PERIYAR

Local Transport   |    By road

Periyar has become one of the most picturesque wildlife sanctuaries in the world and is enjoyed by over 150000 tourists every year . For the animals, the reservoir and surrounding forests provide, protection and a perennial water supply. For the more deeply interested visitor or naturalist who has the time and inclination, a longer stay is certainly worthwhile : Periyar is a truly spectacular sanctuary. Although walking into the sanctuary on one's own is discouraged by the forest department, it is possible to go on treks with tribal guides and there are watchtowers overlooking pools which can be used. It must be remembered, however, that the animals feel most comfortable and allow the closest approach by boat. The only flat areas of Periyar are the marshy grasslands at the ends of the fingers of the lake. The typical habitat is rolling or steep hills . The actual area covered by forest is sometimes surprisingly little, with big areas of grassland between patches of forest. But this is the hallmark of a dynamic ecosystem, that which provides dense forest cover (for shade and browse in the hot months) and , adjacent to it, rich grasslands for the big herbivores.

There is probably no sanctuary in the world where elephant behavior can by watched in such absolute comfort and safety. The total elephant population is about 800 and one can approach to within 20 yard (20 meters) of placid groups feeding , bathing and swimming. Often , after a swim, elephants indulge in their own brand of mudslinging; trunkfulls of dust are sprayed on their backs, an activity which may decrease parasite infestation and protect them from the sun. But whatever the reason, it is a spectacular sight. Unlike their African cousins , female Indian elephants have no tusks. In fact no all bulls have tusks either. Tuskless males are called maknas. Amale tusker is of course a magnificent animal, but it may be that the maknas are the lucky ones, because sustained poaching for ivory has wiped out most of the big tuskers in South Indian Jungles. The high stakes involved make poachers increasingly daring and bold, and forest officials have an almost insurmountable problem on their hands . The ivory criminals have in recent years started hanging live wires to electrocute elephants. Also, tuskers are singled out and crippled by a shot in the knee; the helpless animal is then closely approached and killed. It is equally tragic when a wounded elephant manages to get away from its killers. People report that tuskers with a crippled leg use their tusk as a crutch for support.

If you go to Periyar hoping to see tigers , you are almost certain to be disappointed. The great cats require an enormous amount of territory on which to lead their solitary lives and it's estimated the 777-sq-km sanctuary has about 35 tigers and leopards. It is home to bison, antelopes, sambars , wild boars, monkeys , langurs, a wide variety of birds, and some 750 elephants.

There's a small tourist office in Kumily and a wildlife Information Centre near the boat jetty in Thekkady. It's advisable to bring warm clothes and waterproof clothing to Periyar. Entry to the park costs Rs 50 for foreigners and is valid for five days.

Boat trips on the lake are the standard way of seeing the sanctuary, but spend one day at Periyar and take a midday boat trip and you're unlikely to see anything. 'As soon as a shy animal sticks its head up', reported one visitor, 'all aboard shout and scream until it goes again'. The first (7 am) and last (4 PM) departures offer the best wildlife spotting prospects. It's better to get a small group together (the smaller the better) and charter your own boat. They're available in a variety of sizes .

Jungle walks can also be interesting. A daily three-hour walk departs early in the morning and costs RS 10 per person. Guides can also be arranged from the Wildlife Information Centre for walks further into the park. Curiously, they don't promote this activity, so you must ask insistently about it. Visitors are not allowed to walk in the park without an accompanying guide. Some of the guides are very knowledgeable and they're certainly cautions in areas where animals may be present. Turning a blind comer and stumbling into a wild elephant is not a wise idea. The third way to see wildlife is to spend a night in one of the observation towers , although these are often booked out weeks in advance. This costs RS 50 a night plus the boat drop-off charge and you must bring your own food supplies. Elephant rides are for fun, not for serious wildlife viewing. The best time to visit the sanctuary is between September and May. The hot season (February to May) may be less comfortable but will offer more wildlife sightings because in the hot season other water sources dry up and the wildlife is forced to come down to the lakeside. Weekends are best avoided because of noisy day-trippers . What you see is a matter of luck, but even those elusive tigers do show themselves occasionally. One guide reported that in the three years he had spent at the park, he had seen tigers only twice : on one occasion, he saw a tiger swimming in the lake close to the Lake Palace Hotel.

Kumily is a one street town, but it has accommodation ranging from dirt cheap to luxurious. Although it's four km from the lake, you can catch the semi-regular bus, hire a bicycle of set off on foot - it's a pleasant, shady walk into the park. The Mukumkal Tourist Home (Tel : 22070) is close to the bus station. Avoid the back rooms ,which can be noisy if the hotel's generator is switched on. The hotel's little chef restaurant is a reasonable place to eat. The big Lake Queen Tourist Home (Tel : 22086) , next to the Kottayam road junction, has 54 rooms . The Lakeland Restaurant is downstairs. Along the road to the park is the Rolex Lodge (Tel: 22081) . Close by, the woodlands Hotel ( Tel :2207) is a bit gloomy but it's cheap. Continuing towards the park entrance, the Karthika Tourist Home (Tel : 22146) has doubles with bath and a vegetarian restaurant. Next along the road is the very upmarket Spice Village (Tel: 22315) , which is part of the Casino Group. This well -designed , new resort has attractive cottage in a pleasant garden with a swimming pool. The Hotel Ambadi (Tel :22192) has cottages and rooms. It also has quite a good restaurant. A final possibility is the Leelapankaj (Tel : 22299) , right by the sanctuary entrance gate . Just outside the sanctuary entrance , the outdoor Coffee Inn has an interesting selection of music and good travellers' food (including homemade brown bread). In the tradition of travellers' restaurants in India, the food takes a long time to arrive.

The KTDC has three hotels in the park. It's a good idea to make advance reservations, particularly for weekend visits. This can be done at any KTDC office or hotel. Periyar House (Tel :22026), the cheapest of the three, is very popular. The restaurant serves good vegetarian and non-vegetarian food at reasonable prices. Aranya Nivas (Tel: 22023) has very pleasant rooms and aircon suites. These prices drop in the low season. There's a bar, garden area, TV lounge, postal and banking facilities and a small handicrafts shop. Food in the restaurant is excellent . Guests at the Aranya Nivas are entitled to a free morning and afternoon boat trip. The lake Palace (Tel: 22023) is well away from the noise of day-trippers. Guests are transferred to the hotel by boat and should arrive at the Thekkady boat jetty by 4 PM for the final trip of the day back to the hotel. Rooms in the palace, at one time the maharaja's game lodge, including all meals. If you can afford it, this is a delightful place to stay and you can actually see animals from your room. With a guide, it's possible to walk to the Lake Palace from the boat jetty in about an hour. There are Rest Houses in the sanctuary at Manakavala (8 km from Kumily), Mullakkudy (39 km) and Edappalayam (5 km) . Not all of them may be open for visitors but you can find out and book at the Wildlife Information Centre. Near the boat jetty in Thekkady, there's a snack bar offering basic food , snacks and drinks.

By Road

The bus station in Kumily is just a bit of spare land at the eastern edge of town, near the state border. It's chaotic when more than three buses are there at once. All buses originating or terminating at Periyar start and finish at Aranya Nivas in Thekkady, but they also stop at the Kumily Bus Station. Buses operate on the Ernakulam, Kottayam , Kumily, Madurai route. There are four express buses daily between Ernakulam and Kumily. Three continuing to Madurai. Buses to Ernakulam take six hours . The 110-km trip from Kottayam takes about four hours . Regular buses go every half hour. The buses pass through rubber plantations and villages with Pastel-coloured churches and rocket-like shrines. The road then climbs steadily through a mass of tea, coffee and yardman Plantations. At least two direct buses daily make the eight hour trip to Thiruvananthapuram . Another goes to Kovalam (nine hours), and another to Kodaikanal (6 & 1/2 hours)

Local Transport

A bus operates between Kinily and Thekaddy every 15 minutes. The KTDC periyar house and Aranya Nivas both have bicycles for rent .

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