Situated within the confines of the Western Ghats in the southern Indian state of Kerala, Periyar National Park and Tiger Reserve is one of the most captivating wildlife parks in the world. Elephants in Periyar are a major attraction.
In 1895, the British undertook water resource management plans for the area and started work on a dam and an artificial lake under the auspices of Col. J. Pennycuick. The picturesque lake in the heart of the sanctuary was originally 26 sq km but now spans an area of 55 sq km.
This perennial source of water, which initially led to the submersion of large tracts of forestland, slowly attracted wild animals. It eventually resulted in the adjoining forests being granted protection by the Maharaja of Travancore. Post-1975 Periyar finds itself in the enviable position of being a national park as well as a protected tiger reserve.
Periyar (also known as Thekkady) is a park where one can witness playful elephants, whose population is currently around 800. Elephants in Periyar make excellent wildlife watching. The population of tigers is also increasing appreciably. The terrain ranges from hilly to flat grassland areas at the edges of the lakes. The vegetation is of moist deciduous type. Elephant in Periyar remain the key attraction.
Best time to visit: The temperature during summers (April-June) ranges from 21°C to 24°C. During the monsoon (July-August), it ranges from 19°C to 21°C. Winter season lasts from October to March and is cool and pleasant.
Periyar National Park Kerala is a veritable paradise of elephants. Herds of playful wild elephants have made Periyar Lake their favorite haunt for frolicking in the water. Scores of elephants in Periyar can be witnessed bathing and swimming here. The Indian female elephants in Periyar do not posses tusks like their African relatives. They are also not as swarthy as their African counterparts.
Other inhabitants of Periyar include the leopard, wild dog, barking deer, mouse deer, Nilgiri langur (a primate), bonnet macaque, sambhar, porcupines, squirrels, gaur (Indian bison), wild boar and sloth bear. There are approximately 40 tigers in the area as per the latest reports. The tigers, along with the Nilgiri tahrs (a kind of a wild goat), are elusive creatures. However, an early morning visit, with luck on your side, could yield results.
Amidst the rocky hinges along the lake, monitor lizards may be spotted. Trekkers have also sighted pythons, king cobras and flying lizards. Some 260 species of birds are found at Periyar. These include darters, cormorants, ibises, gray herons, mynas, flycatchers, orioles, wood pigeons, kingfishers, kites, ospreys, thrushes, and an appreciable number of blue-winged parakeets.
The months of March and April constitute the driest part of the year, because of which the animals spend a lot of time near the lake. Even the tiger may be spotted approaching the waters. Animals may be seen from motorboats on the lake or from watchtowers. A special permission is required to travel by boat to the source of the artificial lake, the River Periyar. This area is generally not open for tourists, but is the favorite haunt of the sloth bear. There is a good chance of spotting an occasional tiger in this relatively peaceful corner of the forest. One can also form a group and go on a walking tour with locally available guides.
Places around: There are some tribal villages around Periyar, which are worth a visit. The tribal people are expert fishermen and farmers. Some are still engaged in the traditional practice of collecting honey of dangerous hill bees. They have built interesting tree dwellings. These dwellings do not signify a ‘perched’ existence. Quite the contrary, they are comfortable watchtowers for taking note of any wild pig or elephant in Periyar that might ruin the cultivated fields. Nearby Kottayam (117 km) and the temple town of Madurai (140) km) should not be missed.
How to reach: The park is well connected by bus service from the state capital of Thiruvananthapuram (271 km), as well as the cities of Cochin (200 km), Kottayam (117 km) and Madurai (140 km). The nearest major rail junction is Kottayam. The nearest national airports are Cochin (200 km) and Madurai (140 km).