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Park practicalities

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The entrance fee, payable at the park entrance on the Kumily–Thekkady road, is Rs300 [Rs100]. By far the best option for wildlife-viewing from the lake is to sign up for one of the Forest Department’s excellent bamboo rafting trips, which start with a short hike from the boat jetty at 8am and return at 5pm, with a minimum of three hours spent on the water. The rafts carry four or five people and, because they’re paddled rather than motor-driven, can approach the lakeshore in silence, allowing you to get closer to the grazing animals and birds. Tickets cost Rs1000 per person and may be booked in advance from the eco-tourism centre on Ambadi Junction. Note that during busy periods places sell out quickly so reserve as far ahead as possible.

As for the boat tours, though these are considerably less expensive it’s quite a hassle to book yourself on one, and the trips themselves can come as a disappointment. It’s unusual to see many animals – engine noise and the presence of dozens of other people make sure of that. To maximize your chances of sighting elephants, wild boar or sambar grazing by the water’s edge, take the 7.30am service (for which you’ll need to wear warm clothing in winter). The best trips are run by the Forest Department (7.30am, 11.30am, 1pm & 4pm; Rs40). Their boats are smaller and shabbier than the KTDC vessels, but can get closer to the banks (and thus the wildlife) – more importantly, they are the only ones with upper decks (seats on the lower decks are a waste of time). Since the 2009 disaster, however, when 45 tourists died after one of these launches tipped over, only twenty people are permitted to travel on the upper decks and tickets sell out very fast; you’ll need to be at the lakeside at least two hours before the scheduled departure time (or ninety minutes for the 7.30am boat). Sales counters are just above the main visitor centre (daily 6am–6pm; t 04869/222027), next to the boat jetty; the Forest Department will issue two seats per person. You’ll need to fill in an indemnity form, and wear a life-jacket at all times.

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