Boat Safari in Periyar Lake @ Thekkady

“There is pleasure in the pathless woods, there is rapture in the lonely shore, there is society where none intrudes, by the deep sea, and music in its roar; I love not Man the less, but Nature more.” – George Byron

Jungles keep calling us. When its long that Jaishree and I have visited a wildlife sanctuary, this silent call gets loud and clear, the impressions and images of wild-terrain start floating in our eyes and we start missing the wilderness and its rich flora and fauna.

This affair with jungles started couple of days after we exchanged marital vows. During our honeymoon trip when we were trying to understand and accommodate each other, and a never ending affair was about to begin, someone else also silently creeped up in our lives. It happened during the visit to the Veerappan land of Bandipur. Jungle of Bandipur left us mesmerized. We sighted a playful elephant family, witnessed a deer falling prey to a group of wild dogs; becoming non-existent within blink of eyes.

Elephant family in Bandipur

Elephant family in Bandipur

With over a decade of living together, as our admiration and dependence on each other kept growing, this third angle, the jungles, also managed to retain its never ending charm and magnetism and both of us long for any visit to wildlife.

So when we were planning a trip to Kerela, Thekkady was first in the itinerary. Thekkady is situated in the lap of scented cardamom hills. It is India’s largest and most visited wildlife sanctuary spread over an area of around 777 sq Km. Between 1887 and 1895, British constructed Mullaperiyar dam at the confluence of Mullayar River and Periyar River to supply water to the dry parts of Tamilnadu. Construction of the dam resulted in creation of twenty six square km of artificial Periyar Lake, the dam’s reservoir, that enhanced the beauty of wild area around.

The Periyar Lake

Till 19th century this area was mostly forestland and the hunting ground of the King of Travencore. However, during that period British started to make further inroads everywhere and realized that Thekkady’s weather is optimal for tea and coffee plantation. This realization resulted in forest land quickly getting converted into tea, coffee, ginger, cinnamon and other spice farms. This sudden and rapid increase in plantation farms alarmed Maharaja of Travancore and to prevent his favorite hunting ground from further encroachments, he declared 600 square km of this area as reserve forest and christened it Nellikkampetty sanctuary.

According to another legend in 1934 killing of an elephant by a British soldier made Maharaja of Travancore remorseful. In that “Ashokan Moment” he realized the significance of conservation and turned the forests around the lake into a sanctuary. Though, I find this legend hard to believe, it is possible that Maharaja used that incident as pretext to make his decision acceptable. In 1978 this sanctuary was declared part of Project tiger and now it is also known as Periyar Tiger Reserve.

As we are talking about tiger reserve, I would like to share an observation. Our numerous visits to jungle slowly and silently introduced us to all the living things in jungle; bugs, wild flowers, medicinal plants, big trees, birds, reptiles and many more. Together they all constitute the jungle. When one visits Jungles dreaming only about spotting ferocious cats, no doubt he returns disappointed. Once one opens to all the possibilities, jungles reveal their beauty. Then if one gets to see the cats, whose sightings are rare, it becomes icing on the cake.

Resuming the trip, from Munnar we took a bus to Kumily – a small town at the periphery of Thekkady. This town is also known as the spice garden of Kerala. It was a beautiful journey with breathtaking views. It was one of those journeys when you lose the desire to reach destination and want that journey never ends. We unsuccessfully tried to capture the beauty of surroundings in our camera and ended up making grudging complaint that the bus is moving too fast, followed with a promise that next time on this route we would hire a taxi, enjoying the journey with halts at our will. After all,

जहनो-नज़र में हर वक़्त, मंज़िल ही क्यों रहे,
जब तक रहे सफ़र, सफ़र का मज़ा क्यों ना लें

Kumily is about four km from the Sanctuary. This erstwhile kingdom of Thekkumkoor kings is today a strip of tourist centers, hotels, ayurvedic massage centers and spice shops.

Next day, when we reached the sanctuary, like all first time tourists, we rushed to buy tickets for KTDC conducted boat-trip that lasts for around two and half hours. While the boat returned from the previous trip, there gathered big crowd to embark and we rushed to occupy a good viewing position.

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As this lake is result of construction of a dam on Periyar River many trees could be seen submerged in the water. The boat sliced through the placid water of the lake, perturbating the silence of the Jungle, generating undulating waves gently kissing the banks, interrupted occasionally by the stumps of the trees trying to break free from the water. Even when these trees are reduced to nothing but stumps they provide nesting and resting place to water birds – a generosity suiting to these magnanimous living beings.

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One of the charm and in my opinion the only reason this boat ride may pass as wildlife safari is the possibility to spot wild elephants at the shore, frolicking in water. Few years after our visit to Thekaddy, the elephant sighting led to a major mishappening when after signting the elephant herd on the shore, tourists rushed to one side of the boat resulting in the capsize and death of several of them.

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When we visited Thekkady there were ample rains, not the best time for wildlife safari. The best time for animal sightings in Thekaddy is March and April, when water reservoirs inside Jungle start to dry and more and more of wild animals are driven to the Lake to quench their thirst.

Our first halt was at Edapalayam Lake Palace, a palace in the midst of lake, to let the guest of this Palace disembark. Maharaja of Travancore constructed this building to entertain his guests. It is now being converted into a heritage hotel, a global trend. I belong to Udaipur, a place that boast of a more popular Lake Palace. I was unaware of another lake palace in distant south and hence was pleasantly surprised to it.

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The boat was crowded and the noise of its engine and the people on board was enough to put off any serious wild life enthusiast. I lowered my expectation and started to treat it more as a lake cruise than a wildlife safari. It helped me notice the beauty of surroundings. It was a cloudy day. The clouds were casting a spell on mighty Sun and turned the burning sun-rays into soothing blessings; perfect weather to cruise in dazzling green surroundings.

Periyar Lake Cruise, Thekkady

It was a nice and relaxing cruise but still the desire and the feel of real Jungle was missing. In the next article I will write about the walking tour of the jungle that quashed this unsatisfactory feeling and gave us the feel of this beautiful jungle.

Series Navigation<< Nilgiri Tahr on the wild ramp of Rajamalai National Park, MunnarNature-walk in Thekaddy >>

2 Comments

  1. Today I read many interesting fact about the Englishman who constructed the dam on The Periyar river, literally the big river, in Indian Express by Author V Shobha. His name was Pennycuick.

    Today he is revered in Tamilnadu and has also been assimilated into the local Hindu Pantheon. According to those benefitted from the construction of this dam, Periyar River flows through 300 Km in Kerala before emptying wastefully in Arabian Sea. Pennycuick realized the potential of damming this water. He dammed the Periyar river at its confluence with the smaller Muallaiyar river and then diverted the water from the reservoir through a 1.6 Km long tunnel to feed the Suruliyar river and the Vaigai dam. This water then passes through a grid of canals and irrigate vast tract of land in Tamil Nadu.

    The construction of the dam impacted today’s over 2.17 Lakh acre of paddy, cultivated by 32000 small farmers. Pennycuick settled down to work at his modest cottage in Idukki. Locals say he spoke fluent Tamil and relished biryani.

    His first construction was washed away by torrent of rain in 1890. He is said to wept and struggled to collect funds to construct another dam. British government was sceptical to his plans, however, the Chettiars of the region were convinced and donated liberally for his cause and helped him re-build the dam.

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