12th – 15th January – if you go down to the woods today…..

As Periyar National Park is home to Tigers, Gaurs, Wild Boars and Leopards, you can’t just stroll around on your own, which is obvious to me now, but on my first visit (when the tantrum was in full swing) I just wanted to walk off, couldn’t see the issue!

Anyway, we brought tickets for a ‘Green Walk’, which was a 2.5 hour trek through the forest and grasslands around the edge of the park. Shamefully I can’t remember our tour guide’s name, but he was a youngster in his early 20s and was from the tribal village that still live within the park. The government protects these people and their way of life. I read that some used to be poachers, but when tourism arrived in Periyar a lot of them became forest guides and the park is now heavily protected to prevent poachers. And some people think tourism is a bad thing! Our guide was very informant and was constantly turning his eyes and ears to pick up any trace of movement or sound. I was amazed when he pointed out two Spotted Owlets asleep in a hole, high up in one of the trees.

The trek itself was quite tough, some steep gradients followed by terrifying slopes. Oh, and being 100 metres away from 3 ruddy massive Gaurs (Indian Bison!)… at this point the guide decided to go off for a loo break, leaving Steve and I in open grassland tackling three staring beasts, just a tad bit scary! We also spotted the delightful Malabar Giant Squirrel, apparently endangered but I saw three of them so promising times, a Mongoose, which according to our guide was incredibly rare to see, plus a beautiful Jungle Owlet. We heard the fantastic and hilarious call of the Malabar Grey Hornbill, and what forest walk would be complete without some monkeys flying through the canopy of the trees above our heads! This particular breed was the Nilgiri Langur. Just that alone would have been enough to satisfy any nature lover, standing still and listening to the various bird calls and rustling trees sent goose bumps down my arms, knowing that we were there right in the middle of it all. On the way back to the park entrance we came across a group of other Brits who were also on a trek. We knew something had been spotted by the way they were signalling for us to be quiet. Low and behold it was a family of four Asian Elephants. One of the other guides was quite keen to move us and his group away. Luckily for us our guide wasn’t having any of it, and took us down to get a closer look. Now, in hindsight this was incredibly stupid, and probably a bit reckless, but the elephants were around 30 metres away and had their backs to us so didn’t hear or see us. After five minutes, they continued their march, ploughing through the trees slowly. They really are true nomads, wandering from place to place. Now, there are around 1000 elephants within Periyar, so seeing one is probably quite common… or not. We tried to ask our guide how often he sees them, he didn’t understand our question, but there was no way Steve or I was expecting to see one, let alone four. Earlier on the walk I took a picture of some elephant dung thinking that was going to be the closest I got to an Elephant. Wrong!

A magical moment and 100 x better seeing them in the wild rather than being paraded around in chains. When things like this happen it’s not just a passing moment, it’s a life changing event, because within that moment you realise the wonder of wild animals and how, if the elephant had brains like us, humans would be no more! Not ashamed to say that both me and another Brit girl got quite emotional at seeing them 🙂 Apologies for the ‘hippy’ talk, trying to sum up my emotions after witnessing a sight like that is quite difficult to do without sounding like I’ve been smoking pot and watching Easy Rider too many times. Anyway, it was bloody amazing and you can’t stop this gal from smiling right now!

During the last stretch of the trek, Steve started listing animals and asking our guide if they lived in the forest. After the third animal I realised that he was listing all the animals in The Jungle Book 🙂 Still kids at heart. Did you know in the Rudyard Kipling book Baloo isn’t actually a grizzly bear but in fact a Sloth Bear? Which can be seen in Periyar. It was Disney that changed the type for the animated movie, simply because a Sloth Bear was deemed to be too ugly!

After the walk we decided to ‘award ‘ourselves with a pint, or two! As mentioned in previous posts Kerala is quite restrictive when it comes to alcohol. A couple of years back they changed the law as to who can sell it and what can be sold. If you want spirits then you can only buy them from 5-star hotel, if you find a hotel that is selling alcohol then it’s purely beer or wine. We found one hotel that was nearby and decided to suss it out. Cue Nessa feeling awkward. The place was oddly lit, all curtains drawn, dingy plastic tables and chairs, like it was meant to shame you for being there! They obviously don’t know to what lengths the Davies’ will go for drink! Anyway, they were obviously used to seeing Westerners as it was no problem, and half way into our drinks we were joined by a 19-year-old Belgian by the name of Seb. Interesting guy! He was on a motorbike trip through Kerala to join a party where a bunch of Jews from Israel go and eat magic mushrooms. Yep, we were perplexed by it too! In exchange for using our 3G data to download the latest episode of Sherlock, he gave us some locally-made Toddy that he brought the previous day. Toddy is basically fermented coconut water, and before stricter rules were brought in it was abundant with the local boozers (just think America’s Moonshine). We had been meaning to try it since we got to Kerala but never got the chance, so didn’t turn down his offer! Should have, as it was bloody vile. Imagine drinking malt vinegar straight! Didn’t look too clever either. Anyway, we’re still both alive and can at least tick that off the list.

The last couple of days have been spent chilling and enjoying the last days of green before heading to the big black smoke of Madurai, Bangalore and Chennai. If you are thinking of visiting India then you must stop off in Kerala. It’s a magical state. A lot more chilled, and, as a tour guide said to us, ‘it’s a good place to start if you have never been to India before’.


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