Kumarakom bird sanctuary (16 km), on an island in Vembanadu Lake is also an ideal place for water cruises. One can stay on house boats sailing on the backwater and the Kollam-Kottayam-Allappuzha route is rich in its scenic beauty. Boat races are held annually. Kottayam, a town of 'lakes, latex and letters' has some beautiful old churches and offices of major dailies including Malayala Manorama. Nearest Airport: Kochi, (76 km). Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary (Thekkady) encompassing an area of 777 sqkm has a 26 sqkm artifical lake surrounded by evergreen forest and grasslands, home to bison, antelopes, sambar, wild boar, monkeys, langur, spotted deer, elephants, tigers and over 160 species of birds. Thekkady is the center inside the park with hotels and boat jetty and Kumily, 4 km from sanctuary, is the closest town. Nearest airports: Madurai (134 km), Kochi (190 km). Railhead: Kottayam (114 km).