If you thought wildlife tourism was all about safaris on four wheels or trekking through thickets alone, Thekkady in Kerala’s Idukki district will tell you there is much more to it. The Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary here promises you one of a kind of treat – a boat cruise through a lake bordered by a forest.
All you need to be equipped with is a camera and binoculars to get the most out of this wildlife adventure. Unlike other safaris, where the groaning engines dissuade animals from coming out into the open, this trip is sure to offer you animal sightings, as the residents of the jungle cannot help coming down to the lake to quench their thirst.
The Periyar Lake is the reservoir of the Mullaperiyar Dam, which is said to have flooded the low-lying areas of the Periyar forest. Still showing signs of the submerged jungle are dry tree trunks that stand tall in the waters, serving as watchtowers for the birds of this region.
Boarded on the Jalayatra, the boat that took us over the vast Periyar Lake, we saw a herd of Sambar by the calm waters of the lake and not very far away, we saw a sound of wild boars. As we sailed further from the pier, we saw the richness of the flora and fauna of the Sanctuary. The foliage was very dense; a sure safe place for the animals that live here, thanks to the waters that keep human habitation at a safe distance.
As we passed the leafless trees in the middle of the lake, I noticed that the birds perched on them seemed to be least bothered by the huge boats that passed by.
Soon, more animals came to sight: more sambars, spotted deer, boars and those buffalos with socks – the hardy bisons. The best part of the cruise was the elephants. Their jaunt to the lake is much more than just to drink water. So much do these pachyderms love splashing about, that they often spend long hours by the banks.
Back at our resort, the person at the front office told us that it was only a few days back, that a boat slowed down near the elephants so that visitors could have a good look at the jumbos, when one of those mammoth creatures suddenly emerged from the water and almost capsized the boat. The elephant that was enjoying a dip must have felt threatened by the `sailing thing’ and in turn played a game to frighten the people in it.
The Periyar sanctuary is also said to be home to the Nilgiri Langurs, Malabar squirrels, snakes, porcupines and lion-tailed macaques, among other animals. The national park also boasts of a tiger reserve, with around 50 big cats living there. The birdlife here is also very rich. It is believed that there are over 200 varieties of winged creatures here. The darters, cormorants, fish owls, white egrets, kingfishers, grey herons, grey hornbills are just a few of them.
For ardent animal lovers and bird-watchers, there is a resort located literally in the jungle. Here at the resort, guests can watch forest life from close quarters.
There are also a few government hotels by the jetty that offer less expensive accommodation.
The town closest to this wildlife sanctuary is Kumily, which is around four kilometers away. Kumily has a large number of hotels and resorts that offer a pleasant stay among the greenery there. Nature walks, jeep safaris and after-dark drives through the forests are the other activities that Kumily offers.
Although Thekkady is primarily a wildlife destination, it has much else to offer. The town has a long line of handicraft shops with a lot of attractions for shopaholics. Ayurvedic massages or rejuvenation therapies are yet another alternative for vacationers.
Then there are the plantation tours, wherein your can take a guided tour through the estates. The guide who took us around a private property there, showed us the bay leaf trees, clove, asafoetida and lemon grass, apart from cardamom, pepper and vanilla. He shared with us details of these crops, the seasons for harvest and about the market for the products. The plantation also had an elephant ride to offer; a safari through the coffee estate.
If art and culture is included in your areas of interest, there are Kalaripayettu and Kathakali shows you can go for. Kalaripayettu is an ancient martial art form that originated in Kerala and Kathakali is that age-old art form, which is a coming together of dance and drama. This dance form relates stories; usually tales of gods of the Hindu pantheon. The show begins with the make-up of Kathakali artistes, which is an art by itself.