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Thekkady – Tiger Reserve, India

Not being one with a penchant for heights, the road from Munnar (a hill station in Kerala, 1450 m- 1800m above sea-level) to Mahindra resorts (1800m) was not the best, with hair pin bends and no barrier at all. The valley down was a free- fall. The only saving grace was that the speed limit was 15km/hr. I so dreaded going back on the same road again and was only happy to know that the trip to Thekkady ( 1337 m above sea level) was a drive forward albeit one with more of those steep curves.  While I was still apprehensive about the journey, I saw my mom-in-law and couldn’t help but smile. With hands joined, lips moving, she was invoking all the Hindu Gods for our safety. Fortunately the road was much more wider and safer than the climb to Munnar.

The journey from Munnar to Thekkady was one that was filled with the sweet smell of cardamom. The cool breeze blowing through stretches of cardamom estates broken only by the sharp scent of eucalyptus trees was a welcome distraction.

Thekkady, a little town in Idikki district, like all tourist spots has charming shops selling very ‘ Indian’ pallazos with elephant prints, Oms, hand printed dolls, Lucknowi kurtas and traditional artefacts.

We stayed at Aranya Nivas, a hotel run by Kerala Tourism, within the Periyar tiger reserve. The hotel was in the midst of a botanical forest, which stretched over acres and acres and was inhabited by common langurs and the nilgiri langurs ( monkeys), deer, elephants and wild boars . All this on the shores of the River Periyar.  The boat trip in Thekkady is one of the must-do things .  There are diesel boats which take you on a one and half hour trip down the river so that you can see the animals in their natural habitat.

We decided to take the boat the next day at around 3.00 p.m. Once seated, there was silence as all eyes stared at the forests beyond, hoping to catch a tiger or an elephant at the least. Somebody had spotted a tiger the previous day as per the buzz on the deck. So we watched carefully, ardently, with the alertness of the tiger itself. Photograph enthusiasts clicked away- pictures of the river, sea- birds- kingfishers, snake birds, perched on bare trees which I thought had been dug into the river bed probably to arrest the tide; only to be informed that these were real trees once upon a time and had now gone bare… Some lucky ones spotted grazing deer and otters at the edge of the river. Even luckier ones spotted a relaxing bison and a peacock- its deep blue a contrast against the green of the forest.

There were some more monkeys across the river….but no TIGER!!! . The Indian family, (from the U.S.) behind me consisted of parents with 2 boys aged around 12 and 6. The 6 year old was obviously disheartened at not being able to see the promised animals and wanted to return. So, there was a constant chatter with the parents keeping him distracted with facts from discovery channel. Indian parents (no matter where they have lived) can be a little pushy. Every experience has to be one of learning or else it’s useless. A child cannot be allowed to dream away. He must question, relate and be very much alert at all times for the parents to be satisfied. So there I was cruising on the boat, away from the city trying to enjoy the wind in my hair, in nature’s midst a silent spectator of the battle raging behind me between the over-controlling dad and the 6 year old. Well, I would be lying if I said, it did not bug me but I shuddered to think  what may have gone through other peoples minds, when I did it when my kids were younger; trying to fill their little brains with all the knowledge I had acquired over decades. I was as much an Indian parent as any other!

With the boat trip coming to an end, we were informed, the tigers don’t come out much in the monsoon, so the odds of finding one had been low to start with. However, this only meant another reason to visit the heart of nature in the Summers ( April to June)😊.

Until then the one and a half hour ride on the Periyar river was refreshing and amazingly beautiful. No reason to crib!!!

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