Periyar Tiger Reserve
An azure blue lake. Blackened tree stumps protruding from the water like an army of ancient totems. The kaei…kaei… sound of the osprey carrying across the waters. And the green forest stretching away into the hills. Periyar, situated just 10 degrees above the equator, takes your breath away with images you are unlikely to witness anywhere else in India. Situated in the Cardamom Hill Ranges of Kerala’s Idukki District, south of the Western Ghats, this fabulous tiger reserve sprawls across 777 sq. km. of biodiversity-rich forests out of which 350 sq. km. are protected as core, or undisturbed wilderness.
History And Culture
One of India’s truly ‘great escapes’ the picturesque 26 sq. km manyfingered lake, a distinctive feature of the park that was created by the British in 1885 when they dammed the Periyar River, is a passport to the nether regions of the forest. Although more that 40 tigers hunt the forests, the chances of actually seeing one here are very low because the reclusive cat wisely prefers the more quiet interiors, away from the throb of boats and the chatter of humans. But there is probably no better place in India to watch the amazing family life of the Asiatic elephant. With plenty of food and water, these gentle giants have lived here for time immemorial. But danger now lurks around each corner.
Located in the Western Ghats, which are geologically believed to be among the oldest mountain chains in the world, Periyar has a most unique diversity of both terrain and vegetation. The reservoir, bounded by hills, is the central feature and is drained by the Periyar and Mullayar river systems. The Periyar River itself originates from deep within the nearvirgin evergreen core area, 50 km. south of the sanctuary headquarters at Thekkady. It meets the Mullayar at Mullakudy, from where the lake starts. The river then runs on for some 244 km. before emptying into the Arabian Sea. The black stumps of old hard wood trees, some jutting out of the water and others submerged (it takes an expert boatman to avoid the stakes), are eerie reminders of a rainforest that was drowned because humans wanted abundant year-round supplies of water.
Vegetation / Flora
Although there are 59 species of mammals in Periyar, it is the elephants that dominate the landscape and are the most visible to visitors. There are an estimated 800 pachyderms in Periyar and they live in family groups led by a matriarch. Normal sightings are of herds with young feeding, hosing themselves down with mud or water, or simply swimming along the lakeshore. Young ones never stray too far from the adults as the threat from tigers to defenceless young is very real.
With their ancient migratory routes cut off by the reservoir, many elephants now swim to locate favoured food sources and the sight of these huge animals, fully submerged with only their trunks visible like periscopes, is one of the more unforgettable Periyar experiences. Sadly few really large tuskers are seen today as most have been killed by poachers for the value of their ivory. Recently, even young tuskers have been picked off to get at their ivory, often less than a 100 cm. long. Clawless otters provide hours of entertainment for visitors. They swim and fish in the waters of the reservoir and can be seen bounding along the slippery, muddy shores, wet and shiny like playful pups.
One animal that competes with the tiger for prey is the dhole, or wild dog. Though a number of tourists have reported seeing dholes, you must consider yourself particularly blessed if you return having seen these magnifi cent dogs. These brown, bushy-tailed canines have an exceedingly well-organised pack life and their yips and whistles reverberate across the waters of the reservoir when they are out on a community hunt.