twisted ankle kept Achal Dhruva away from the tiger trail
in Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. Instead he rode on top of an
elephant, went on a boat safari and almost bumped into a bear
was love at first sight. She was incredibly beautiful and
I was bowled over by the unflinching stare of her big brown
eyes. Poetry in motion, I became fida over her
regal gait. She made the dhak-dhak queen Madhuri look like
an extra. After all she is the real Gajagamini.
despite being the cynosure of all eyes, Jayashree was totally
unruffled by the overtures of smitten souls like me. The reigning
queen and star attraction of Periyar is one cool elephant.
The half-hour that I was astride her was a once-in-a-lifetime
experience. It was also a split-wide-open experience. I had
never ever spread my legs so wide as I did on Jayshrees
back. If you ignore the discomfort of your position and the
hardness of her spine through the gunnysacks, shifting this
way and that as she ambles along, the going is fun. The ride
which winds through the foliage off the main road leading
into Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary was a revelation about this
magnificent beast. Despite her huge girth, Jayshree, who is
a youthful 30, managed to walk down slopes with consummate
ease. Perched behind Baburaj, her mahout, I waited in anticipation
to see a tiger which never came.
A twisted left ankle had kept me away from the two-day trek
in the tiger trail into the heart of Periyar. Despite the
doctors instruction of complete bed rest for 15 days,
I had hobbled my way to Periyar by the fifth day and it was
worth the effort.
Periyar is heaven on earth for the wildlife lover. Over 1000
wild elephants roam in the sanctuary besides the tigers and
leopards. One has to be really lucky to sight these big cats
since they are elusive even at the height of dry season (April/May).
On the other hand, with game like sambar, bison, boars, gaur,
malabar flying squirrel, striped neck mongoose, different
types of monkeys and over 260 species of birds in Periyar,
the wildlife enthusiast will never be disappointed.
Periyar occupies 777 square kilometers of the Western Ghat
along the cardamom hills. It is one of the largest and most
visited wildlife reserves in India. Located close to the Kerala-Tamil
Nadu border at a height of 750-1500 metres about 100 kilometres
east of Kottayam, Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary has a vast artificial
lake in its centre. The lake was created by the British in
1895 to supply water to drier parts of Tamil Nadu. In 1899,
the royal family of Travancore, anxious to preserve its favourite
hunting grounds from the encroachments of plantations, declared
the area as a forest reserve and built the Edapalayam Lake
Palace to accommodate their guests. This was expanded as a
wildlife preserve in 1933 and once again when it became part
of Project Tiger in 1979.
four-hour bus journey from Kottayam to Periyar is a curtain
raiser to what awaits you at the sanctuary. The road winds
through undulating hills providing wonderful views across
the Western Ghats. Having climbed through the rubber tree
forests into Idduki district, the mountains get truly spectacular
and the wide floored valleys are carpeted with lush tea plantations.
a nondescript village four kilometers short of the park to
the northwest, is a one street village which acts as a getaway
point for Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. It offers a mixed bag
of accommodation ranging from the luxurious Spice Village
of the Casino Group of Hotels to neat budget joints like Coffee
Inn priced at Rs 150 per day.
Life in Periyar is centered on the lake. A two-hour Boat Safari
is a unique way to sight wildlife in Periyar. The boats take
off in clusters of five to six, moving silently from one shore
to the other, hoping to give the tourist a close glimpse of
animals coming down for a drink. The best time slot to go
on this safari is the 4 pm one, since the veggies
come down for a drink before retiring for the night. If you
are lucky you might get to see a predator make a kill.
in the heart of Periyar
eerie silence prevailed on the boat as we set off. Call it
the calm before the storm but I could not have imagined the
mayhem which broke loose about fifteen minutes of our embarking
on the safari. All of a sudden there was an an excited cry
on the right, who raha, who raha and in a blink
of an eye the entire junta was on that side training their
binoculars and cameras. The pleas of the distraught boatman
to retain our seats and the threat that the boat would capsize
fell on deaf ears. I too pushed myself through the milling
crowd. I had come to see a tiger and inconsequential things
like capsizing was not going to keep me away. But the entire
ruckus turned out to be an anticlimax. On the shore was a
lone boar sniffing the air at the waters edge. A tingle
of excitement ran down my spine as I viewed the animal through
the binoculars. I could see his hair gently blowing in the
wind. As he stared back at us, he shook his head as if to
say, These humans are crazy!
top of Jayashree, the star of Periyar
the tiger avoided us, it was a wonderful experience to see
wild boars frolicking, deers jumping about gracefully and
bisons grazing. As we wound our way back to the jetty, the
lake in the fading light with the silhouettes of bare tree
stumps sticking out of the water, took on a sinister form.
The jungle at night is scary.
night out on one of the watchtowers or the forest guest-house
on the islands dotting the lake (arranged at the forest department)
is not for the weak-hearted. It can be both an exciting and
unnerving experience. I spent the night at the forest guest-house
sitting on the verandah listening to the mysterious and enchanting
voices of the forest. Suddenly, there was a loud grunt so
close that I almost jumped out of my skin. The beam of the
torch that I flashed in the direction of the sound cut through
the darkness to reveal a gleaming pair of eyes and the outline
of a huge figure. Before I could recover, the animal had retreated
into the darkness. It dawned on me that I had seen a bear.
I stayed awake all night hoping to catch another glimpse.
But the image of Periyar, which is etched forever in my memory,
is one of love. Just after sunset, from the jetty below the
forest guest-house, I saw two deers courting in the water
on the opposite shore. A full moon rose behind them over a
Kottayam, 100 kms away, is the closest town to Periyar.
A hours bus ride from there takes you to Kumily.
Buses ply at regular 30 minute intervals. Periyar is a
five-hour journey from Madurai while Cochin is six hours
away. A mini bus from the bus stand at Kumily takes visitors
to the reserve. There are also auto rickshaws