Periyar National Park, also known as Periyar Tiger Reserve, is the most prominent wildlife sanctuary in Southern India. It covers a total area of 925 square kilometers over the Idukki and Pathanamthitta districts in Kerala. Of the 925 square kilometers, almost 350 square kilometers of the core area was designated as the Periyar National park in 1982. Periyar National park is not only a tiger reserve but also an elephant reserve.
Maharaja of Travancore, Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma, was the first person to take notable initiatives towards wildlife conservation and biodiversity protection in 1934 when he declared the forests surrounding Periyar lake as the private game reserve which restricted the encroachment of tea plantations. The reserve was named Nellikkampatty Game Reserve. Periyar Lake is a reservoir, which now flows fenced by Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, and was created in 1899 shortly after the erection of Mullaperiyar Dam in 1895 by the British. The reservoir and the lake together comprise the prime source of water for the locals in the region. Periyar was established as a Wildlife Sanctuary in 1950 and a Tiger Reserve in 1978.
The park may be referred to as – Periyar National Park, Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, Periyar Tiger Reserve, Thekkady, and Kumily (after the closest proper town of Kumily). Don’t get confused or alarmed. They all mean the same!
Cardamom, Coffee and Tea plantations dominate the agricultural land around the sanctuary. However, within the wildlife, tropical deciduous forests, grasslands, and stands of eucalyptus take precedence. There are also hundreds of flowering plants. Most trees in the forests of Periyar national park are well-known and useful to humankind. These include but aren’t limited to teak, sandalwood, mangoes, banyans, tamarinds, bamboos, jacarandas, jamuns, and the only existing South Indian conifer, Nageia Wallichiana.
There are approximately 35 mammal species residing in the park which includes tigers and elephants as the park also serves as a reserve for both the species. Other animals include but not limited to bisons, sloth bear, wild pig, sambars, jungle cat, Travancore flying squirrel, Nilgiri Langur, Nilgiri Tahr, and Nilgiri marten, and Salim Ali’s fruit bat.
The park also has its share of reptiles and insects which includes a total of 45 species of reptiles (two turtles, 13 lizards, and 30 snakes) and 140 species of butterflies. King Cobra and Malabar Pit Viper are two of the 30 species of snakes residing in the forests. Malabar tree nymph, lime butterfly and Atlas Moths are some of the 140 species of butterflies that live in the woods of Periyar.
There are around 250 bird species flocking the Periyar sky and tree branches, some of which are Malabar grey hornbill, Nilgiri thrush, Nilgiri flycatcher and Nilgiri wood pigeon, blue-winged parakeet, crimson-backed sunbird, rufous-bellied hawk-eagle, spot-bellied eagle-owl, white-bellied blue flycatcher, black baza, and little spider hunter.
Periyar Lake is home to around 40 species of fish which include the Travancore loach, Channa Barb, Periyar Barb, and Periyar Trout.
If you are visiting the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary and National park, you cannot miss exploring the spice gardens such as the Cardamom Hills, and the Tea Plantations. Most hotels can arrange a visit to these plantations for INR450 by auto rickshaw of INR750 by taxi (2-3 hours). One of the most recommended spice gardens for independent touring (without booking through any hotel) is the Abraham’s Spice Garden which has attracted visitors over 56 years with its Cardamom, Coffee, Vanilla, and Cocoa gardens and many more. The tours are available between 07:00 A.M to 06:00 P.M and cost INR100. For more information, visit www.abrahamspice.com. You can also visit Connemera Tea Plantation (approx. 13km from Kumily) which offers field tours plus a chance to experience the tea making process for INR100 (08:00 A.M to 05:00 P.M).
For more information on Periyar National Park, please visit their website.
The nearest airports are Kochi or Cochin which is approx. 200 km and Madurai which is approx. 140 km from the park.
The nearest railhead is Kottayam which is approx. 120 km from the park. Kumily is the nearest proper town (approx. 4 km) and has frequent connectivity to the nearest towns of Kottayam, Ernakulam, and Madurai (Tamil Nadu).