shola forest or wading into a lake is going to be no less than seeing the African elephant in the Masai Mara grasslands. There are more than 700 of these large grey animals that have for a long time been a symbol of Indian exotica. Over a 100 species of butterfly and at least 240 species of birds inhabit the area.
Around the park are some interesting aromatic spice gardens. Many have good guides who’ll tell you about the medicinal value of each spice and maybe startle you with how much of the research is millennia old.
Entry permits to visit Periyar are available at the Wildlife Information Centre (near the boat jetty) in Thekkady. For foreigners, the permit costs Rs 50, and it’s valid for five days. Charges for guided tours of the sanctuary and for boat trips, are extra.
The nearest airport is not in Kerala but at Madurai (140 km) in Tamil Nadu. In Kerala, Thekkady is closest to the Kochi international airport (190 km). The nearest railhead is Kottayam from where it takes about 4 hours by bus, marginally lesser by car. Buses to Periyar usually originate and terminate at Aranya Nivas, a posh hotel inside the Park. They do halt briefly at the town of Kumily, just outside Periyar. The sanctuary is very well connected by bus to many towns in Kerala and neighbouring Tamil Nadu. There are bus connections from Ernakulam (6 hours), Kottayam (4 hours), Trivandrum (8 hours), Kovalam (9 hours), Munnar (4 ½ hours) and Kodaikanal (6 hours).
Jeep and elephant safaris are also a good perch from where to view the animal world. A little ‘encouragement’ from you would probably take the mahout off the beaten path to more rewarding locations. If you are staying outside the park then a rented bike or local bus will take you to the park’s entrance. Most visitors tour the park on the two-hour boat rides around Periyar Lake. Rather than the larger sized public boats, which proportionately dim your chances of actually seeing game, go for a smaller private boat, which would correspondingly tilt the odds in your favour. Early morning and dusk are the best times for wildlife. In the afternoons they all tend to disappear into the shade of the thick forests.
A morning ‘trek’ is another great way of doing some serious game watching. A knowledgeable guide will take you to all the hot spots and point out anything interesting like pug marks (if you are really lucky) or chital droppings. Some hotels offer more serious treks into the forest that a keen enthusiast will enjoy.
Best time to visit
The tourist season is from September to May and particularly the Christmas - New Year holidays. From February onwards it starts getting warmer and though this could be distinctly uncomfortable, it has its benefits. The animals are easiest to spot now as elephant and chital (spotted deer) alike flock to the waterholes. Avoid weekends when the park can get quite full with people looking for a daylong getaway.