Periyar Best for Wildlife – Go bamboo rafting for a different way to spy on wildlife, try to bump into a herd of elephants, get an oily massage.
“SHH!” our jungle guide warns us, and I bump clumsily into the person walking in front of me. I’ve been scanning the forest floor for the leeches who had besieged me on earlier monsoon trips to the Periyar Tiger Reserve, and though our guide has assured me we’re unlikely to see them in drier months, I am still wary. But now, there are more interesting things to focus on.
We’ve chanced upon a herd of elephants, including a calf, a mere 30 meters away from us. We’d love to stay and admire them, especially since we’re perfectly placed to spy, but the calf is making the herd unpredictable and we retreat. They probably sensed our presence minutes ago and are on the alert, wide ears twitching. Of course, trying to outrun six or seven elephants through as dense a forest as Periyar’s doesn’t hold much hope, so we’re better off trying to make ourselves seem as unthreatening as possible by making tracks.
This region is thought to be home to India’s largest population of these giants, but, on foot, you’re more likely to come across gaur – animals you shouldn’t be excited to meet face-to-face, either. Luckily, the poachers-turned-guides in Periyar have excellent first-hand knowledge of the park’s wildlife. Elephants are more often seen from the boats that navigate Periyar’s man-made lake, looking like great, dusty boulders rolling down the slopes to the water.
A single road cuts through Thekkady, the gateway to the reserve, and is lined with spice plantations, family-owned grocery stores, and Kathakali and Kalaripayattu displays. Even so, we spend most of our time in the forest, opting for long walks, bamboo rafting and a boat trip on Periyar Lake.
Boating is one of the things that makes the Periyar Tiger Reserve special. There’s something about seeing a park from the water; the distance between you and the animals lulls them into emerging from the forest cover. You’ll have a chance to see cormorants, darters, kingfishers and other water birds and even the occasional, quick-to-disappear otter. Although deemed a tiger reserve, hardly any have been spotted in recent years. Look instead for other elusive and endemic forest dwellers such as the endangered lion-tailed macaque and small Travancore flying squirrel.
After a second trek and few more sweaty hours in the forest, we’re more inclined to accept our hotel staff’s earlier suggestion of an oily and aromatic Kerala massage.
Where to Stay
Gavi, about 50km from Kumily, has a Kerala Forest Development Corporation run eco-friendly resort with experienced guides and naturalists Gavi Eco Tourism Centre, Gavi Division, Gavi PO, via Vandiperiyar; from Rs. 2,300 pp all inclusive. For Booking accommodation in Gavi Contact Karmic Kerala Tourism, Tel. 98460 89546.
Wildernest, a small, 10-room hotel located off the Thekkady Road, is bright and spacious (00-91-4869-224030; wildernest-kerala.com, firstname.lastname@example.org; Thekkady Road; from Rs. 4,500).
Where to Eat
CHRISSIE’S offers Italian and continental fare (00-91-4869-224155; chrissies.in; By-Pass Rd, Thekkady; meals from Rs. 110).