rs 75 for car, Rs 23 per person= Total 121 for 2 people (INR 431 so far)

Above: A bit of water remains in the streams (Mid January)

Safari fee: Private vehicles are not allowed into reserve forest unless you’ve booked a room there. Visitors need to park the cars and get on board forest department’s Safari vehicle. This costs Rs 200 per person. Safari van will leave only after it is full- like 25 pax approximate. We waited for about an hour for it to start moving. Safari lasts for about 2-2.5 hours.

In total, we paid about Rs 310+120+400= Rs 730 for 2 people in entry, vehicle and Safari fees. Camera fee NOT included. Add to this the cost of reaching Perambikulam- taxi/car rental, fuel and time. If you ask me if it was worth, answer is a big NO. May be post monsoon it is worth, but in summer, definitely no. Spend your time elsewhere.

Note: those who visit by bus don’t have to pay any of these fees except bus ticket (not even per person entry fees). They will get almost all the benefits- reaching the destination, enjoying the scenery and some possible wildlife sighting enroute if you get the window seat. So a smarter move would be to park your car in Pollachi/Annamalai check post, board a bus, enjoy the scenery, get down, roam around and return in afternoon bus. Will take an hour or two more but will save hundreds of rupees.

How were the road conditions: Road is good  from Coimbatore till Annamalai Check post, with some construction work going on in between. Inside the reserve forest, road condition is bad at many stretches, OK-Ok elsewhere.

Top slip:
Topslip serves as a stopover enroute to Parambikulam. It is about 12 kms from Annamalai Forest Checkpost. Road is just ok-ok to bad. Includes about 10 hair pin bends, bamboo bushes by the side, no great views or anything- visitors are not supposed to stop anywhere till they reach another check post at topslip, because of elephant fear. There was some shade but otherwise pretty dry drive- would have been more pleasant post monsoon. Top slip is in TN territory- has some restaurants, souvenir shops, rest rooms, staff quarters and few stay options. There was a grassland with a stone pillar in the middle, but a board says we should not walk on the grass! Couldn’t spot any viewpoint or anything else of interest around top slip. An elephant sanctuary is supposed to exist 8 kms from here. Couldn’t figure out the right way to go there.
Everything that's available at TopSlip
After pausing for a while at Topslip, we proceeded to Parambikulam. Paid again at Kerala border check post before being allowed further. Had to park at designated point, buy safari ticket to proceed further. Ate some idlis at the restaurant- was good and reasonably priced. From ticket purchase to safari start was more than an hour, as they waited for the van to fill up. They don't have any smaller vehicle- like 12 seater Mahindra city ride that can be deployed in case of less tourists. One has to wait till every single seat in 25 seater mini bus fills up. Eventually some of us had to create a scene to make them move, else they would have easily waited another hour. If you visit during weekdays, be prepared for long wait.

How was Safari?
Dry. Few deers, langoors were spotted, nothing else. Below portion of Parambikulam is accessible only to those who stay there or via forest department safari.
Vehicle stopped at 2 different dams, a large tree and at Perambikulam village for refreshment. Of course I wasn’t expecting anything great- purchased Safari ticket only because there wasn’t anything else to do after reaching all the way till Parambikulam.

First stop was at Thunakadavu Dam. Just about 10 mins time given- you can't do much- can't have a picnic or take a nap in nature's lap or plan some detailed photography etc.

Second stop was at Kannimara teak tree- shown above, a 40 meter tall, 465 years old teakwood tree. History below.

Third stop was at Paramabikulam village- a few shops serve some light snacks, tea. A few homes/quarters could be seen, including a tree house (shown further below). It looks like about a 100 people reside inside Parambikulam and several people visit as day visitors- not sure how this is possible if there’re tigers roaming around.  My guess is there’re no real threat of tigers anywhere near to tourist/safari area. (usually known as buffer area) All tigers are probably further away (in core area), on the other side of the dam, away from the reach of safari trails. Calling it a Tiger Safari is a pure tourist gimmick- you will have 0 probability of any tiger sighting. The fact that safari won't go into core zone is not disclosed anywhere. Tourists go home thinking they were unlucky.

Last stop was at Parambikulam Dam. The water from these dams are used for drinking purpose. No boating is allowed

The guide who accompanied us didn’t have anything to offer, except saying don’t go that direction or we’ll stop here for 10 minutes. Driver seemed to know more than the guide. When I started walking towards the Parambikulam dam, he said "Don't go there". Few minutes later several other people started walking towards the same, he couldn't say/do anything. So not sure why he was selectively trying to restrict my movements. Also guide didn't carry any binocular, like guides of Karnataka's forest department naturalists carry.

I saw this private tourist van being driven around in reserve forest area on Safari trail- not sure why it was allowed. My guess is van driver would have bribed Rs 500-1000 to be allowed in, instead of having to buy 10-12 safari tickets worth Rs 2000-2400. Have tweeted to Kerala tourism on this- but not sure if they will act.

Couple of restaurants, roadside shops are available that sell food and other stuff at reasonable price. At final stop in Perambikulam, none of the shops sold drinking water. But the tea shop guy gave us a jug full of water for free, which was super pure and tasty. God bless him. Beware of monkey problem. Rest rooms are available at various places.

Spotted a peacock near the restaurant.
We did spot a big elephant with two white tusks roaming right next to the road near to topslip, but I also saw a person sleeping nearby-assumed to be its caretaker. Didn’t stop for photo, so as not to attract its attention.

Conclusion: Should you visit Parambikulam? In my opinion, visiting Parambikulam is not worth the time, effort and money in summer months. I visited because it was on my radar for sometime, I had anyway reached Coimbatore for work, had a free day and had seen most other places around. I was hoping mid Jan is not too late, but all the greenery was gone. It will get even more worse if you visit March-May time. Probably post monsoon- September-November is the best time to visit Perambikulam if you’d like to spend some time in the middle of nature. If animal sighting is your main objective, go to Nagarahole or somewhere else.

How much would a stay cost at Parambikulam?
There’re different types of rooms- like this Treetop hut in Parambikulam circle, tented cottages etc. Starts from Rs 3000 (weekday, Indians) and goes all the way up to INR 12000+ (weekend, foreign nationals). Roughly factor a spend of INR 5000 – 6000 for 2 people for accommodation during weekends/holiday + Entry fee + travel expense from say Coimbatore or Palakkad implies a spend of at least 10-12k for a couple for a weekend. If you are staying here you can drive through in your own vehicle and might get a much better experience early morning/late evening, compared to what day visitors get mid-day. I was told there’s a safari at 7 AM and at 3 PM meant for residents. Day visitors get to go on Safari between 9.30 AM till may be 2 PM (day visitors must exit check post before 4PM)
Parambikulam.org is the website where you can find more details and check availability of rooms.
If you’re visiting Perambikulam:
  • Nearest airport: Coimbatore
  • Distance from Coimbatore- about 100 kms
  • Best season- September to November
  • Cost of visit: Entry & Safari: Rs 750 Approx for 2 pax and a car
  • Cost of stay: INR 3000 to 12000 per night per room depending on weekday/holiday, room type, Indian/non Indian etc
  • Other places to visit nearby: Silent Valley National Park, Sirumani waterfalls, Isha Yoga, Anikattai
Some tips to improve visitor experience at Parambikulam
- Safari should be allowed inside core zone for any chance of tiger sighting
- Keep some jeeps/12 seater mini vans (Mahindra city ride) besides 25 seat SML mini buses. In case of low turn out you can deploy these smaller vehicles, instead of making everyone wait till the mini bus fills up. Or have a fixed departure so that tourists can plan accordingly.
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9 comments:

  1. "My guess is there’re no real threat of tigers anywhere near to tourist/safari area. (usually known as buffer area)" - The real reason why we have reserve forests ,nature reserves etc or rather whatever little is left of it is so that we can say that we can count these animals and shamefully say they are not extinct

    All humans have to be aware that we are the real threat to wild animals and we have continually killed them and encroached their territory for several centuries.so if we go into the forest we are entering their territory and not the other way around.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I did not had good experience for the first time when I visited Parambikulam. But I visited the place twice after that and stayed for 2 days inside the santuary and went for trek in the forest. That was a very good experience.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for sharing your experience. Which month did you visit?

      Delete

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