Before we’d even arrived in India we knew that we would be coming to Periyar National Park. Why, you ask, well because Ben was desperate to. He’s a nature lover and an amateur photographer which means that any national park, especially one with the promise of tigers, is a must.
What is Periyar?
Periyar National Park, or officially Periyar Tiger Reserve is 952km square and is a protected area that is home to Bengal Tigers, Indian Elephants, Gaur, Sambar Dear, Flying Squirrels, Sloth Bears, Bison and loads more, including 266 varieties of bird and around 45 species of reptiles (to Ben’s delight!). The entrance to Periyar is located in a small village called Thekkady which is next to the town of Kumily. There are loads of different hotels and homestays to choose from in both Thekkady and Kumily. Even if you’re not right next to the park it’s very easy to get a tuk tuk ride to the entrance.
We arrived in Kumily town on a bus from Munnar and after a rest day booked onto the Periyar Bamboo Rafting Half Day which is 1500/ per person. We had originally wanted to book on to the full day which was only 500 rupees more at 2000/ per person. However this was booked up for 3 whole days and our homestay had decided to book us on to the half day which only had 2 spots left.
Entrance Fees & Accomodation
Bear in mind when booking any programmes that take place in Periyar that you have to pay for your entrance on top of the activity. Entrance for Indian nationals is a mere 33 rupees but for foreigners its 450 rupees each! These are government prices and you can’t negotiate them. It may seem unfair that the foreigners prices are so much steeper but you need to consider the good cause they are going to. Some of the tours for example the Tiger Trail employ ex-poachers as tour guides.
As well as that it’s really important that Indian nationals are educated about the wildlife that lives literally in their back gardens. If they can appreciate and understand the wildlife then they will be less likely to see it as a threat. You can read Ben’s post on his blog Wandering Beard about the problem’s caused between local people and venomous snakes in Guatemala.
It’s also possible to stay inside the park itself in lots of different types of accommodation. There are tents, huts and lodges. You can find more information about the different types of accommodation here. But remember even if you’re staying in the park you still have to pay for entry on top!
A Chance to See WILD Animals
The first and most important thing to remember when visiting any national park is this:
There is NO GUARANTEE you will see anything!
National Parks are for seeing animals in their wild setting. They are not there to entertain you, they are there to live their normal lives in the wild. If you do see something it is very likely that the animal will be scared of you and run away. You’re very unlikely to get very close to things because the animals aren’t used to humans. And that’s a very good thing. The animals in the elephant attractions that you can ride for treks and have baths with are all trained. They have gone through things that have broken their spirit and crushed their wild instincts. It’s up to you to consider this when you visit animal tourist attractions that guarantee any close interaction with animals.
I highly recommend that anyone considering paying for animal attractions like elephant rides educate themselves before booking.
Bamboo Rafting Half Day
Our first adventure into the park was a half day bamboo rafting programme. Originally we had wanted to book on to the full day but this is a popular programme and it was fully booked for every day we were in Thekkady. So we went for the half day which was 1,500/ each, including a packed lunch and a bottle of water. We were in a group of about 10 with one ranger (with a rifle!). Our tour started at 9:30am and finished at 2pm. First up we had to hike to the lake, which was a good few kilometres and took about an hour. There was nice scenery on the way but all we spotted were birds, a monkey in the distance and a giant squirrel. There isn’t so much chance to see tigers or elephants because you’re not very deep in the forest.
When we got to the bamboo rafting station we were told we needed to eat our lunch at 11am. I am usually always slightly hungry so this was no problem for me. Some people seemed a bit confused by lunch before midday though. We then got on our rafts, there was 6 people per raft and you are expected to help to row! This isn’t a problem if everyone is prepared to take a turn, and is able to row! If some people don’t pull their weight however it can get a bit infuriating.
Equally infuriating was when people were chatting really loudly to each other about how they really wanted to see some animals. They didn’t seem to realise that by making all the noise any animals that were around would scarper at the sound of us. Someone else on our tour picked up a stick and spent most of the hike whacking bushes with it. Goodbye any potential animals.
The bamboo raft took about an hour and we stopped off at the end of the lake to look around. Unfortunately no animals wanted to come out that day! So all we really saw was birds, cool birds but not everyone was impressed. This is what you need to remember if you decide to shell out for an expensive programme, there’s still no guarantee. Even the border hiking programme, which is a 16km hike round the perimeter of the park, only saw Bison that day.
Pug Mark Trail
The Pug Mark Trail is a self guided 3km trail that takes about an hour to complete. We decided to do this on my birthday as an activity. Tickets are only 100/ each but you still have to add on the 450/ park entry. In contrast to our bamboo rafting day we didn’t see a single other person the whole way round. We ended up going super slow and taking about 3 hours to finish the trail. Because we were alone and we stayed quiet, taking our time to look around, we saw loads more wildlife than we did on the bamboo raft day.
We saw Sambar Deer, Wild Pig, Langurs, Rhesus Macaques, Giant Squirrels, Frogs, an entire beehive hanging from a tree. And we were able to take our time taking photos and watching everything. We enjoyed it a lot more than the bamboo raft simply because we didn’t have to put up with other people disturbing us! We could take our time and stand taking photos of a squirrel
If you visit Thekkady and Periyar I highly reccomend that you try the pug mark trail. Although it may not be your best chance to see rarer sights like Elephants and Tigers, it’s a great opportunity to go slower and get to see some of the more common wildlife at your own pace.Have you visited Periyar? Which programme did you book? Let me know in the comments what you thought.
Read more about our trip to India:
Kathakali & Martial Arts in Fort Kochi