Thenmala is a village located along the valley of the southern ends of Western Ghats in Kerala. Located in Kollam district, it is the first planned eco-tourism destination in India. The word "thenmala" literally means "mountain flowing with honey". The place derives its name from the abundance of honey along the forests here.
Thenmala is part of Chenduruny(Shendurney) wildlife sanctuary which is spread over 100 square kilometres. At the centre of the sanctuary is the lake formed by the Thenmala irrigation dam built across Kallar river. The dam water is also used for power generation. Thenmala forest has around 30 species of animals and over 100 species of birds.
Thenmala Ecotourism Project
Thenmala Ecotourism Project is spread across different locations each of which is located a few hundred meters from each other. However walking between the places is not recommended as you get tired soon. There are 3 main locations – The Culture Zone, The Adventure Zone and The Leisure Zone. Please see the map below to get an idea of these places (Click to view an enlarged map).
When you get to Thenmala from Trivandrum, the first place you will see is the leisure zone on the right side. Don’t stop there, instead head to Thenmala Dam junction and then take a left. Get to the culture zone where tourist reception centre is also located. Ask at the reception for the details of the facilities available for the day. Activities like trekking and boat safari may not be available on all days. There is also a restaurant here, but make sure you order food well in advance.
One of the main problems with government run tourism projects in Kerala is the lack of customer focus. For example, most of the KTDC hotels are there so as to pay salary to the staff. So I had very little expectation about the government run eco-tourism project. But in my experience it is a pretty ok project.
Getting to Thenmala
Thenmala is around 70 Kilometres from Trivandrum city. The road along this stretch is well maintained due to the visibility factor of the ecotourism project. I started around 7:30AM from city and I took the following route,
Vattiyoorkavu => Vellayambalam => Nedumangadu => Palode => Kulathupuzha => Thenmala.
Following is the distance chart to Thenmala from some of the major cities in Kerala,
|Place||Distance to Thenmala|
|Trivandrum city||70 KM|
From Palode, the road enters the beautiful ghat areas and driving through this area in early morning is pure bliss. We had taken packed breakfast and I was looking for a place to stop. Suddenly out of nowhere appeared the Kulathupuzha river on the right side of the road. We found a nice spot to park and we had a good breakfast at the river side.
The only thing you need to be careful here is the snakes, there seems to be sizeable population of lizards and snakes here. The other side of the river is forest and hence this is a nice spot for some bird watching as well.
By 9:30 we resumed our journey from Kulathupuzha. From Kulathupuzha onwards the road to Thenmala passes through beautiful places. Just a couple of Kilometres away from Thenmala, you will come across a rowdy gang of monkeys. These monkeys are nasty and don’t get out of the car with any kind of food materials. The monkeys at palaruvi are much more aggressive.
We had stopped the car for a few minutes and the monkeys were getting irritated at not getting any food. Slowly they started encircling the car and by that time we decided it is time to leave.
We reached Thenmala around 10AM. I think best time to reach here would be 9 – 9:30 AM. We headed straight to the Tourist facilitation centre. The receptionist there was courteous but was obviously very bored at having to explain tourist facilities at the centre to us.
At the Thenmala Ecotourism Centre – Things to do in Thenmala
The Culture Zone at Thenmala
The main reception centre at Thenmala is known as the Culture centre. It houses toilet facilities, car parking, a restaurant, a butterfly park and a musical dancing fountain. There is also a camping facility here. For some strange reason, the girl at the reception was not interested in taking us to the butterfly park. She said it is only for school children!
There is a large menu at the restaurant, but you will be lucky if you get the afternoon meals. It is better to arrange food well in advance. There aren’t many hotels around Thenmala. There is a KTDC restaurant on the way to Palaruvi falls, but here also you need to book food well in advance.
Musical dancing fountain is operated in the evening only if there are sufficient people interested in watching it.
From the reception, take the tickets for entry to Adventure zone and Leisure zone. Then head straight to the Adventure zone. There are only a few parking slots here, but you can also park your car inside the Matsyafed compound nearby. If you are are lucky, you might also be able to taste some desi toddy!
The Adventure Zone at Thenmala
The adventure zone entrance is located at a height and you then walk to an elevated walkway. The elevated walkway at its peak gives you a view of the valley below which has an artificial lake. All adventure activities are arranged around this lake.
This walkway is dangerous for small children. Take them only under constant supervision. I also noticed that at some places the wooden planks are damaged. This adds further adventure to the whole experience!
After the elevated walkway, there is footpath from the top which leads to the lake at the bottom. This route is designed to offer some trekking experience, but is too short for it. Still, children enjoy it since they get to play Tarzan and there are some branches on which they can climb. Along this way you will find the rock climbing area. Each activity in adventure section requires separate payment, but is not too costly (Rs.10 – Rs.100).
Around the lake there are many activities you can take part in. You can go for a petal boat trip on the small lake, you can try the river crossing, go for shooting practice or try dropping down on a rope from the top of the elevated walkway to the other side of the lake. Check out the following photos for a glimpse of the activities in adventure zone. You can easily spend 2 – 3 hours at this place.
Boating in Thenmala Adventure Zone
There are a couple of pedal boats and round boats available here. No life jackets, so there is a risk if you don’t know swimming.
Shooting practice at Thenmala Adventure Zone
River crossing at Thenmala Adventure Zone
This one turned out to be harder than I thought. It saps all your energy and I found that most who tried this struggled to get back. The metal rope becomes extremely hot due to friction and they don’t give gloves due to sheer laziness!
This one is scary initially since it requires you to jump from a height. The ride itself is smooth.
The Leisure Zone at Thenmala
After the Adventure zone activities we returned to the Culture zone for lunch. We were so hungry that we were ready to eat anything. The restaurant thankfully had only meals available.
We then headed off to the Leisure zone which is on the road to Trivandrum city just after the dam junction. The security guy guided us along a road going up the hill on the right side of the entrance (to the right of the photo). We thought it would be a leisurely walk, but turned out to be a torturous walk since we were all tired. Along this path you have a number of resting places and you will notice a lot stone work (sculpture garden) which blends with the environment.
Finally we reached on road parallel to the dam discharge canal. There is a small children’s park along this walk. If you are short on time and don’t want to walk a lot, I suggest walking directly to the park from the entrance gate.
Matsyafed Aquarium at Thenmala
When we came out of the Adventure zone we had noticed the Matsyafed Aquarium. I was thinking it is probably something not worth spending time and we were about to leave to the culture zone for lunch. Seeing that we are leaving, the security guy there came to us and told us that it is a good place to visit (he probably took note of the children).
We went inside and I was amazed at the variety of the displays at the aquarium!. The aquariums were well lit and well maintained. This is a must visit place if you are going to Thenmala. Don’t miss it and don’t rush through your visit!
Other Activities at Thenmala
Thenmala eco-tourism promotion society (TEPS) conducts various trekking programs. They also have camping facilities near the reception centre. I think for trekking programs you need to spend two days in Thenmala. For more details on the trekking programs check this page or call up TEPS office.
If you are a religious guy, there are 3 famous temples around this place. These are Ayyappan temples located at Achankovil, Aryankavu and Kulathupuzha. Covering all the three in a single day would be an adventure!
Places of interest near Thenmala
One of the popular tourist places around Thenmala is the Palaruvi falls on the Kerala/Tamilnadu border. Palaruvi is about 15 kilometres from Thenmala and the drive to Palaruvi is a treat. During summer, there is little water so check at the first check post whether it is worth going there. Also note that it is crowded beyond imagination during tourist season.
There is a deer rehabilitation centre near Thenmala. There is also a small park here. We didn’t get time to go there. This seems to be a large forest patch.
Suggested Itinerary at Thenmala
Following is my itinerary suggestion at Thenmala if you are going with your family.
- 7AM – Start at 7 if you are going from Trivandrum. Pack your breakfast and enjoy a riverside breakfast by stopping near the Kulathupuzha river.
- 9AM – 10AM – Reach Thenmala reception centre and check what are the facilities available. Check whether food is available for lunch and whether dancing fountain will be operated in the evening. Take tickets for adventure and leisure zone.
- 10AM – 12:30PM – Spend 2 hours on adventure activities at the adventure zone.
- 12:30PM – 1:30PM – Have food at the reception centre restaurant or the food you brought with you.
- 2PM – 5PM – Head to Palaruvi falls which is just 15 Kilometres from Thenmala. This is on the way to Shenkotah (Tamil Nadu). For some strange reason, the guys here close the Palaruvi access by 5PM. Again I think it is for the convenience of the staff rather than tourist convenience! Probably I have a high expectation of government run facilities
- 5PM – 6:30PM – Relax at the leisure zone park. Don’t walk up to the sculpture garden. I found it a rather tiring trip after all the morning adventure.
- 7PM – If dancing fountain show is scheduled, head back to the reception centre.
If you are looking for a one day family picnic with a bit of adventure, Thenmala is an ideal choice. If you are not taking you own food, ensure that you call up the place well in advance to arrange food.
However the eco-tourism project obviously doesn’t live up to the hype of a well run tourism project. It may be providing livelihood for the local population, but sadly the project is nowhere near a well run tourism project. The customer service is missing.
June 6, 2011 | Posted in Travel Reviews 5 Comments » | By Jayson Joseph