Gavi Ecotourism

Introduction to Gavi Eco-tourism

Gavi is a village in Pathanamthitta district of Kerala located deep inside the Ranni reserve forest. It is very close to Periyar tiger reserve and is blessed with a rich population of flora and fauna.

Gavi village is surrounded by cardamom plantations managed by Kerala Forest Development Corporation (KFDC), a department of Kerala Government. KFDC operates an ecotourism program with the permission of the forest department. In this article, we provide an overview of the KFDC Gavi Ecotourism program and various activities organized under the same. This is intended as a comprehensive resource for tourists visiting Gavi.

Gavi Eco-tourism

Gavi eco-tourism offers a day program or a stay over program. All these programs include buffet food and a number of free activities in and around Gavi. Free activities include jungle trekking, morning jeep safari and short boating trip on the lake.

A brief overview of these programs are given below,

Gavi Bus Trip – This trip is organized by Kerala Forest Department. They will take you in a mini bus around Gavi and other view points. The cost per person is Rs.300. There is no need for prior booking. You need to reach Vallakkadavu check post which is about 8KM from Vandiperiyar. The usual timings are 6:30am, 10:30am and 2pm. The safari duration is around 3 hours.

Gavi Day Program – This program is intended for tourists who are looking for a picnic to Gavi. It is very useful for people who are staying in and around Thekkady. Usual timings are from 7AM to 4PM. Breakfast and lunch are included in the package. Last time I checked there was no option to book online and hence you have to go Kumily (Thekkady) to book this. The Gavi booking office is located in Kumily town and the address is Holiday home building, Kulathupalam, Kumily (Phone: +91 4869 223270). The office is open till 7pm. The day program costs about Rs.1000 person and you can take your own vehicle to Gavi. Beware of touts trying to fleece unsuspecting tourists.

Gavi Stay Over Program – This consists of a 24 hour stay at Gavi. You can either stay at the Green Mansion Lodges (cheapest), or at the Swiss Cottage tents or up to 4 persons can stay in a Jungle Camp located further in the jungle after a short trek. All these programs can be booked online. The pricing is upwards of Rs.2000 per person on twin sharing basis. For children between 6 to 12 years, half price is charged.

Green Mansion Lodges is located near the Gavi reception while the Swiss Cottages are located about a hundred metres or so from the reception on the other side of the Gavi dam.

Swiss tents offer an exciting stay since it is surrounded by electric fence to protect you from wandering elephants. The forest tent provided to us was neat and clean; mineral water bottles and other basic necessities were already arranged in the tent. A tea kettle and hot water facilities are also provided. The tent also had a proper attached toilet. Tents are located on the river banks and offers excellent views of the lake. You could spend hours relaxing in the chairs provided outside the tent. If you are lucky, you may come across monkeys, deer etc. when you wake up in the morning!

Gavi Swiss Tents

Before you plan your trip, please call KFDC to get up to date information on the programs. Tariff and availability of packages change frequently. Up to date information is also usually available on the KFDC Gavi Website. For a stay over trip, the best time to arrive at Gavi is around 2pm. Ensure that you have your lunch at 12:30pm from Vandiperiyar town before leaving towards Gavi. This way you can avoid the day trip crowd.

Booking for Gavi Eco-tourism Programs

The procedure given here are for stay over programs. For day trip programs usually you need to pay while getting the entry pass on the day of your travel.

You need to pay the entire tariff for the stay over programs up front by transferring money to KFDC bank account in Vandiperiyar. The cancellation charges are pretty high. Minimum cancellation fee is 10% and if you cancel within 2 to 5 days of your visit, you will loose 50% of your money!

First call up KFDC and ask for the booking procedure. Currently there is an option to book online and pay using your bank account or credit card. Earlier they used to give the bank account details to which you can do a SWIFT transfer of money. Usually adding a third party for a swift transfer in a bank account takes some time. Following are the bank details for transfer (disclaimer: double check the account details with KFDC),

KFDC, Account No: 362801010021042, Union Bank of India, Vandiperiyar. The IFSC code is UBIN0536288.

On the previous day of your visit to Gavi, call up Gavi reception numbers and inform them your vehicle number. This is very important since they need to dispatch the entry pass(with your vehicle number) well in advance to the Vallakkadavu forest check post. Without an entry pass, they won’t let you in!

Facilities/Shopping at Gavi Eco-tourism

There is a small eco-shop at the Gavi KFDC reception centre. From here you can buy sandal wood, sandal oil, cardamom, pepper, lemon grass oil, eucalyptus oil, vanilla extract, greeting cards, trekking bag, rain coat etc. There is also a small library here and the reception area is decorated with an excellent set of photos showcasing the wildlife in Gavi.

Only BSNL mobile coverage is available in Gavi. Gavi village is located very near to the eco-tourism spot, but note that there are no other facilities available at the Gavi village (apart from the small village canteen)!

Getting to Gavi

Gavi Distance Map

Gavi eco-tourism reception, Gavi village, Gavi lake, Gavi dam and Sabarimala viewpoint, all are located very near to each other.

There are two roads leading to Gavi village. You can either approach it from northern side from the Thekkady road near Vandiperiyar or you can approach it from Pathanamthitta via the Angamoozhy village. Gavi is located about 55KM from Angamoozhy and about 28KM from Vandiperiyar. When you visit Gavi eco-tourism, you need to enter from the Vandiperiyar side since your entry pass is dispatched to the Vallakkadavu check post along this route.

Since Vallakkadavu belongs to Periyar Tiger Reserve (PTR), there are restrictions on vehicle entry. Only vehicles with prior permission are allowed to cross the Vallakkadavu check post. This check post is located about 20KM from Gavi and about 8KM from Vandiperiyar town.

The entrance from Angamoozhy village via the Kochandi check post was open for public till recently since it didn’t belong to the Periyar Tiger reserve. But all that changed once Gavi was featured in the popular Malayalam movie, “Ordinary”.  Storyline of this movie features the bus plying through this route. There was a sudden influx of wandering tourists through the Angamoozhy side to Gavi. To limit environmental damage, forest department introduced restrictions on vehicle entry along this route. Now only a limited number of private vehicles are allowed entry via Kochandi check post and that too between 6AM to 12PM. It seems inevitable that this route would be permanently closed to tourists, thanks to the craze generated by the movie. Note that vehicles entering from Angamoozhy are not supposed to exit from Vallakkadavu.

The real ordinary bus in Gavi

The entry fee at Angamoozhy Kochandi check post is Rs.50 for car. At Vallakkadavu check post, there is a per person entry fee of Rs.25 and per vehicle entry fee of Rs.50. You also need to pay Rs.25 per camera.

The road from both sides offer excellent opportunity for wildlife watching. Drive slowly at around 15-25km/hr. and watch out for wildlife on the land and on the trees.  Also slow down at blind curves since there is a very high chance of encountering wildlife.

Gavi Wildlife from the road

Service at Gavi

When you reach Gavi, park your car near the lake (after the Gavi dam) and proceed to the reception area on the right of the road. All members of your team are supposed to sign the entry register and you also need to show your ID proof. You will be given an instruction leaflet and entry coupons. You will also need to sign an exclusion of liability form (Gavi eco-tourism will not be liable for any injury or accidents due to wildlife encounter).

After the check-in formalities, a guide would be assigned to you. For the next 24 hours, this guide will be with you wherever you go in Gavi. Our guide was very friendly and he had over 10 years of experience on the job. We had a wonderful time with him.

Gavi canteen and boats are located on the opposite side of the reception building. There is a beautiful garden on the road side and you need to go through a tunnel decorated with a flowering plant called Clock Vine(Thunbergia mysorensis) to reach the canteen. This plant attracts a large number of small beautiful birds and combined with their sounds the whole place feels magical!

Clock Vine tunnel in Gavi

Canteen serves non vegetarian food for dinner and vegetarian food for lunch. Dinner consists of chicken soup and sumptuous non vegetarian buffet. Buffet breakfast consists of bread toast, uppuma, aval with banana, omelette, pineapple/grapes etc. Buffet vegetarian lunch features over a gazillion vegetarian dishes!

Gavi Canteen

Terms and Conditions of Gavi Eco-tourism

These are the terms and conditions written in the instruction leaflet given to you during check-in,

  • Consumption of liquor is prohibited in Gavi and intoxicated won’t be taken for any activities.
  • Avoid smoking inside the restaurant.
  • Avoid bringing food from outside.
  • Follow the instructions of the guide. Please remember he is guide, not servant.
  • Avoid carrying anything while boating.
  • Keep silence – you are in a reserve forest.
  • Avoid music system and sound box.
  • No outdoor programs between 6PM and 6AM.
  • Loss to government properties, if any, will be recovered as assessed by the management.
  • Food will be served only in the restaurant.
  • Stick to the dining time.
  • Checkout time: 24 hours or 2pm on next day, whichever is earlier.
  • Please note that you are in an eco-tourism centre, not in a luxury hotel. Expect minimum facilities.
  • Leave only footprints and take away memories only.
  • Kindly co-operate with us to keep the environment clean and undisturbed.

Activities at Gavi

All KFDC Gavi programs comes with a number of free activities which is included in the package. These include,

Boating In Gavi Lake – Your guide will take you on a short boating trip around the lake. Life jackets are mandatory and brace yourself for a surprise in the middle of the boating!  These paddle boats are eco-friendly and offers a silent way to experience Gavi lake. Getting into the paddle boat can be tricky, especially for families with small children. Always ensure that boat is steady and weight is balanced along the boat.

Gavi lake and boating

Gavi Trekking –  There are multiple trek routes around Gavi. Talk to your guide for details of these treks. It usually takes around 2 to 3 hours. There are around 25km of trekking path in and around Gavi. Usual trek path goes around the jungle on the other side of the lake returning back to the main road and then crossing over to the Sabarimala view point. You will come across plenty of wildlife if you take a silent walk. Elephant encounter is almost guaranteed!

When you go on the trek, always stick with the guide and follow his instructions. Never make loud noises. Elephants can be deadly if you are too close to them and in a thick jungle it is easy to miss them until you are too close to them. When you are near an elephant herd, they usually give you warning with a trumpet sound and you should gradually move away from them by walking backwards. Never use flash when you are photographing an elephant herd in close range.

Jeep Safari to Angamoozhy – KFDC organizes an early morning jeep safari as part of the stay over program. Get ready by 5:45am so that you can leave immediately when the jeep is available. The safari is over 2 hours and it passes through Gavi village, Kochupamba etc. towards Angamoozhy. They usually cover about 15 to 20KM along this stretch. The jeeps can be converted to open jeeps and you can stand to get a better glimpse of the wildlife around. Again elephant sighting (usually large herds) is almost guaranteed. While returning from the safari, they usually stop at a small tea shop in Gavi village. Jeep drivers expect tip and are usually friendly and helpful.

Gavi elephant herd spotted during jeep safari

Visit to Sabarimala View Point – Sabarimala view point is very close to the Gavi reception building. You can either visit the place as part of your trek or just before you leave Gavi. The viewpoint is located on the top of a meadow and you need to walk uphill for about 10 to 15 minutes. Sabarimala can be seen far away with Ponnambalamedu meadow on the left and pullumedu meadow on the right. However visibility is poor due to the mist present all around the day. From here you can see the road you took from Vandiperiyar to reach Gavi. Binoculars would be very handy at this spot!

Visit to Animal Museum – There is an animal museum nearby. We never got time to visit it!

We also noticed that the is an eco-tourism based boating program in Kochupamba. But I am not sure whether it is operational. Ask at reception for details of these. The addition of these areas to Periyar Tiger Reserve seems to have affected expansion of eco-tourism projects.

Gavi Location Map

The following map will give you an idea about Gavi geography and where activities are organized.

Gavi location map

Gavi Wildlife

Gavi is part of Periyar Tiger Reserve. This is part of a continuous forest area covering a large area from Thekkady to Agasthyarkoodam forests in Trivandrum district. There is a large population of elephants in Periyar Tiger Reserve. There are over 35 mammals in this forest. Some of them are: elephant, tiger, gaur, sambar, wild pig, Indian giant squirrel, Travancore flying squirrel, jungle cat, sloth bear, Nilgiri tahr, lion-tailed macaque, Nilgiri langur, Salim Ali’s fruit bat, stripe-necked mongoose, Malabar giant squirrel, barking deer,  and Nilgiri marten.

There are more than 250 species of birds recorded around the area. Some of these are: great Indian hornbill, Malabar grey hornbill, Malabar whistling thrush, blue winged parakeet, white bellied fishing eagle, brown fish owl, forest eagle owl, white shouldered kite, crested serpent eagle, parakeets, bulbuls, Wayanad laughing thrush, skylarks and pipits, sunbirds, mynas, woodpeckers including great black woodpecker, kingfishers, flycatchers etc.

Gavi is also home to over 50 species of reptiles, 40 species of fish and a large species of insects including over 150 species of butterflies. Keep your eyes and ears open to catch a glimpse of them! Gavi is also rich in flora with over 170 species of grass and over 140 species of orchids.

Gavi Travel Tips

  • If you plan to stay over at Gavi, don’t go for all activities offered as it makes the stay a hectic one. Either stay for 2 days or skip the jeep safari or the trek. This way you can experience the lake and the surrounding at your leisure.
  • Avoid all sorts of outdoor activities between 6PM and 6AM. Always be alert when you are in Gavi since you are deep inside a tiger reserve! Never leave children unattended.
  • Carry camera, binoculars and an extra pair of footwear/shoes. Carrying trekking shoes is highly recommended.
  • Leeches are found in these forest year around. Always carry a small pouch of salt with you. You can use salt to eject biting leeches from your skin by pouring it over them. Never try to forcefully remove them as it causes long term bleeding. 
  • Avoid carrying alcohol to Periyar Tiger Reserve. It is banned in almost all forest areas. KFDC seems to tolerate alcohol, but Kerala forest department hates it.
  • During winter, it could be cold. A jacket is highly recommended.

Gavi Village

There are about 1500 people living in and around Gavi. A large number of these people are Tamil refugees who settled in India as part of the Sirima-Shastri Pact signed in 1964 by India and Sri Lanka. Almost all of them worked on the cardamom plantations in Gavi and Pachakkanam. KDFC later took control of these plantations and various factors including mismanagement lead to losses.

It is a sad fact that even after 4 decades, refugees are struggling for survival. Recent inclusion of Gavi and surrounding areas into Periyar Tiger Reserve made their life much more difficult since even their right to travel is pretty much restricted. KFDC eco-tourism provides much needed revenue and job opportunities for the local population.

Summary

Gavi is an ideal destination for nature/wildlife enthusiasts. It offers you a getaway from all your daily grind, providing you only the basic material comforts. You will return with happy memories sure to last for a long time. But if you are looking for 5 star comforts with a swimming pool, avoid it! :-)

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