The chirping of some rarely seen birds greets me when I walk towards the boating area through the deep dark of woods. The air breezing through the mist-kissed trees in the early morning is a luxury to my citified lungs. Standing spellbound in the midst of virgin forest at Thekkady in Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, a small wind ruffles my hairs as if asking me to open my eyes to the nature’s bounty.
This is the largest and most visited wildlife sanctuary in the country. It was in the 19 th century, this hilly region’s potential was tapped for tea and coffee cultivation by the Britishers, my guide Thambi Durai goes gaga over the historical significance of Thekkady which is sitting pretty on the lap of cardamom hills.
The Travancore royal family has an inseparable link with this reserve forest. The legend is that the rapid increase of plantation alarmed the then king of Travancore and to prevent his favourite hunting ground from encroachment, he declared it as a reserve forest in 1895. Some say the killing of an elephant by a British soldier prompted the Maharaja to take measures to protect it and it became a tiger reserve in 1978.
The reminder of Durai to go for boating in the splendid artificial lake formed in the Mullaperiyar dam across the Periyar river lands me in the woods. Braving the cold, I join the queue to collect tickets. Never have I seen officials who are in their seats as early as 6 am. The two-hour boat riding gives a unique opportunity to experience the woods at its scenic best. I could see the edges of forest dissolving in the mist.
With its thick dense evergreen forests and grasslands, Thekkady beckons a large number of tourists to the god’s own county. Abundantly rich with flora and fauna, different species of birds and animals, chilly weather and aroma of spice plantations make this place a perfect holiday destination. A walk through the woods, jeep safari and trekking will help explore the thick forest. The area is blessed with about 240 species of butterflies. Thekkady is home to long-tailed macaque, Nilgiri langurs, bonnet macaque, leopards, wild dogs, porcupines, wild bear, sloth bear, flying squirrel and tigers.
After a short break, the guide is back in action. According to him, spotting a ferocious wildcat while boating is sheer luck. Watching herds of elephants playing on the lake side is an incredible picture. A few foreigners, with a special interest in bird watching, double as guides and enlighten the crowd about the rare winged beauties sitting on the makeshift wooden nests in the waters.
En route, we stop near the Edapalayam Lake palace which was once a summer shelter for the Travancore kings. The palace is now a heritage hotel. Mangala Devi Temple which sits on the top of a hill is a must visit. It opens only during the Chitra Pournami festival. Pandikuzhi and Peerumedu, known for its picturesque beauty, are paradise for shutterbugs. As the sun sets in, I drive back to the realities of life, indeed with a rejuvenated soul.