16th April 2014
“Please be in lobby at 6:30 AM for nature walk,” instructed our guide the evening before.
“6:30 AM,” came many voices in chorus.
“Would we see any tigers or elephants?” asked one of the group members.
“Do you want to see wild tigers and elephants when you are walking on foot?” countered our guide.
Our group of nature loving travel writers from around the world was in the lobby at 6 AM. After all who visits God’s own country to sleep in the room?
We marched towards the entry point of Periyar Tiger Reserve in Thekaddy, Kerala. The plan was to walk in the moist deciduous forest, till the Lake Bank and come back taking a different route.
Periyar tiger reserve is one of the very few Tiger reserves where nature lovers are allowed to walk accompanied by a trained local tribal acting as naturalist-cum-guide. We started from the catchment area of Periyar River, and crossed a floating bamboo raft tied at each side of bank with a rope.
The moment you step on the raft, hundreds of colourful frogs jump and look at you with contempt. These frogs come only to lay eggs in water, and spend most of the time in moist corner of the forest gorging on insects of all kinds.
We saw signs of elephants in the form of mounds of dung, which fortunately were not fresh. As we entered the dense growth, we were greeted by hundreds of year old trees with gnarled trunks, giving them that distinct character. Vines that once were as slender as spaghetti, over years have gained girth to choke their host trees.
We came out of the dense forest in the open grassland. As our eyes took time to adjust to the bright sunlight that eluded us in the dense undergrowth just a few feet away, I was surprised to see a whole natural orchard of wild guava trees. Guavas were introduced to Kerala along with cashews and the Portuguese church by Vasco de Gama and company. These trees in Periyar must have been progeny of a rebel seed who ran away from some plantation, and slowly colonized a part of jungle.
A huge bison skull with its horns intact was resting on rocks, and everybody posed with the remains of the bison.
A wild boar came out of the dense forest and ran towards the lake, but the moment he sensed intruders in his territory, he ran back to the other side.
We headed back to the cooler canopy, and were greeted by a noisy clan of Nilgiri Langurs. Perched high on thin branches, they were extremely difficult to photograph in the dense foliage. I focused my attention to some of the butterflies around, when I discovered skeletons of Cicadas, their lifeless eyes eerily reflecting sunlight.
I became aware of the jungle around me, coming alive and humming in my ears: a parakeet chuckling from atop, langurs cracking jokes, the leaves playing Chinese Whisper, and in the distance a sāmbhar broadcasting his love; our naturalist informed us that it was distinct from a danger call, so we didn’t need to worry.
I discovered a series of trumpet shaped mushrooms, highlighting decay in the jungle. But decay is a sign of healthy jungle; it simply means the cycle of nature is sending back nutrients into the soil for the next generation.
As the heat became unbearable, we started walking back to the hotel, and though we did not see any tigers, we were still smiling at connecting with the jungle and were ready to tell our stories to the lazy bones that chose sleep over a walk in the nature in God’s Own Country.