Kerala is a travel destination with a lot going for it. It was the breadth of landscape in this one small South Indian state that constantly surprised me and filled my one month there with such variety even though I wasn’t clocking thousands of travel miles. Bus journeys of only a few hours will take you from ocean waves bashing against dramatic cliffs to lush backwaters, from charming port cities to the undulating landscapes of the hill stations.
When visitors to Kerala ascend into the mountains they usually head to Munnar for a spot of trekking, as well they should. But an equally lovely and equally hilly part of the state is Periyar/Thekkady/Kumily (which all seem to refer to the same place as far as I can tell – I’ll let the geography fans amongst you spar it out). This region is home to Periyar Tiger Reserve, an area of green loveliness that is spread out across 925 square kilometres. I’m no maths wizard, but I can tell you that it’s really bloody big. Flora and fauna fans will be happy as Larry within the Tiger Reserve as it is home to all of that good leafy stuff, and all kinds of local wildlife also call the park home – from elephants to monkeys, squirrels to tigers.
I was really gagging to see an elephant out there in the park because I had never seen an elephant in its natural habitat before, but the owner of the guesthouse where I was staying lowered my expectations and told me that people rarely see them. Less than an hour into the trek and I didn’t just see an elephant, I saw a whole bunch of them, including babies. It was *the* most heart filling thing. I have seen elephants in zoos before, but to see them in this environment just being together and getting on with their lives gave me a very different feeling, and it was something that I was quite unprepared for. Alas, I didn’t get to see any of the tigers in the park, but even seeing their claw marks against the tree bark throughout the jungle gave me shivers. I can be guilty of getting absorbed in my own little world, and this experience in Periyar Tiger Reserve totally took me out of myself and made me feel the sheer scale of the world and all of the variety that it inhabits. A definite positive about travel for me has been how small these kinds of experiences can make you feel – there is nothing like watching a mother elephant feeding her baby in the wild to make you stop worrying about what the humidity is doing to your hair.
And even if you don’t get to see an elephant or a tiger, the area is so beautiful that the trip will be well worth your money and time regardless. I recall first setting my eyes on the gargantuan lake for the first time and inhaling deeply at the sheer enormity of it. While rafting through this beautiful area I felt a complete sense of calm, and as one of life’s worriers that’s not something that happens to me very often. I guess it’s just a little difficult to feel stressed out when the landscape of Periyar unfurls in front of you.
In summary: Periyar Tiger Reserve, elephants, monkeys, tigers, rafting, heart filling, GO THERE.