Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, just 200 kilometres east of Kochi, is an internationally famous wildlife preserve. The drive to Thekkady itself is enchanting as the road winds through tranquil countryside, rich plantations and thick jungles. For the traveller weary with the sight of endless stretches of the sea and backwaters, a quick dash up the mountains and a quiet hideaway in a wildlife sanctuary should come as a welcome change.
The sanctuary offers a lovely and comfortable way to see the animals via boat rides on the man-made lake, which the wildlife areas encircle. In addition to the wildlife, there are water and land birds galore here, and one can sometimes find dedicated bird watchers setting out for one or two weeks of serious observations. Here, one can have one’s fill of wild-elephant sightings.
Also, sambar, deer, wild boar, gaur, and a variety of water birds and small mammals, especially various monkeys and squirrels, will leave the visitor yearning for more. There are two KTDC run lodges within the sanctuary, the main Aranya Nivas stone lodge at the head of the lake, and the romantic Lake Palace on a small island/ promontory up the lake, reachable only by boat. The Lake Palace was the former Travancore Maharaja’s summer palace and will satisfy the most dedicated romantics.
Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary occupies 777 sq km of the Cardamom Hills region of the Western Ghats. Although an excursion on the splendid artificial lake is the standard way to experience the Sanctuary, you can also resort to walking with a local guide in a small group. But keep an eye open for leeches!
The greatest attraction are the herds of wild elephants-mostly families-that come down to the lake to frolic in the water. If you’re lucky, you could spot a shy antelope, a sambar, a wild boar or the majestic elusive tiger. Bison, spotted deer, leopard, Malabar flying squirrel and the stripe-necked Mongoose can also be spotted. Exotic flowers and trees abound. Over 260 species of birds including the Nilgiri wood-pigeon, blue-winged parakeet, white-bellied tree pie, laughing thrush and flycatcher are also found here.
Apart from Lake Place and Aranya Nivas, both KTDC properties, Casino Group’s Spice Village offers unique accommodation options. Periyar House and Ambadi here have budget rooms.
Though the sanctuary is open throughout the year (the monsoons can bring a totally different experience), the best season is from September to May.
The nearest airport is at Kochi. Periyar sanctuary can be reached by motorable roads from most parts of Kerala.