Thursday, 20 January, 2011

PERIYAR TIGER RESERVE- India’s One of the Best Night Safari experience

January 27, 2010, Periyar, Thekkady, Kerala : Siddharth and me along with our spouses planned our annual vacation to Gods own country – Kerala covering Kumarakom, Allepey, Munnar, Backwaters houseboat and Thekkady. Thekkady was our important destination as important like the backwaters or kumarakom and it proved right – 2 core reasons : (1) Wild Life – it’s a national park and a tiger reserve also famous for its elephants (2) This is the only Tiger reserve in the country, where wild life enthusiasts like us can do a NIGHT PATROLING in the JUNGLE which was the core USP for it.

Here, one needs to book in advance with the department of forest and tourism in Thekkady. There are 2 slots only from 7 PM to 10 PM, 10 PM to 1 PM and 1 PM to 4 AM and each slot can take only 5 tourists each. Which means only 15 people can go for this adventurous Night walk in the forest. Ideally, the 5 member team is accompanied by 3 forest guards – 1 with torch and 2 with gun. Ideally, the objective of this activity is to explore the real jungle on feet (3 hrs / 15 kms walk) and contribute to the work of the forest department to patrol and protect the forest from poachers and sandalwood smugglers. Sandalwood is abundant here and the smugglers right from Tamil Nadu and Kerala travel all the way, barefeet in the jungle and cut the sandalwood trees which sells for a huge price. The smuggling of sandalwood is worth Rs 800 Crs per annum and this is more dangerous than the animal poachers. The Nightwalk guards were sharing their experience of once gunning down a gang (they don’t require a permission to shoot at night) and some skinny smugglers clad only in underwear (langot) and no other clothes on the body which was applied with oil, slipped out easily and fled into the dense and thick Periyar forests. For a change, unlike BG and KN they have walky-talkies and high beam torches along with their ammunition quota and they take you along the forest across various topographies – plain, hill, water body, dense forest, mangroves.
You pay Rs 1000 per person and when you assemble at the forest gate (we took the 7 PM slot), you register, sign a bond/undertaking declaring that you will be responsible for any accident/loss/death and not the forest department. Then they give you 2 gadgets. 1 Long khakhi leg covers / boot covers which one has to tie to be protected from poisonous insects, leeches and reptiles. (snakes are common). You get a torch (one per couple) which is very powerful. Our torch which we took along from Mumbai had a 300 m beam and the forest torches were 500-600m beam white lights. Flashes in Camera were strict no, talking with each other a strict no, breaking out of the group a strict no (no one needs to tell you not to do it – I Can bet no one lost in the jungle can find his/her way out by own), perfume or deo is a strict no.

We began our journey. Sid and Chinly opted out to relax – I believe it was a very big mistake missing this one – well as we proceeded further, post a 15 minute walk entered into the dense forest. The best kicker was to use your torch and explore the jungle and find the animals. The guards would ofcourse show you the animals they sight, with much ease and regular practice. The first life we traced was a herd of deer and that too a few feet away. We saw wild boars – a family of 7-8 – mama, papa and kids whom we followed for 2 minutes and they vanished in a swamp. The best excitement was when we heard huge sounds in the water canal nearby and all of us sped with huge expectations and yes, we found a herd of huge (5 ft in size) Sambhars with beautiful playing in the water and then fleeing away fast as they saw us.

The best part was when we moved from the swampy area to a plain land and across a huge distance the guards showed us a herd of elephants. It was too far and dark to capture so we cherished the live moments, though my video has a dull capture of if. We moved from the plain grass land to a swampy area where we were asked to walk carefully and very slowly to avoid slipping. Some of us did slip a number of times, though.  Our shoes and pants were all muddy by now, but all was worth. Soon we came across a swamy lake like structure and soon saw some movements – as we approached nearer  they were the beavers (seal types who live in swamp and water).

Post all the walk, as usual, we asked the guard – kuch bada dikhao (show us something big and worth) – a tiger or a leopard. But could not sight one, but the guard warned us and asked us to stay absolutely quite. We wondered why and soon he gathered us around some excrete or dung and he said “beware- a sloth bear” around. And the guard too looked a bit tensed and asked us to move fast. That was to avoid an attack, which we too had learned at Kanha – Sloth bears are more dangerous than the tigers or lions as they come from somewhere unexpectedly and start spitting on the victim. The spit / saliva has some acid which starts immediately reacting on the victim and the victim gets distracted. The bear in the meanwhile hides somewhere and jump and attack the victim from the back usually. Ideally the heavy animal does not hit or bang the victim, it uses its sharp claws to simply rip apart the victim – either an animal or human.  Another question which would come to your mind, would be how did the guard come to know from the shit that it was a sloth bear – the answer was that the shit was in round balls and black in color. This is usually the form and there were honey bee and bee nest particles in the shit and bears are know to steal and drink honey – tiger or leopard would never break a bee womb. And how did he know the bear was near –the shot was steamy soft and fresh and well, it’s the forest guards duty or skill to know all this.

Then we moved into a hilly terrain and finally I was getting too tired. We were again warned not to react if we see an elephant nearby, though we did not. It was said that if one reacts before a wild elephant, he is gone and if you behave like a good and silent boy the giant would not harm you. Soon we reached the forest gate post the most adventurous forest trip of ours. The night safari in Singapore was a made up one unlike this one – exciting, unexpected and unpredictable and that’s what wild is all about.

In the day we did a morning boat ride in the Periyar lake – saw many birds, eagles, seals, wild buffalos. This was worth too (Rs 60 per person). There are also other wild tourism options like bamboo floating ( you float on a bamboo raft in the eater throughout the day in the jungle, a day long trek on the hills and many more – most of the tourists would be foreigners while the Indian counterparts would be busy getting the Kerala Massage or doing Kerala spice shopping - we were short of time as the rest of the trip was planned and Sid would not have appreciated more of Wild life so left it for the future !


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The elephants are majestic animals. Seeing them up close is amazing.
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Night patrolling can be really hard. Since jungle is pretty dangerous.
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