Periyar National Park
Area: 777 sq. km.
Core: 350 sq. km.
Buffer: 427 sq. km
The Periyar National Park and Tiger Reserve is one of the most captivating wildlife parks in the world. Situated within the confines of the Western Ghats in the southern Indian state of Kerala, it spreads over 350 sq km. It is one of the 18 reserves under Project Tiger. Periyar is a national park as well as a protected tiger reserve, whose total area is about 778 km sq, and is located 1200 to 1800 m above sea level. The terrain ranges from hilly to flat grassland areas at the edges of the man made lake which is a major tourist attraction, 914 m above sea level. Marshy grasslands, rolling and steep hills are also present here. The vegetation is of moist deciduous type.
The Periyar National Park and Tiger Reserve offers plenty of opportunities for recreation and enjoyment. One can swim in the lake or get permits for angling that are easily available from the Forest Officer in Thekkady. Boat rides on the lake are definitely a must, and motor launches are available throughout the day from 6 am to 4 pm. Exhilarating treks through the forest to the temple of Mangla Devi can also be organised. Lectures on wildlife preservation are organized regularly at the park and these can be of help in understanding the wild creatures and their environment. Late afternoon is just right for another walk down the lakeside. The evening walk along the lake is always tinged with forebodings of danger combined with exhilaration at being in such a beautiful place.
Periyar was declared a sanctuary in 1934, and became the only Tiger Project in the state of Kerala in 1978. Later, in 1982, it was declared a national park. Today, Periyar is one of the most exciting biosphere reserves in the country with a large variety of flora and fauna.
The Periyar National Park is synonymous with elephants and one cannot be thought of without the other. Herds of playful wild elephants have made Periyar Lake their favourite haunt for frolicking in the water. Scores of them can be witnessed bathing and swimming here. The Indian female elephants do not posses tusks like their African relatives. They are also not as swarthy as their African counterparts. Other inhabitants of Periyar include the leopard, wild dog, barking deer, mouse deer, Nilgiri langur (a primate), bonnet macaque, sambhar, porcupines, squirrels, gaur (Indian bison), wild boar, and sloth bear. There are approximately 40 tigers in the area as per the latest reports. The tigers, along with the Nilgiri tahrs (a kind of a wild goat), are elusive creatures.
Amidst the rocky hinges along the lake, monitor lizards may be spotted. Trekkers have also sighted pythons, king cobras, and flying lizards. Some 260 species of birds are found at Periyar. These include darters, cormorants, ibises, grey herons, mynas, flycatchers, orioles, wood pigeons, kingfishers, kites, ospreys, thrushes, and an appreciable number of blue-winged parakeets. The endangered macaque monkey is also a special attraction of Periyar.
The months of March and April constitute the driest part of the year, because of which the animals spend a lot of time near the lake. Even the tiger may be spotted approaching the waters. Animals may be seen from motorboats on the lake or from watchtowers. A special permission is required to travel by boat to the source of the artificial lake, the River Periyar. This area is generally not open for tourists, but is the favourite haunt of the sloth bear. There is a good chance of spotting an occasional tiger in this relatively peaceful corner of the forest. One can also form a group and go on a walking tour with locally available guides.
The flora here is composed mainly of marshy grasslands. The forests are a mixture of grasslands, fire-resistant low-growth vegetation, deciduous forests, semi-evergreens, and tropical evergreens. It is good to be cautious of the blood-sucking leeches that are found in plenty here.
The temperature during summers (April-June) ranges from 21°C to 31°C with a high level of moisture in the air. The monsoon (July-August) season brings heavy rainfall and the temperature ranges from 19°C to 21°C. The winter season lasts from October to March and is cool and pleasant. The best months to visit the park are from October to April.