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James

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Periyar Tiger Reserve [Mar. 8th, 2016|07:50 pm]
James
What a brilliant day.

I spent it trekking and rafting through Periya Tiger Reserve. There were eight of us in the group, accompanied by six guides including one with a gun. If an animal acted threateningly, he'd shoot in the air (he told us later he only had three bullets which I thought was a bit remiss of him).

We trekked in to the forests and it was exciting knowing all of the exotic wildlife that was in there somewhere. Periya is a massive nature reserve and only houses 50 tigers, so our chances of seeing one were virtually non-existent on foot, but thrillingly we did see a tigers footprint near a watering hole and a tree which a tiger had clawed at to mark its territory. It added an exciting edge to the day but just to be safe, I stuck close to the guy with the gun.

Elephants presented danger too. At one point we were walking along and the forest opened up in to a clearing and the guides shushed us and told us to stop. They were concentrating their attention on some bushes and trees to our right and told us to make a wide arc in to the clearing opposite. Once there we saw two elephants, feeding themselves on the foliage. It was really exciting to see a wild elephant and very different from the many domesticated 'tourism' elephants I've seen many times before in Asia. This felt a thrill.

On TV programmes in the jungle, it suggests that there is an exotic animal around every corner or a parrot up every tree, but my experiences in Laos and Borneo, and here today, make me realise it's not like that at all. You can go hours without seeing anything as animals are generally wary of humans. But you can certainly hear them, from the noise of the insects to the warning cries of the lion-tailed macaque, which sit sentry-like at the very top of trees and warn the surrounding areas if there is any movement below. You can also see plenty of evidence of them. All the way through the day we saw huge pad-like footprints of elephants, often near water, and the Bear Grylls in me got very excited about all of the dung I saw. "This is fresh".

The day incorporated some bamboo rafting and paddling our way downriver. It took about ninety minutes and we saw sambar deer and bison. It was swelteringly hot - over 100 degrees the guide told us - so it was hard work. I was ready for lunch when it arrived.

The park is home to 35 mammals. As well as rare Bengal and white tigers and an estimated 1000 elephants, there are leopards, bears, sambar deer, bison, various monkeys and even the Indian giant squirrel, which I've spotted various times before. There are also lots of exotic birds, from bright blue kingfishers to elegant wading birds, and amphibians including the brilliantly named Indian Cricket Frog. We didn't see any snakes but saw a meter-long piece of shedded snake skin - it reminded me of the scene in Alien.

We did some more rafting after lunch which was again was hard work in the heat. I'm sure the Austrian guy to my left kept pretending to take photo of birds to get out of rowing! By the time I'd finished I had a blisters on my hands. I expected the rafting part of today to be relaxing but it was grueling!

On the hike back to the start point, came the most exciting part of the day. We saw a herd of six elephants grazing across a small stream. The guides told us to head in to the forest opposite, out of sight, so we did as we were told. We arced round and came back out with a really good view of them, maybe 70 meters away. By now they were aware of our presence, and five of them made a rush for the bushes, leaving just the mother, staring at us, scraping her foot repeatedly in the sand. "Hurry, go!" said the guide and we all bid a hasty retreat. He told us later that the foot scraping indicated that she was about to charge. I've heard elephants can outrun humans, so it was also a bit scary.

There were some fun people on the trip, including an Indian couple from London who I'm meeting up for dinner with shortly.

The whole day cost 2000 rupees, 20 quid.

I got back to my hotel and discovered there was a power cut. Not ideal. I wanted to switch the ceiling fan on full power and cool down but instead I had a cold shower. The place I'm staying, Green View Home Stay, is fantastic - and I'm not just saying that because I'm using the owners computer right now and he's hovering over my shoulder. I've got a hanging bamboo chair on my balcony!

Tomorrow is a long day of travel to Varkala, including a four hour bus-ride, a ferry and then perhaps a train, plus lots of confusion and frustration between no doubt!
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