Hazy view of bamboo clump
Animals,  Birds,  Kerala,  Monday walks

Periyar’s monkeys, elephants, bison and more

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.

Setting out

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.

Brown bird among tall grasses
Indian Pond Heron
Monkey silhouetted in tree
Langur monkey

Our walk took us across an open area to start with.

Grassland, trees and hills
Periyar landscape

Our guide pointed out an Indian Cuckoo high in a tree, and a much easier to photograph Blue-winged Parakeet on the ground.

Parrot perched on twig on the ground
Blue-Winged Parakeet
Bird high in a tree
Indian Cuckoo (I think)

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:

Birds:

Tree Pie

Blue-Winged Parakeet

Cuckoo

Pond Heron

Golden Oriole

Shrike

Indian Pitta

Cattle Egret

Common Mynah

Blue Kingfisher

Malabar Grey Hornbill

Thrush

Mammals:

Bison

Sambar Deer

Grey Langur Monkeys

Malabar Giant Squirrel

Small green and yellow bird
Indian Pitta

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.

Inlet of a lake with three boats
The boat jetty

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.

Elephants!

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.

Elephant on hillside
Bull elephant

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.

Other wildlife

There were plenty more animal and bird sightings in the next hour or so:

Mammals:

Sambar deer

Wild boar

Langur monkeys, both the common Grey and less so Nilgiri

Otters

Reptiles:

A large turtle

Rat snake

Birds:

White-necked Storks

Herons

Cormorants

Darters

White-throated Kingfishers

Osprey

Egrets

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.

Otters by Periyar Lake

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.

Sign asking for silence around wiildlife
The sign says it all

I visited Periyar in 2017

35 Comments

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you, and apologies for the delay in acknowledging this comment. I must somehow have missed or deleted the notification by mistake! I do appreciate you continuing to read and comment while travelling 🙂

  • sheetalbravon

    I really enjoy your posts Sarah and more so when you write about India. Periyar is another place that I haven’t been to and yet it sounds so familiar- the topography, the guide , the wildlife. Your photos of course are gorgeous and the list of wildlife very informative. Fantastic post !

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you so much Sheetal 😊 Even if you haven’t been to Periyar, you know India so well that I especially appreciate your kind words about my posts about the country. I am just an outsider but I’ve loved my visits there and try to do the country justice!

  • Rose

    All your experiences are so amazing and well documented. There are many people in the world who have not, and will not see what you have seen. And you describe things in such a wonderful way, you have an invaluable ability to make us care about all the people, places, and wildlife. This is far more fun and educational than any classroom texts. As a book lover, I think it’d be great to hold these stories in my hands. They would be awesome for people who don’t have access to the internet (perhaps a recycled paper book publisher?). Thanks for introducing us to all the wildlife in this post. I think I might like to copy that sign and post it in my yard. 😊

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Wow, thank you Rose – I’m blushing 😊 I don’t think I’ve ever had a nicer comment on any of my posts! I really appreciate the positive feedback and encouragement – thank you again 🙂

  • Dhirendra.S.Chauhan

    Great description of beautiful spots of Kerala alongwith stunning photographs ,Sarah! Thanks for sharing!You remind me of our trip of Cochin ,Munnar & Periyar in 2018 when we also enjoyed the elephant ride & spice farms !We also made some purchases of ayurvedic medicines !It was real fun !I wrote a blog on the same !

    • Sarah Wilkie

      We enjoyed a visit to a spice farm too, but there is no way I would contemplate riding an elephant. I did it once many years ago but I was very young and didn’t understand. Since then I have learned more – it’s really cruel as it’s painful for them. I will never ride one again.

  • margaret21

    My experience of forested Kerala came from our stay at Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary (http://www.gbsanctuary.org/) The long walk we had through the nearby forest is one of my abiding memories, though we saw no larger wildlife at all, not even monkeys. But bird, insect, reptile life was so abundant, as well as the plant life itself, that it didn’t matter. We had our chance to see Bigger Beasts elsewhere on our journey. A lovely post, Sarah, and full of memories for me.

  • Teresa

    WOW simply magical captures.You were so lucky to be able to see these lovely creatures in the wild. Thanks so much for sharing, Sarah!

  • restlessjo

    What a treat that was, Sarah! That dark skinned Langur had such a sad face, and the grey ones as cute as a…box of monkeys! Sorry- couldn’t resist. The young bison were quite handsome but their looks don’t last, do they? And everybody loves ellies!

  • starship VT

    Oh my gosh, Sarah!! I can’t believe how much wildlife you saw there and I admit to being jealous!! I’m so glad the guide book was wrong. What a misty, mystical, and magical place! I want to go there!! Your photos are fantastic!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Sylvia 😀 It’s misty and a bit magical in the early mornings, but like many places in India it can also be a bit chaotic. My photos perhaps make it look more alluring than it is, because once out on a walk or on the water you leave most of the mania behind!

  • maristravels

    Oh, what a wealth of wildlife photos you’ve given us today, and how lucky you were to have had so many sightings of the fauna of the area. Very exciting to this chair-bound traveller (for the time being at any rate). I loved all the images you showed from the misty bamboo backgrounds to the gorgeous langur shots.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks so much Mari 😊 To be honest I was surprised at how much wildlife we saw here – it exceeded expectations for sure! The langurs are lovely aren’t they? So photogenic!

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