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 seemed preoccupied invoking 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 the sight of 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 believed had been dug into the river bed probably to arrest the tide; only to be informed later 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!!! . An Indian family of four, (note from the U.S. of A) sat behind me – parents and 2 boys aged around 12 and 6. The 6 year old had been promised that there would be tigers, the ones he saw on T.V. . He was obviously disheartened at not being able to see the promised animals and wanted to return to shore. This led to a constant chatter; the parents desperately trying to distract the impatient child with facts from discovery channel. Indian parents (no matter where they have lived) can be a little pushy; actually very pushy (maybe second only to the Chinese). Every experience has to be one of learning or else it’s deemed useless. A child simply cannot be allowed to dream away. He must question, must relate and must be very much alert at all times if he has to succeed and every experience is an endeavor towards achieving that success. “Endeavors for an experience are nonsense”, in the minds of an Indian parent. So there I was cruising on the boat, away from the city trying desperately to enjoy the wind in my hair, in nature’s midst, but instead becoming a silent spectator of the battle raging behind me between a over-controlling father and a equally stubborn (which is acceptable) 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 peoples minds, when I had done the very same thing in the not-so-distant past, when the girls’ were younger. I had been equally “pushy” trying to fill their little brains with all the knowledge I had acquired over several decades. 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!!!