Periyar’s Wildlife Sanctuary – Kerala’s Hidden Gem
One day three girlfriends and I decided to treat ourselves with a trip to Periyar’s Wildlife Sanctuary, an amazing 700 km wildlife preserve. After a grueling and intense agriculture summer course, we deserved it. Why Periyar? Imagine huge herds of wild elephants (sometimes numbering 50 per herd), bonnet monkeys (its hair resembles a cap), barking deer, and tigers, tigers among others.
We boarded a rickety British Ambassador car, windows down, to get to nearby Thekkady, a plantation town that sells spices and gives great Ayurvedic massages. Thekkady, in the region of Kerala, has a high altitude as it lies along the ranges of the Western Ghats.
It was a long drive and to our dismay, we learned at the Kerala border that our driver had bailed on us. After a 30 minute wait, to our relief, he came back. He could not take us across the border, he said, because his license was invalid.
This we learned, after he had taken us all across Tamil Nadu. Well, when in Rome (or shall we say….). For a fee we were led to a replacement driver, who brought us to our quaint guest house in Thekkady, where we unpacked and slept.
Early the next morning we reached the Periyar Wildlife Reserve. No disappointment there, only awe and wonder at nature’s beauty. Except, of course, for the lake which was made by the British so the wildlife could have a permanent water source.
There are two ways to appreciate Periyar. One is by boat which is safer and allows you to see the many varied wildlife stop at the lake to drink. Another way is through trekking, accompanied by a guide with a rifle which means the possibility of an unexpected thrill.
Do ask for leech socks if you decide to trek. Leeches are all over the ground and body heat attracts them. They will latch onto you, if you don’t have these canvas knee high socks.
Our guided trek was wonderful. It lasted about four hours and our guide led us straight through the jungle, up huge hills offering breathtaking views over the lake, and even across streams – all the while pointing out interesting trees and animals including monkeys, wild boars, water buffaloes, and many others. We did not sight elephants or tigers that day, sad to say. Nonetheless, it was still an incredible experience.
Back at Thekkady we indulged ourselves again with an Ayurvedic massage. This massage stems from ancient Indian healing practices. Because it is personalized, you may be asked questions about diet and lifestyle. This is to determine who will massage you, the intensity of pressure, and the type of oils that will be used for you. For me, it was amazing. But be ready to strip down naked in front of your masseuse.
We also watched a Kathakali performance (a classical Indian dance drama that originated in Kerala in the 16th century). The Kathakali usually depicts Hindu epics, and originally were shown only in temples and palaces. Today, a lot of small theaters offer this, and the entry fee is inexpensive.
Here is the best thing about visiting the Periyar Wildlife Reserve and Thekkady. If you plan your schedule wisely and know what you want to do in advance, you will only need two days for your trip. But what a remarkable wildlife and cultural experience those two days will be. All your five senses—sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing, will be delightfully surprised, and you will come back so much richer for the time and money you had spent on this valuable trip.