Boat rides, treks, bamboo rafting, night patrols… the ‘Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary’ offers a plethora of options, managed by poachers turned protectors
One of the few national parks in the country where community based eco-tourism seems to have thankfully worked, the ‘Periyar Tiger Reserve’ boasts of a variety of holiday options. Almost all are managed mainly by local communities that were once involved in poaching but have now transformed into the proud protectors of the land.
About the reserve
The ‘Periyar Sanctuary’ is based around the Periyar Lake, created artificially in the late 1890s. Today a part of Project Tiger, the sanctuary spreads over 777sq km, of which 55sq km, mainly around the lake is open for tourists and recreational activities. The picturesque lake is characterised by placid waters and tree stumps that jut out of the water, a reminder of the forests that were submerged by the lake.
Boat Ride: The two hour boat ride, on a choice of motorboats is a must do. The departure timings are 7am, 9:30am, 11:30am, 2pm and 4pm, with the first and the last rides being the most popular. Expect to spot barking deer, gaur, otters, a variety of birds on the tree stalks and the elusive elephants.
Nature Walk: A 3-hour walk over 4-5km with a trained tribal guide. The second best options for families, after the boat ride. (Rs 300 per person)
Border Hiking: A full day programme involving a comparatively harder trek. Two guides and an armed forest guard accompany a group comprising maximum of ten people. (Rs 1000 per person)
Bamboo Rafting: A dawn to dusk programme that involves hiking through dense forests and three hours of rafting across the lake on an open bamboo raft. Snacks, packed lunch and tea are provided en route and four guides and an armed forest guard escort a group that includes 10 people maximum.
Night Jungle Patrol: Not for the faint hearted, the night patrol is a three-hour trek in the dead of the night, at any time between 7pm and 4am. Four tourists join the two protection guards and an armed forest guard on their regular night patrols on the fringes of the tiger reserve. (Rs 500 each)
Tiger Trail Trekking: A 1night/2days (Rs 3000 per head) or 2night/3days (Rs 5000 per head) trekking program, for groups comprising of five people, accompanied by guides who were once poachers, porters, cooks and a forest guard.
Bullock Cart Discoveries: A half day package for nine people, this is targeted towards the non-Indian visitors. Get to know a ‘typical Indian village’, crops and farming. It is available for Rs 500 per person that includes breakfast as well.
Tribal Heritage: A two-hour programme encompassing a trek through a tribal village in the reserve and a visit to a tribal museum, accompanied by a tribal guide.
Plantation Tours: Thekkady and Kumily (on the outskirts of the reserve) have numerous private spice and crop plantations, including those of cardamom, coffee and traditional herbal plants used in Ayurvedic medications.
Shopping: Shop for spices (available throughout Thekkady & Kumily) and Ayurvedic oils that promise a cure for everything from hair loss to joint aches (purchasable from shops and private plantations)
When to visit: September to May especially March and April is the best season, as the animals tend to spend a lot more time at the lake in order to escape from the scorching heat.
What to carry: A camera with a powerful zoom lens, cotton outfits, sun-protection (shades, hats, lotions etc); warm clothing for Oct-Feb, rain gear for Jun-Jul
Stay at: Range of accommodation at Thekkady from budget hotels to home stays to five-star luxuries. Within the reserve there are two properties run by KTDC: Aranya Niwas (at the edge of the lake) and Lake Palace (set in an island within the lake, accessible only by boat).
If you are feeling particularly adventurous, then it is also possible to book a watchtower in the middle of the jungle for the night.
From Mumbai Mirror