Kumily, the land of Kalaripaitu, wildlife, spices and tea

Kumily: there is something about that name that I like very much. It kind of rolls down my tongue in a most pleasant way and hints of sweet spice-scented air, bird cries, and clear skies. My impressions of Kumily, both the last and the first and everything in between remind me of such prettiness and more. It was the next destination, I visited in Kerala after Munroe Island and the contrast between the backwaters and the plantation clad hills felt nice.

A traditional martial art dancer at Kalari center in Kumilz

The plantation town of Kumily

Kumily, also known as Kumaly or Kumali, is a plantation town closely associated with Thekkady. While Thekkady has a sleepy charm, Kumily has a bustling commercial feel to it. However, this does not deprive it of its charms and there are several neighborhoods in Kumily, where you feel very close to nature. I stayed at Mickey’s homestay near the Periyar coffee plantation and every morning from my balcony could see lush vines of Arabica coffee. Bird calls filled the air there and cheeky rhesus monkeys often flicked things that were carelessly left on the balcony. A forest spread at the back of the house and at night, I could hear the soft ‘chap chap’ sound of wild claws or paws creeping over the bed of dry leaves.

At Abraham's Spice Garden in Kumily

At Abraham’s Spice Garden in Kumily

This is a  spice bowl

Apart from the charms of the homestay, I also found Kumily to be a very comfortable place as a base for exploring the surrounding region. Its location in the Periyar Valley drops off to the plains of Tamil Nadu and on the town outskirts lie the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. Kumily has the main bus station in the Periyar region and its range of comfortable hotels attracts Sabarimala pilgrims and travelers exploring Thekkady or Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. Today, this Keralite town is a good mix of spice trading houses, plantations, tourism facilities, and a myriad of attractions like spice farms, elephant stables, etc.

Spices for sale at a market in Kumily

The backbone of an ancient town

Although tourism booms here, the main revenue of Kumily comes from agriculture. The majority of its population consists of agricultural labourers with a mere 10% working on the plantations. This is a very fertile region with a temperate climate and hundreds of acres of land in and around Kumily are dedicated to growing tea, spices, tapioca, rice, coconut, sugarcane, coffee, areca nut, ginger, lemongrass, and vegetables. Agriculture has always been the reason behind Kumily’s prosperity and the town’s history goes back to the 18th century. In the olden days, it was known as Kuzhumoor. The Thekkumkoor Kings even made it their capital city.

Visiting a spice farm in Kumily

One of the nicest experiences of Kumily is the residential areas being redolent of the aroma of spices. These botanical treasures can be found everywhere in Kumily: sprouting pepper vines clinging up trees, cinnamon and nutmeg groves bearing fruits, and shrubs of cardamom being heavy with pods. Cloves also grow naturally here and visiting a spice farm is one of the best things to do here. Most of the town’s hotels and travel agencies offer spice plantation tours and one can also visit them by themselves. Some of the best-known cardamom plantations around Kumily are Chakkupallam, Anakkara, and Vandanmedu. Many of them also have guest houses within their premises.

Connemara Tea Factory

Another refreshingly nice activity in Kumily is visiting a tea or a coffee plantation. There are a number of tea and coffee plantations in and around Kumily and the surrounding hills are carpeted with these precious shrubs. I visited the Connemara Tea Factory, one of the oldest enterprises in India and it was a pleasant day activity from Kumily. The gently rolling hills are lush there and as you draw closer to the factory, the air gets heady with the intoxicating scent of roasting tea leaves. Located around 14km southwest of Kumily, this four-decade-old functioning tea factory, and plantation offer one-hour guided tours. These tours include visiting the tea gardens, a guided explanation of the tea-making process, and ends with tea tastings. Buses run from Kumily to Vandiperiyar (₹25) every 30 minutes and one can get dropped off at the tea factory entrance. (Connemara Tea Factory – Vandiperiyar, Visiting Hours: 9 am-4 pm Mon-Sat, tours run on an hourly basis. Price of the tours ₹150)

The very lovely Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary

Kumily is the gateway to Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary

The name of Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary conjures up images of elephants, deer, pristine forests, and tigers. In reality, Periyar has around 2000 elephants, plenty of wild boar, sambar, bison, langur, and around 35 to 40rarely spotted tigers. It is Kerala’s first tiger reserve and became a sanctuary in 1934. The reserve covers an area of 777 sq. km of forest land and is home to thousands of different species of flora and fauna. Thick, evergreen forests form about 360 sq. km of the total area of the valley and many indigenous communities call it home. The valley derives its name from River Periyar that originates in the reserve’s remote forests and there is an artificial lake in the middle of the sanctuary. The lake was created because of the Mullaperiyar dam and offers scenic boat safaris.  Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary is indeed a very pretty place. Though due to the heavy tourist footfall, the chances of wildlife spotting is not very high, the reserve offers wonderful hikes through the lush forests. The trails are paved and marked and one can often hitch a ride on a passing bus on the way. One of the best experiences in Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary is a trek guided by a tribal villager or an ex-poacher. They know the forests like the back of their hands and the whole experience has an adventure feel to it.

kalari center in kumily

A Kalaripaitu dancer at the Kalaru Center

Wildlife and martial art dance

Though the highlight of staying in Kumily, reaching the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary is a slightly confusing affair. First of all, one has to reach the bus station that sells Periyar safari tickets. This ecotourism center is located on Ambadi Junction in Kumily and you can buy bamboo rafting and boating tickets from here as well. Then you will have to buy the tickets for the bus that will take you inside the National Park. The bus will drop you off near the lake. Here you have the option to either go for a boat ride or trek/hike. Here you can purchase tickets for a boat ride as well. These fun rides are very popular and tickets are nearly always sold out in advance. The alternative option of bamboo rafting, despite being more expensive offers a half-day tour and excellent wildlife spotting chances. We chose, however, to hike through the park and exited from the other gate. It was a wonderful walk with lots of fresh air, greenery, and solitude. On the evening of the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary visit, I attended a cultural programme in Kumily. I had bought the ticket along with the Periyar access at the eco-tourism center at Ambadi Junction. It was an excellent cultural programme showcasing Kathakali and the martial art dance of Kalaripaitu.

Mannan women at the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary in Kumily

Mannan women at the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary

Involvement of the indigenous communities

One of the best parts of Kumily is the involvement of the indigenous communities in the tourism industry. There are five ethnic groups – the Mannans, the Paliyas, the Uralis, the Mala-arayas and the Malampandarams – with a population of around 2000 that live on the outskirts of the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. They actively participate in eco-tourism initiatives and work as tourist trekking guides or forest guards. Trekking through the sanctuary with a Mannan guide is an unforgettable experience and gives a real feel of the reserve’s raw natural beauty. With so many things to do in and around Kumily, it is no wonder that I enjoyed my stay there and even lingered longer than planned. Kumily kind of grows on you and you find yourself being reluctant to leave.

How can you want to leave a place like this?

Kumily Travel Guide

Once a part of the Travancore Kingdom, Kumily is best known for spice farms, tea/coffee plantation walks, diverse wildlife, boating and trekking and its Ayurvedic massages. Located at an elevation of 2,890ft, it lies on the state border that separates Tamil Nadu from Kerala.

How to reach Kumily

  • By Road: The best locations to start your road trip to Kumily are Kottayam, Kochi and Kollam. Because of a well-connected roadway, Kumily is also easily accessible from Chennai, Bangalore, Ooty, and Coimbatore.
  • By Train: The nearest railhead is Theni Railways Station. It is around 64km from this town. To reach Kumily by train, one has to reach Theni first and then take a bus or a taxi to Kumily.
  • By Air: Kumily is not easily accessible by air. The nearest airports are the Kochi International Airport and the Madurai Airport both of which are located at around 157km and 150km away respectively.

Best Time to Visit Kumily

  • Best Time Winter – (December – February)
  • Shoulder Time – Summer (March – May): Because of its elevation of 2,890ft, Kumily enjoys a pleasant climate nearly throughout the year. Even though summer gets warmer, the temperature stays within 19-28 degrees. This is the best time for trekking, hiking, nature trails, and plantation visits in Kumily.
  • Avoidable (June – September): Though the scenery gets lovelier due to the monsoon rains, outdoor activities get limited. This is due to the slippery terrains and a huge number of leeches.

Things to Do in Kumily

  • Plantation Walks: A lovely experience that comes with a guided spice farm tour.
  • Nature Trails: These hiking tours are the best way to experience the hilly loveliness of Kumily.
  • Wildlife Safaris: The Periyar National Park is right on the outskirts of the town.
  • Trekking: This is one of the best things to do in Kumily. Hire the services of a local Mannan guide who will take you on a magical single day to multi-day trekking tour through the forests and remote villages of Kumily. There are also many areas near Kumily that are perfect for trekking. Kurisumala, Pullumedu and Ottakkathalamedu are three such places.
  • Bamboo Rafting: Conducted in the Periyar Lake, bamboo rafting is a half day activity that is best suited for nature lovers who want to get away from the crowd. The chances of wildlife spotting are higher.
  • Boating: While on a visit to Periyar Lake, one can also go for boating in the lake.
  • Elephant Trekking – The elephant ride through the jungle is organized by the Forest Department.
  • Kadathanadan Kalari Center – Kadathanadan Kalari Centre is a renowned for staging the traditional form of martial arts, Kalaripayyattu. This martial art dance was invented by Sage Parshuram and the center organizes programmes that showcase the discipline required for this art form.

Places to visit near Kumily

  • Gavi – Located 40 km from Kumily, Gavi is the perfect overnight trip. It is a remote area that is blanketed with plantations, forests, and obscure villages. This is best suited for nature and adventure lovers. An eco-tourism led by the State-run Kerala Forest Development Corporation offers many different tour packages. The day-time package is from 8 am to 4.30 pm. The overnight package offers accommodation at Green Mansions, the eco-tourism center near the lake. In another overnight package, guests can spend the night at a jungle campsite to which they are taken by jeeps. The eco-tourism project activities include treks in deep jungles, night safaris, outdoor camping, elephant safaris, wildlife watching, bird-watching, stays atop tree huts, visits to Paradise Cove at Ninnumulli, boating in Gavi and Kochupampa lakes, stays at the eco-lodge overlooking Gavi Lake, leisurely walks through spice gardens, and visits to cardamom factories.

Places to Stay in Kumily

Though Kumily has a lot of great homestays and guesthouses, it does not offer luxury hotels. For more luxurious accommodation options, opt for Thekkady located 1.5km away.

Pepper is growing from the vines

Star aniseed for sale

Visitors at the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary

The winding road to Kumily

Tea plantation

After an elephant trek

If you have a tiny traveler, try elephant riding

A Kathakali dancer at Kalari Center in Kumily

A Kathakali dancer at Kalari Center in Kumily

Good food,

Beautiful nature,

And gorgeous nature trails,

This is Kumily, the plantation town of Kerala.

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RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE

 

 

 

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