Nestled in the depths of Kerala, lies a magical national park where wildlife is most abundant. Also known as Periyar Tiger Reserve in Thekkady, this protected land is around 925 km² in size and the backbone of ethical wildlife tourism in Kerala.
This beautiful location, along with its luscious untouched scenery, is the place where animals are free to roam without any human interference and destruction.
Although my journey through this incredible park was relatively short, the experience was one that I’ll truly never forget!
The night before I visited this park, I stayed at the Elephant Court Hotel in Thekkady – A beautiful accommodation extremely close to the reserve. To put that into context, the next road down from the hotel was actually the border of the park.
So the morning of our journey we went to the stop where the park’s bus picks up the visitors. We had opted for the earliest boat cruise which departed at 7.30 AM as we were hoping that this was going to be the best time for wildlife viewing… And thankfully we were right!
We arrived at the check-in where hundreds of locals were also waiting for the cruise. Periyar Tiger Reserve is a very popular attraction for Indian people too, so it quickly became a little crowded.
Monkeys were running around on the roof, throwing fruit and sadly eating plastic bags out of the rubbish bin which totally broke my heart. Locals were even giving them plastic wrapped mints out of amusement, which was so far from ethical… To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect from this place!
Animals in India aren’t always cared for or protected in the most positive way, so I honestly didn’t have much hope. But as I walked down to the boat and saw the vast landscapes, the beautiful clean lake and a bison peacefully grazing on the banks… My faith was instantly restored.
So we set sail on one of the many 2 story boats, but thankfully we were the first in line! Meaning that if the animals were to be scared off by our boat, hopefully we would still get a chance to see them!
We cruised along the beautiful lake with nothing but the sound of chirping birds and a rather noisy boat… As they generally don’t like to get too close to shore, observing the wildlife is unfortunately done from afar.
So if you decide to visit a zoom camera lens or some binoculars will definitely help you out!
However, what you’ll certainly have no problem viewing are the various bird species that live around the area. Submerged in the water are many logs where the birdlife decides to build their nests, so getting up close and personal with them is a regular occurrence.
But the first mammal we encountered on the cruise was a Wild Boar.
Much like the Warthogs you’d see in Africa, the boar is very similar although a much heavier species of pig! The first was a lone ranger on the banks of the water, and then later we saw a huge family hanging out together too!
So of course, the main attraction for visiting Periyar Tiger Reserve in Thekkady is obviously… The Tiger. So most of the people on our boat were looking out for exactly that.
After about 20 minutes or so, the wild boar were the only animals we had seen. From the many reviews and the word from the locals, spotting animals here was often very unlikely as most of the surroundings are entirely covered in lush vegetation.
After a few minutes, it became pretty clear that this was something that didn’t matter, as the scenery was so breathtaking and unlike what you would normally expect to see in India. It was nice just to go on a peaceful cruise and escape from the hustle and bustle of town.
As we came to a very wide portion of the river, we stopped for a minute or two as we saw a large herd of deer standing in the water, and also a pack of wild dog…
The staff told us that wild dogs were not very commonly seen, so as I’m sure you can imagine, it gave me a good feeling in my belly and a little hope for some more amazing animals!
So the cruise was about an hour long, and throughout the journey, a lot of time was spent observing the birdlife – cormorants, kingfishers and darters were by far the most common.
They were flying around the boat, showing off in the trees as we floated by and definitely keeping everyone excited about what was potentially to come.
We saw more Gaur – which is an Indian bison – which were also the closest we got to any of the animals due to the narrow inlet they were grazing around.
We kept moving down the lake keeping an eye out for some big creatures and then…
… it happened!
The wildlife spotter on our boat yelled out and pointed “Leopard, Leopard, Leopard” and for a few brief seconds, a beautiful leopard was seen walking across the open space and into the bushes.
Sadly a few people were unable to see it due to the very short period that it was actually in view… But I felt incredibly lucky to have seen this creature with my own eyes!
And then the guide told us that this beautiful creature had not been seen for over 7 months!!!! Lucky is an understatement I think!
I felt like I was on cloud nine! No we didn’t get to sit next to it in a safari vehicle like you would in Africa, but the fact that this animal was spotted living so freely in this country was indescribable. I felt like I could go home knowing that my trip had been made.
To top it all off, on the way back to the dock, a mother and baby elephant were spotted walking along grassy plains on their way into the trees.
It was an incredible feeling to have seen these beautiful Indian Elephants roaming freely in the wild, when only one day before, I witnessed an elephant walking down the main street of Thekkady entirely covered in chains…
It truly justified my argument that seeing an animal in the wild is so much more fulfilling than seeing one that’s been through extreme torture.
From here, we made our way back to the starting point where we departed the boat. We were greeted with more macaque monkeys who bid us goodbye as we left beautiful Periyar National Park!
So all in all, for an experience that I didn’t have very high hopes for, I left this reserve feeling like my trip had been accomplished. Even though I didn’t see a tiger-like I had anticipated, the journey itself was entirely made up for it and dare I say it, it was
Seeing wildlife is my all-time favourite thing to do, and this was certainly no exception!
So although people will tell you that there’s no guarantee that wildlife will be seen in Periyar Tiger Reserve, it’s definitely worth the try, right?!
You just never know what you might see ♡
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