The winter months in India are the most pleasant for explorations of its jungles which hold the promise of sightings of its exotic animals and avifaunal species. ‘God’s own Country’ Kerala has lured many travellers for the thrill of those leisurely backwater cruises in a traditional rice boat… but it’s time now to discover the uninterrupted magic of its great wilderness spaces.
Nestled in the spectacular verdure of the highlands of Kerala, Thekkady is one of the rare 25 biodiversity hotspots in the world. It’s the perfect place to savour the many delights of the abundance of flora and fauna, and quite a few that are rare and endangered species as well, that one finds in the Western Ghats.
The importance of Thekkady, for the traveller is also because it’s the gateway to the unspoilt wilderness spaces of the gorgeous Periyar National Park and Tiger Reserve, sprawled amongst the aromatic Cardamom Hills in Kerala’s Idukki District. Periyar, for the unaware, is one of India’s most precious and oldest protected areas. The bounty of the verdure of this grand theatre of untamed, unspoilt wild terrain is a gift of the mighty Periyar River, a perennial waterway which is the lifeblood of the territories and communities inhabiting the long passage of its journey from Kerala to Tamil Nadu.
Exploring this stunning land is best enjoyed on programmes that are in sync with the tenets of eco-tourism that are dedicated to protecting this glorious region. Kerala Tourism Development Corporation has put together some alluring programmes for the traveller to get a taste of this splendiferous jungle and its water bodies–which means you can go on treks, jeep safaris, rafting, birding tours and even bullock cart tour to explore the farmlands and village communities in this habitat.
You can join other tourists on a shared walk with a trained tribal guide, along tourism-designated trails which can pass through evergreen and moist deciduous forests interspersed with marshy grasslands, while keeping your eyes peeled for sightings of rare avifaunal species and animals such as the gorgeous creatures such as the Malabar Giant Squirrel and Nilgiri langur; and then, of course, there’s the stunning variety of botanical species, including expensive timbers such as teak, rosewood and sandalwood and plants and shrubs that are endemic to the region.
Bamboo rafting and coracle boat rides on the Periyar Lake, created by the damming of the Periyar River, throw up opportunities for sightings of the Asiatic elephant found in bountiful numbers here. Apart from possible animal viewings on the outer rim of the lake, the water body itself has a wealth of interesting sightings to enjoy, such as the Periyar barb, a cyprinid fish endemic to this lake, the Periyar latia, only seen in the Periyar River and the Periyar trout, endemic to Kerala. Amphibians to look for are endemic species such as the bi-coloured Malabar frog, the Malabar gliding frog (a type of flying rhacophorid tree frog) and the Malabar Hills fungoid frog which are only found in the Western Ghats.
If you are addicted to jungle jeep safaris, what could be better than heading out to off-the-track Gavi, a beautiful canvas of delights in Periyar’s rich forestlands, in the Pathanamthitta district?Think trekking, birding, canoeing and so much more, in this world-acclaimed hotspot which finds itself in the company of some of the world’s top eco-tourism hubs.
Thekkady and, naturally Periyar, demand many repeat visits, just for the sheer bliss of unravelling their many secret allurements and boundless adventures for the intrepid traveller. Why wait? Plan your next trip soon!