The winter month of February and a perfect week-long trip to Kerala. We took an early morning bus from Alleppey to reach a small town of Kumily, also called as Thekkady. This town, bordering Kerala & Tamil Nadu, is famous for two things – the spice plantations and Periyar Tiger Reserve. We reached Thekkady in the afternoon, checked into a beautiful homestay and spent the rest of the day relaxing and exploring the nearby market area. We met an interesting German guy in the homestay who had come to Thekkady to do business with wholesalers for Vanilla export. He sure loved to talk as we ended up having a pretty late night conversation sharing travel experiences and my own stint in Germany.
We had pre-booked a Bamboo Rafting tour at the Periyar Tiger Reserve. It was an early start to the day at 6 am as we had to report for the tour at 6:30 am. It was a perfectly cold morning for a day long hike and adventure. This tour is exclusively organized by the Periyar Tiger Reserve tourism department and only 12 people are allowed on the tour. We were the only Indians and the rest were all from different countries, everyone equally excited to start the tour. We were accompanied by a forest ranger and four guides who handed over pre-packed breakfast & lunch to everyone before the briefing session.
The start of the tour itself was quite adventurous as we had to cross the Periyar Lake standing on a small bamboo raft. One slip and we would have been inside the water. It was a pleasant 3 kilometres hike inside the forest with the crisp fresh morning air and different sounds of the forest. All this added to the thrill that was awaiting us on the day. The lake area is the hang out spot for elephants and wild bison to quench their thirst. We came across a few monkeys sleeping on the trees, spotted a few months old Tiger pug mark, some fresh elephant dung on the path. After a kilometre of hike, it was our first pit-stop for breakfast at a scenic location overlooking the lake. Post breakfast, it was time for the bamboo rafting experience. Each raft carried 6 people and the people sitting at the back had to do the rowing. After rowing for almost 45 minutes, we reached the interiors of the jungle.
The rafting was a solid experience but so far, we had not spotted any wildlife except for few birds on the lake. We hiked a bit when it was time for lunch. We quickly ate and went exploring deep into the jungle which our guides assured was safe. After an hour long break, we were on our feet again exploring further when we spotted a monitor lizard in one of the bushes and while returning saw a group of wild bison in the distance and wild boars drinking water at the lake.
It was late in the afternoon and was getting quite hot too. Our guides suddenly alerted us on spotting some wildlife quite far away. As we had a camera with a good zoom option, we scanned the area to see a herd of elephants. Quickly getting on the bamboo raft, we started rowing towards the elephants so as not to miss them. It was quite an experience to see huge wild elephants from close range. We got off the raft on the opposite side to observe, under strict instructions by our guides to not make any noise. We observed it was a family of 9 elephants including 3 baby elephants. It was an amazing sight to watch the head of the family taking the lead, cautiously taking each step and protecting the little ones.
On our way back, we had another encounter with the wild elephants, where they were crossing the same path as ours. Following repeat instructions by our guide, we huddled close and waited for the elephants to pass. This experience was even more mesmerizing as we saw a group of another 5 elephants with two calves walking down the path. A little noise by us, and things could have easily gone wrong. The guides play a very important role here.
Finally after a day long hike, we reached the base of the lake which was the end of the tour. We highly recommend this tour conducted by Periyar Tiger Reserve. They also organize similar day long / half day tours in the jungle. We may not always spot wildlife, but it is still a wonderful experience to be inside the jungle!