Trekking the Tiger Trail in Thekady


Forests, grasslands and mountains around Periyar lake, Thekady near Kumaly

Periyar Tiger Reserve (PTR) in the Kerala region of the Western Ghats is approachable from Thekady near Kumaly in Iduki district.  The artificial lake formed by the Mullaperiyar dam makes it an ethereal paradise with surrounding evergreen forests and grasslands.  Rivers Mullayar and Periyar join hands to form this high altitude lake situated well above 800m.

A Mannan tribal hut built by the guides near landing in Thekady
Wild boars near the lake

Boating in the lake offers a spectacular view of the flora and fauna.  Trekking inside the surrounding forests are also an intimate way to explore this unique wildlife sanctuary at the border of Kerala and Tamilnadu.  Plenty of trails and guides are available now with the Eco Development Committees.

Sky and lake blues in Thekady
Jungle Babbler in Thekady

Adv. Sureshbabu Thomas invited me for a brief expedition inside the PTR forests and we reached Kumaly on 21 April 2011 by night.  We stayed at the Ambady Hotel run by his nephew and the next morning forest guide Rajkumar took us to the forest.  Adv. Suraj was also with us.

Across the lake on bamboo raft: Adv. Sureshbabu Thomas leading the expedition

All arrangements were done by our host Tintu and he also provided us with those precious pairs of leech socks that are essential for trekking inside the reserve as summer showers are a daily phenomenon now in high range.

Stream Glory sailing on the bamboo raft in Periyar lake

From the boat landing we went left to cross the lake on a bamboo raft and then entered the trek path along the edge of the water.

Ambady designed by Laury Baker in Kumaly

A wild boar came against us with its threatening teeth.  It avoided confrontation and fortunately kept a distance from us as it crossed us.

Wild Boar encounter in Thekady

Red-wattled Lapwings and Great and Little Cormorants are plenty along the lake.  Pied and White-throated Kingfishers are also plenty in the lake.  On hearing a heavy wing beat like a chopper our guide Rajkumar quickly led us to a huge tree by the lake and we saw two Great Hornbills flying away from the gigantic tree.  I remembered seeing the Great Hornbills crossing the lake while on a boat journey in the lake a few years back.

Grasslands and evergreen forests around Periyar lake
Woolly-necked Stork and Median Egrets in Periyar lake

We heard the calls of Scimitar Babblers all around the forests in the morning.  We could see several Median Egrets and a Woolly-necked Stork near a shallow stretch of the lake.  Paddy field Pipits are also seen here.  Chestnut-headed Beeeaters are abundant.

A moth in PTR, Thekady

Little Spider Hunters and Purple Sunbirds are also common.  We could see a Honey Buzzard passing and a Crested Serpent Eagle resting on a tall bare branch.

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch in PTR
Chestnut-headed Beeeater in PTR, 22 Apl 2011

A few miles away from the landing towards east we saw fresh pug marks of the tiger.  It was just a few hours old as it was evident from the rain drenched soil according to Rajkumar who hails from the indigenous Mannan tribe.  He is also aware of all the birds, mammals, butterflies and plants.  He also showed us some wild orchids with flowers.

Borwn-capped Pygmy Woodpecker in PTR, Thekady

We could also find the droppings of Porcupine, Sloth Bear, Jungle cats and wild dogs.We also saw the presence of an elephant herd through their fresh dung in the grass near water and heard the sound of reeds being broken by the pachyderms inside the thick jungle.  While waiting for the giants we could see a Stripe-necked Mongoose with its striking chestnut color against the green of the grass.

Tiger pug marks in PTR, Thekady

Rajkumar showed us some Malabar Parkeets, Plum-headed Parakeets and Velvet-fronted Nuthatches.  He also showed us a few Brwon-capped Pygmy Woodpeckers so close.

Common Flameback Woodpecker in PTR

Then we entered the thick evergreen forest and thanks to the leech socks given by Tintu we were saved from the attacking vampires from all sides craving for our blood.

Pipit in Elaphant dung in PTR

We could see plenty of Malabar Grey Hornbills and Malabar Trogons inside the forest.  Out learned guide made me notice the call of Trogons.  Plenty of Red Helen butterflies are seen inside the semi evergreen patches.  Tamil Yeomans,

Four Ring butterfly in PTR, Thekady

Common Castors, Grass Yellows, Southern Rustic etc. are also common.  Though he searched for Frogmouths we could not find them.  They are also plenty in the evergreen shelters in PTR but locating them is tricky because of their perfect camouflage.

Rajkumar helping Suraj to get rid of leeches
Stripe-necked Mongoose in PTR, Thekady

Towards the end of the trail we saw plenty of Neelgiri Langurs and Bonnet Macaques.  A single Common Map butterfly and Forest and Stream Glory damselflies also appeared  before us.  It took a few hours to get back to the landing.

People from all over the world in PTR, Thekady. Note the leech socks on
Wild orchid blossom in PTR, Thekady

We rested in the room for a few hours after lunch and returned to Kottayam by evening.  The summer showers this year have been a blessing so far in Kottayam and Iduki districts but it is harming farmers in Kuttanad.

The return: Adv. Suraj pulling the raft-rope
Tamil Yeoman in PTR