Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, Thekkadi Information
Periyar, the Pride of Kerala’ is one of the largest and most frequented sanctuaries in the country. The sanctuary created in 1934, by the old Travancore state government, covers an area of 777 sq km at the Cardamom Hills region of the Western Ghats. It was designated as a part of ‘Project Tiger’ in 1973 and is southernmost tiger reserve of the country.
The 26 sq km Periyar lake formed by the Mullaperiyar Dam across the Periyar river further enhances the beauty of the park. The innumerable little islets in the lake bear testimony to the inherent relationship between the terrestrial, aquatic and submarine life form. Boat cruise on the waters of the lake is the best way to enjoy the pristine beauty of the park and view the wildlife from close quarters. Watching herds of wild elephants, gaur, sambar and wild pigs etc., wander to the lake-side to quench their thirst is an unforgettable experience. The hot and dry months of March and April are the best time to view the wildlife by a boat cruise, as animals tend to spend a lot of time near the lake.
The sanctuary is also well known for viewing all aspects of elephantine. Besides elephants and tigers, it is a safe haven for bison, sambar, wild boar, spotted deer, leopard, Malabar flying squirrel, stripe necked mongoose, black Nilgri Langurs, Nilgiri tahr etc.
There is also a rich variety of reptiles, amphibians and birds. The park area is full of floral wealth, with over 1965 flowering plants including 171 grass species, 143 species of orchids and the only South Indian conifer Podocarpus wallichianus.
A summer palace fo the erstwhile royalty of Travancore, overlooking the lake has been converted in to a hotel and is a fine place to stay.
The Cardamom Hills & Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary Tourism Information
Each year, around half a million travelers make their way up into the Cardamom Hills, where the crisp, cool air is redolent with the scents of spices, and soaring mountains give way to tea plantations and dense jungle. Most people head straight to Thekaddy to explore Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, the stomping grounds for large herds of wild elephants. Periyar is one of India’s largest and most popular reserves, and the site of one of the best-organized trek experiences in India. The best times to visit are late spring and summer (Dec–Apr), when streams and watering holes dry up and herds of wildlife come from the depths of the jungle to drink and bathe in Periyar Lake. Another worthwhile destination in the Cardamom Hills, particularly if you’re overlanding from Madurai in Tamil Nadu, is the region around Munnar, a 3-hour drive north of Thekkady. At a much greater altitude than Periyar, Munnar is a collection of vast green-tea estates first established by a Scotsman in the late 19th century—it’s hardly surprising, then, that the area is sometimes referred to as Kerala’s Scottish highlands. In the days of the Raj, it became a popular “hill station”—a place to escape from the summer heat in the plains. Today the landscape—for the most part—retains a classic hill station atmosphere. Watched over by Mount Anamudi, South India’s highest peak, Munnar’s primary attractions are its gorgeous views of rolling hills covered with tea and cardamom plantations, and the cool climate—great for leisurely walks and cycle-tours (not to mention a close encounter with the endangered Nilgiri tahr, a variety of mountain goat).
EXPLORING PERIYAR WILDLIFE SANCTUARY
Originally the hunting grounds of the Maharajah of Travancore, Periyar Wildlife
Sanctuary was declared a wildlife reserve in 1933. In 1979 it became a Project Tiger
Reserve—India’s homegrown initiative to protect the big cats’ dwindling numbers.
Today Periyar covers 777 sq. km (191,979 acres), and is divided into core, buffer, and
tourist zones. Although tiger sightings are rare, particularly in the tourist zone, the
reserve is home to elephants, sloth bears, sambar, Indian bison or gaur, wild dogs,
leopards, spotted deer, Malabar flying squirrels, barking deer, Nilgiri tahr, and some
260 species of birds. It contains over 2,000 species of flowering plants, including at
least 150 different kinds of orchid.
The best way to experience Periyar is with the privately run Periyar Tiger Trail (see
below); other than this, all access to the park is arranged through the KTDC. These
excursions are cheap, making them popular with exuberant domestic tourists who
tend to be noisy, which somewhat inhibits the serenity of the experience. Most opt for
the 2-hour boat cruise on Periyar Lake (Rs 110/$2.50 top deck; Rs 55/$1.15 lower),
from where you can view animals coming to drink at the water’s edge. Unfortunately,
you’re more likely to experience nonstop din from children (and their parents) who
refuse to obey pleas for silence, preferring to rove around the boat and camcord each
other. Boats depart at 7:30am, 9:30am, 11:30am, 2pm, and 4pm.
Thekkadi Tour Information
Mangala Devi temple (15km)
The ancient temple built in traditional Kerala architecture is perched atop a thickly wooded hill and affords fine vistas of the scenic surroundings. It is dedicated to Mangaldevi or Kanagi, the protagonist of the Tamil epic Sillapadhikaram, who burnt down Madurai after her husband was mistakenly accused of being a thief and killed. The shrine can be visited only on the occasion of Chithra Purnima, the full moon day in the month of April – May.