High in the Cardamom Hills of Kerala a national park has been created, to protect the flora and fauna of the forests that surround Periyar Lake. The aim was to stop the encroachment of tea and spice plantations; to leave enough land for the tigers, elephants and other wild creatures that call this region home.
The lake lies at the heart of the reserve, and we were booked to go on a cruise there later in the day, as all visitors do. My expectations weren’t especially high about that, as I’d read poor reviews in guidebooks about the chances of seeing much wildlife (which were to be proved wrong!) But before that we had arranged to do an early morning nature walk. So for Jo’s Monday walks this week, please come with me to Periyar.
Our walk was to be led by a ranger recruited from the local tribe. These are usually small group walks but the local tour company we’d booked through had kindly arranged for us to have a private one. Overall it was a great experience and well worth getting up early for (and missing breakfast); but the one sour note was that our guide was not especially friendly and rather uncommunicative. It took us a while even to be sure that he was our guide, as he didn’t introduce himself and simply set off walking, so we were under the impression he was just taking us from the ticket office to the starting point for the walk.
The light was lovely as we set out, with a light mist still clinging to the bamboo groves – very atmospheric.
Our first wildlife sighting was an Indian Pond Heron, and we were to see several more of these. It seemed odd to see herons in a grassland setting rather than near water. There were also a few langur monkeys in the bamboo.
Our walk took us across an open area to start with.
Our guide pointed out an Indian Cuckoo high in a tree, and a much easier to photograph Blue-winged Parakeet on the ground.
On the far side of this area we spotted a small group of wild bison. Our guide led us around the edge of the area, next to the trees, and we were able to get quite close. There was a large male, five females and four young which he said would be about thirty days old.
After spending time taking photos of the bison we moved on and climbed up a little into the forest. Here we came across some Sambar deer including a couple of males with antlers – beautiful but hard to photograph through the trees.
The various birds we saw were similarly difficult to capture; some eluded me completely, others were out of focus. The same was true too of the surprisingly large (though the clue is in the name!) Malabar Giant Squirrel, but it was fascinating to see him just the same.
Our walk lasted about three hours altogether. Here is a full list of our sightings:
Malabar Grey Hornbill
Grey Langur Monkeys
Malabar Giant Squirrel
You will note that there are no tigers mentioned above. Although there are tigers in Periyar (about 100 of them), the chances of seeing one on your visit are low, and the fact that our guide this morning didn’t carry any weapon, even a big stick, indicates just how likely you are to see tigers on these walks. And while it was a little more disappointing not see elephants, which can quite often be seen, we were to be compensated later in the day, as you will see …
For me, the main pleasure in this walk turned out to be not the wildlife (although I enjoyed photographing the bison) but the light through the trees and the bamboo.
Boat ride on Periyar Lake
OK, so a boat ride isn’t a walk! But I’m including it in my Monday Walks offering partly because we did have to walk to and from the boat, but mainly because it provides balance to the relative lack of wildlife sightings on the nature walk.
As I mentioned above, I hadn’t expected great things of this particular outing as the Rough Guide to Kerala is pretty scathing about these boat trips, suggesting that the boats are too noisy and sightings of wildlife not that common. However as my photos will show, guidebooks aren’t always right, and we saw more than enough wildlife to make the trip worthwhile.
Those sightings started as we made our way from the car park to the boat, with a beautiful black Nilgiri Langur, posing beautifully for our cameras. These are much less common than the ubiquitous Grey Langurs. The species is classified as vulnerable because of the loss of much of its habitat and, sadly, poaching for its fur and flesh; the latter is believed to have aphrodisiac properties.
The highlight of our ride came quite early on when we were privileged to see one of only around 100 male elephants in the park; according to the on-board guide, females outnumber males by 9 to 1.
This is a young bull of about ten years, and he spent some time grazing near the lake before trumpeting at an egret and crashing into the trees. Of the half dozen boats that set off at 3.30 pm, we were in the second, so only passengers on the first boat and on ours got to see him.
But it wasn’t long before we came across a small group of females with a baby, kicking up some dust near the water’s edge, and another group strolling past beyond. More than enough elephants to give the lie to the Rough Guide’s disparaging remarks.
There were plenty more animal and bird sightings in the next hour or so:
Langur monkeys, both the common Grey and less so Nilgiri
A large turtle
The boat ride lasted about an hour and a half. The wildlife viewings were divided evenly between the outward and back journeys, with more elephants and deer on the way out, more monkeys plus the wild boar and otters on the return leg. The guides were very good at spotting things and pointing them out, although I found their tendency to want to grab my camera and take photos for me a little irritating – while they did get some good shots (notably a video of the otters on Chris’s camera), I wanted photos that I could claim as my own. All the photos included here are mine, apart from this video.
On our way back to the car the Nilgiri Langur we had spotted previously was no longer around, but we finished our outing with some inquisitive Grey Langurs instead. This path between parking area and boat jetty proved to be an excellent place for photographing the langurs, who of course know that where there are lots of tourists there will also be plenty to eat. Even if people obey the many exhortations not to feed the monkeys, there are always scraps dropped on the ground and bags easily opened to retrieve the treasure within.
I visited Periyar in 2017