It was a delightful morning at Chellarkovil on Day 3 of our Kerala trip. We woke up just after dawn to this view of the cottages in our homestay, they looked so cosy that we wanted to go back to sleep !
But then, how can you sleep when just outside your room, the mountains and the morning, dewy fresh green grass wait to wish you a “Good Morning”?
The early morning was spent clicking pictures of the pretty flowers and creepers around the homestay that seemed to gave a dream world feel to the whole setting. Sit here and sip your morning cup of tea, we won’t say anything more !
Soon, it was time to get ready for our visit to the Periyar Tiger Reserve. Before we left, the homestay served us a nice and simple breakfast of Appam. Our cabs were waiting for us by 7.30 AM to take us to the Tiger Reserve, by the time 8 adults and 2 kids got ready and left it was 8.30 AM ! Though the distance between Chellarkovil and Periyar Tiger Reserve was only 20 odd kms, it took us almost 45 minutes on the ghat roads to reach the place.
Periyar Tiger Reserve
The Periyar Tiger Reserve is one of the popular tiger and wildlife sanctuaries in the country. What is unique about this sanctuary is that, unlike a jungle safari on a jeep or an elephant, the safari here is a river safari, a boat ride on the Periyar River.
By the time we reached the Tiger Reserve it was almost 9.15 AM. Vehicles are not allowed inside the reserve and so we had to walk quite a distance to reach the boating ticket counter. The sights of the reserve are lovely as you walk under the thick green canopy, the greenery of the reserve is so beautiful that you don’t realise how far you have to walk.
The river safari boats start from 7.30 AM with an interval of 1 & 1/2 hour between each trip. We were late to catch the 9.30 AM boat, so we had to wait till 11.15 AM for our safari. If there was a tad bit of disappointment that we missed the boat and had to wait for another 2 hours, it was all washed away the moment we saw the breathtaking view of the Periyar River !
We could have spent the 2 hours simply staring at the scenery !
The wait turned out to be an educative one too. Near the ticket counter, overlooking the river, there are boards listing the State animals, birds and flowers of various states of India. It felt like going back to the GK book days in school.
Next, we spotted the Tiger Reserve’s canteen and decided to have a quick snack. The Parota and Soya chunks kurma was simply delicious. Beware of monkeys around the canteen, do not venture eating out in the open.
We then went to the information centre lounge to wait out the remaining time. There is a souvenir shop selling T-shirts, caps, jackets and other collectibles. They do have a nice collection and we shopped for some T-shirts. The information centre has all details of various eco-tourism activities conducted by the Tiger Reserve. These include Bamboo Rafting, Nature Walks, tents and so on.
Everything looked very inviting, we were sure we would come back again in the future.
When you are in such a big group, you wouldn’t know how quickly time passes, the 2 hours seemed to be over in a jiffy ! We bought the tickets and walked to the boat.Even before we got onto the boat, on one side of the river bank, we spotted a group of wild boars grazing.
That got us excited. If you are wondering what was there to get excited about a wild boar, well, it’s not the animal but spotting the animal in its natural habitat that is exciting !
The enchanting river safari
Once on the boat, you are shown your seats and asked to wear the life jackets, it is mandatory to wear them throughout the safari. Then, the ride begins.
The obvious point of taking the river safari at Periyar Tiger Reserve is to spot a tiger. However, the tigers are masters of their own will and do not come out as and when we please. In fact, there is very little chance of spotting a tiger during the river safari. Animals, unlike us, are very early risers and they usually come out to the river for a drink early in the morning or sometimes in the evening. One cannot predict which side of the forest they would visit, when and for how long. So, before you begin the safari, keep your expectations to zero. There is no point getting disappointed on not being able to see any animals.
We’d say, forget the animals, look around the captivating beauty of the Western Ghats and the Periyar River, the green and blue contrasting and complementing each other !
The safari takes you along the Periyar lake, technically a part of the Periyar River, formed by the construction of the Mullaperiyar Dam.
You have to be on the look out for animals, we spotted a lone turtle on a small sand patch in the middle of the water at the very beginning of our ride.
All through the ride, you can see tree trunks jutting out of the water, we haven’t seen such a landscape anywhere else. It turns out that these trees were once part of the forest but were submerged by the returning waters of the river when the dam was built ! The trunks give the scene a very mysterious feel. The lofty Western Ghats in the background just make the whole view magical !
Here and there, you will find a few birds fishing, flying around or perched on the tree trunks or cooling their heels in the water. We wish we could identify the birds that we saw.
These two seemed to have some important things to discuss or were they sitting there and making fun of us humans? “Oh look, there’s another set of that funny species !” Have you ever wondered if the animals are also watching us with curiosity and thinking up some witty comments in their mind? Who is watching whom? Are the birds out on a safari to see the humans?
We kept a keen eye on the jungle hoping a tiger would march out any moment but all was quiet. If everybody on the boat stopped talking, you could hear the stillness and silence of the jungle and see beauty at every turn, every corner ! The boat was noisy but we simply shut ourselves off to the noise and lost ourselves in wilderness.
How fortunate are we to be able to see all such richness of nature ! Yet, we choose to ignore all that and bicker over petty things like one drunk gentleman in our boat who refused to wear the life jacket and picked up a fight with one of the staff members on the boat, spoiling the experience for others. No wonder, sometimes you get this feeling that the birds, animals, trees and nature are much more in tune with each other than us humans, they seem to be having a party together leaving us out ! It is a beautiful world folks, let’s learn to respect it and not take it for granted !
The boat cruises along the river and then takes a turn around a hill to return. Towards the end of our safari, we spotted a wild boar again, we were overjoyed to find an animal, this one was busy trotting off somewhere and reminded us of Lion King’s Pumbaa !
We also found the turtle at the same place, this time it was hanging on to a tree trunk and staring at the sky. We passed by the storks and birds again, there was one moment when hundreds of tiny birds flew up all at once, what a sight it was !
The boat finally anchored on the bank, signalling the end of our safari, the tiger remained elusive but it really it not matter, not after we spent 1 & 1/2 hours taking in mesmerising scenes.
As we walked back to the parking lot, we spotted a Giant Squirrel in a peaceful siesta on top of a tall tree. He didn’t bother to even turn around as we gathered under the tree and tried to click pictures !
When you are in the midst of greenery like this, it is a treat for the eyes, soothing for the mind and your lungs literally breathe a sigh of relief with the pure oxygen around !
It was time to leave Periyar Tiger Reserve, there was still so much left for us to explore but then it is always good to leave something for next time so you are tempted to go back soon !
We drove back to our homestay, stopping for lunch at Ranger Woods restaurant, a short drive from the Reserve. The food was great as was the ambience, a nice way to end our visit to Periyar Tiger Reserve.
– All the information you need about Periyar Tiger Reserve can be found at their website http://www.periyartigerreserve.org
– The nearest railway station is Kottayam, you could hire a cab from there. The website says there are bus services from Kottayam, Munnar and other cities in Kerala.
– If you plan to spend 2 days at Thekkady, you could do some of the activities under their eco-tourism programme.
– One has to walk quite a distance to the river end from the parking lot, if there are senior citizens finding it difficult to walk, you could request the people there to help. We didn’t find any shuttle service but spotted a forest officer’s jeep transporting an old lady, this may not be a regular service, though.
– The river safari/boat rides start from 7.30 AM till 5 PM, there is a trip every 1 & 1/2 hour. Check the details of the entrance tickets and ticket rates for boating at here http://www.periyartigerreserve.org/faq1.php#
– You can book tickets for the boat ride online at this site http://www.periyarfoundation.org
– Do go with the expectation that you will spot a tiger and don’t get disappointed if you cannot spot one. Just sit back and soak in the natural bliss around you.
– Follow the instructions on the boat like wearing life jackets, do not ignore safety rules.
– There is a canteen where you can find something decent to eat. Beware of monkeys if you are carrying food items in your hands.
– Do not litter the place since it is an biodiversity hub.
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