Travel Magazine

Deep Inside the Periyar

By Vishnudas

Deep inside the PeriyarWe hadactuallygot permission from the Kerala authorities and it ultimately helped us sleep comfortably even though we reached only by midnight after the seven-hour journey from Alappuzha to Periyar Tiger Reserve (PTR) at Thekkady, part of the Western Ghats.With an area of 925 sq km, it acts as the only link for anybody wanting to explore other forest tracts. For travel enthusiasts, the reserve provides an amazing opportunity to trek through the forest and soak in its wild silence.It was nine in the morning as we reached at the boat jetty, from where one can enjoy a water journey, one of the main attractions of a trip to PTR.Rivers like Pumba, Periyar and Azhutha originate in these pristine tracts, providing a lifeline to millions in Kerala and Tamil Nadu.The boat, carrying 50 of us, was soon on its way, and we had for company forest guardA.T. Anilkumarand two Eco Development Committee (EDC) members Rajan and Rajesh.As we were on our way, Anilkumar showed us the debris of a boat, which capsized there in 2009 claiming as many as 45 lives.“Since then, we take care not to exceed the capacity of a boat,” he said, adding that what contributed to the tragedy was also the ill-fated boat’s improper design.It was a cloudy day and raindrops fell as we made steady progress. There was immense variety of vegetation on both sides of the river but most of the tourists were keeping their eyes peeled for any sighting of tigers and other wild animals.After an hour or so, some of us alighted, while others looked upon with curiosity on why we were terminating the journey there.
Deep inside the PeriyarNot many know that the Nellikkampetti stretch starts from there. Manakkavala, where the forest department has a home, involves another two-hour trek.'This is the area which often witnesses route marches of wild animals,” said Rajesh. Anilkumar had his pistol in the firing position and told us that we need to be vigilant.The trek was restless and arduous but the cool breeze helped us carry on. Rajesh and Rajan walked in front in order to warn us in case of any animal sighting. Anilkumar had his finger always on the trigger even as he was explaining animal excreta and pug marks.At around 3 pm, we reached Bison camp, surrounded by a man-made trench. The century-old building, which was constructed by the British, was taken over by the forest department after constituting PTR in1978.Mobile phones do not have range but the forest department has installed two solar panels to produce electricity.If we were on a high experiencing the fresh air and the crooning of birds, we soon had one of the highlights of the trip as a herd of elephants enjoyed a dip in the river water before pouring sand on themselves. Clearly, they were unaware of human presence.Tribal communities including Mannans, Paliyans, Uralis, Ulladans, Malampandarams and Malarayans used to live in these areas until 1978.They were later relocated to the outer fringes and some are members of the EDC, which is a big success in the region, according to Anilkumar.After a day at Bison camp, the return journey began. But long after we had left Manakkavala, the music of Malabar hornbill (Tockus griseus) still resonated in the ears.

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