ON THE WATERFRONT
National Geographic Traveller (UK)|November/December
THE PALM-FRINGED WATERWAYS OF KERALA TEEM WITH BIRDLIFE AND THE RHYTHMS OF RICE PRODUCTION. BUT BENEATH THE SURFACE, THE PERIYAR NATIONAL PARK AND THE TRANQUIL VEMBANAD LAKE ARE FINDING A BALANCE BETWEEN THE NEEDS OF AGRICULTURE AND NATURE
JAMIE LAFFERTY

Vishal, a ranger in the Periyar National Park, is patrolling a tourist boat heading out onto Periyar Lake early in the morning. As he struts, he announces tiger facts to an increasingly confused audience. He starts each of his proclamations with a demand for our “kind attention”. Vishal has a neatly pressed olive-green uniform, a serious countenance and a black moustache so impenetrable it looks like it could deflect bullets.

“Your kind attention,” Vishal repeats, walking between the rows of seated passengers as the boat putters away from its jetty. “We have around 40 tigers here. Very strong animals. Many bison, too. No giraffes.” His final remark seems something of an afterthought: “You’ll only find giraffes in Africa. And Australia.” At this news, he certainly has my attention. “But tigers, yes, we have many. Tigers are only found here in Asia. And in South America,” he continues, incorrect again, before closing with some eyebrow-raising bragging on the felines’ behalf. “Bengal tigers are very strong — stronger than six lions,” he says. “Tigers can kill elephants, no problem.”

I don’t think Vishal wishes to mislead us, more that he’s innocently indulging in a bit of hyperbole to emphasise a point: this is tiger country and tigers aren’t to be trifled with. I’m less clear about why he mentioned the giraffes, but he speaks with such authority that no one in our small group has the guts to press him.

This much is true, however: Periyar National Park and its namesake lake lie in the highlands of Kerala, a winding five-hour drive east from the state capital of Kochi, through seemingly endless corridors of tea plantations and spice gardens. Established in 1982, the park’s status as a tourism destination, much like the wider state’s, is slowly growing, both domestically and internationally. Not that it’s possible to tell from looking at it, but the huge lake is actually man-made, dating back to 1895 when the ruling British erected the Mullaperiyar Dam, quite accidentally creating an Edenic wildlife sanctuary.

Vishal boat is one of three double-decker, park operated vessels heading off shortly after dawn in search of wildlife along the lake’s shores. “The mornings are very cold,” says Vishal, which, unlike some of his pronouncements about wildlife, is correct. “Maybe the mammals will wait until afternoon to get warm before moving,” he adds, stamping his feet. I suspect Vishal is insuring himself against the possibility of us seeing nothing during the excursion. Tigers have spent 200,000 years evolving to go unseen, and while they have been spotted from these noisy boats, sightings are incredibly rare. We’ve a much more realistic chance of spotting gaur (a wild cattle species), Asian elephants and wild dogs.

These cruises leave every morning throughout the tourist season, which starts in October and runs until June, when the monsoon makes the journey far less appealing. For the past two years, flooding (particularly severe in 2018) has meant that park has been off-limits to visitors.

In real life, the lake looks less artificial than it does on a map, its waters spreading into valleys like insidious fingers. But despite having been here for 125 years, it’s yet to erode certain vestiges of the former landscape. As we move south along one of these watery digits, our route seems to be marked by huge stakes. Initially, I think they’re markers to show boat captains which channels are shallow enough to navigate, but I soon see that they’re actually the remnants of dead trees, long since drowned by this unnatural body of water.

Indian cormorants, river terns and grey-headed fish eagles are among the species using them as perches from which to launch sorties into the water. Behind them, jungle stretches up hills and to the horizon, disappearing into the blue sky. Up here, far from the more polluted coastal areas, the sky really is blue, and most of the plants are so perfectly formed and bombastically green as to appear shop-bought. The animals clearly appreciate the conditions. Over the hour or so we’re out on the lake, we see healthy herds of gaur lumbering around the shoreline and a wild boar nervously peering through the scrub.

Later, on a nature walk beginning at the Periyar Nature Interpretation Centre — now led by a more measured guide, Subhash — I come face to face with a cranky looking gaur, almost get urinated on by a Nilgiri langur and see a small herd of sambar deer flitting though the jungle-like wraiths. Just as we begin to turn for home, we also stumble across a family of Asian elephants casually crashing through the undergrowth, apparently not in the least concerned by Vishal’s gossip that superstrength tigers are plotting to assassinate them.

Monsoon weeding

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER (UK)View All

INTO THE EAST

SET SAIL ALONG THE EASTERN FRINGES OF INDONESIA’S VAST ARCHIPELAGO TO DISCOVER REMOTE ATOLLS HOME TO COMMUNITIES OF SEA NOMADS, THE WORLD’S LARGEST CONCENTRATION OF REEF SPECIES, AND THE BIRDS AND BUTTERFLIES THAT HELPED SHAPE THE THEORY OF EVOLUTION

10+ mins read
National Geographic Traveller (UK)
January/February 2021

STAY AT HOME ISLE OF WIGHT

With vintage theme parks, beaches galore and idyllic countryside, there’s no better place to head to for a classic English break

2 mins read
National Geographic Traveller (UK)
January/February 2021

KIKI BOSCH

Without a wetsuit or any apparatus, Kiki Bosch free-dives in the world’s coldest waters — a healing therapy she turned to after a sexual assault

3 mins read
National Geographic Traveller (UK)
January/February 2021

Portugal

Europe’s most southwesterly point — the Cape St Vincent — witnessed the beginning of Portugal’s fabled Age of Discovery in the 15th century. Since then, this stretch of coastline, running north along the Atlantic, has drifted back to a peaceful, unhurried pace, where dramatic cliffs and sun-baked scrub form a backdrop to life on land and at sea

2 mins read
National Geographic Traveller (UK)
January/February 2021

THE PANDEMIC VS SAFARI CONSERVATION

WITH THE PANDEMIC CONTINUING TO OBSTRUCT THE TRAVEL INDUSTRY, SAFARI AND CONSERVATION TOURISM ARE BEING HIT HARD. HOW ARE AFRICA’S RURAL COMMUNITIES COPING?

3 mins read
National Geographic Traveller (UK)
January/February 2021

HOW TO TRAVEL IN 2021

What sort of journeys will your family be setting off on next year? We look at the latest trends, from virtual tours to private cruises

2 mins read
National Geographic Traveller (UK)
January/February 2021

High on a hill

A WEEK IN THE CENTRAL PYRENEES, TUCKED AWAY IN THE SOUTHWEST CORNER OF FRANCE’S OCCITANIA REGION, REVEALS A PASTORAL LIFE LITTLE CHANGED IN CENTURIES. HERE, AMONG MEDIEVAL MARKET TOWNS AND LUSH VALLEYS STALKED BY BEARS, THE PAST’S THREAD SNAKES ITS WAY THROUGH THE EVERYDAY PRESENT

10+ mins read
National Geographic Traveller (UK)
January/February 2021

BEST OF THE WORLD

The joy of travel comes from the unexpected. And while the pandemic was just that, bringing journeys to a standstill, it’s certainly not quieted our curiosity. With the new year comes the promise of a return to travel, and we’re eager to get going. The editors of the 16 editions of National Geographic Traveller around the world have lined up 35 of the very best places our planet has to offer for 2021 and beyond: superlative destinations that speak of resilient communities, smart sustainability efforts and unforgettable experiences for post-pandemic explorations. The world is full of wonders — even if they’re hard to reach right now — so take this time to plot and plan your next journey and lay the foundation for that much-dreamed-about big trip

10+ mins read
National Geographic Traveller (UK)
January/February 2021

DISCOVER THE EUROPEAN CAPITALS OF SMART TOURISM

The European Capital of Smart Tourism initiative champions EU tourism destinations striving for inclusivity, creativity, digitalisation and sustainability. Gothenburg and Málaga, the 2020 capitals, are leading the way

3 mins read
National Geographic Traveller (UK)
January/February 2021

ASK THE EXPERTS

NEED ADVICE FOR YOUR NEXT TRIP? ARE YOU AFTER RECOMMENDATIONS, TIPS AND GUIDANCE? THE TRAVEL GEEKS HAVE THE ANSWERS…

5 mins read
National Geographic Traveller (UK)
January/February 2021
RELATED STORIES

20 Places To Go In 2020

Conscious luxury, landmark anniversaries and the hottest emerging destinations— here’s our holiday list to tick off this year.

9 mins read
Condé Nast Traveller India
February - March 2020

Life In The City Of The Gods

Inside the neighborhoods of Teotihuacan, Mesoamerica’s first great metropolis

10+ mins read
Archaeology
November/December 2019

Bird Flu In Poultry Confirmed In More Dists Of Kerala, Maha

So far, bird flu cases reported in total 12 states across country

2 mins read
Millennium Post Delhi
January 20, 2021

PM dedicates Kochi - Mangaluru Natural Gas Pipeline to the Nation

Pipeline would improve the ease of living for the people of Kerala and Karnataka. Blue Economy is going to be an important source of Aatamnirbhar India : PM

4 mins read
Business Sphere
January - February 2021

अब परिदों की शामत

संहार बर्ड फ्लू की वजह से केरल में 5 जनवरी को बत्तखों को मारने के लिए पकड़ते स्वास्थ्य कर्मचारी

1 min read
India Today Hindi
January 20, 2021

7 राज्यों में फैला बर्ड फ्लू, दिल्ली व महाराष्ट्र में अभी स्थिति साफ नहीं

एवियन इन्फ्लूएंजा यानी बर्ड फ्लू देश के 7 राज्यों में फैल चुका है. रविवार को सरकार ने पुष्टि की कि केरल, राजस्थान, मध्य प्रदेश, हिमाचल प्रदेश, हरियाणा, गुजरात और उत्तर प्रदेश में यह पहुंच चुका है.

1 min read
Rokthok Lekhani
January 11, 2021

Active cases still lower than last week, but gap closing

Max Cases and Deaths From Maha & Kerala

1 min read
The Times of India Mumbai
January 09, 2021

SHAOLIN KUNG FU IS DIFFERENT FROM KALARIPAYAT

I FIRST TRAVELLED to Kerala in 1976-77 when I began training first in kathakali and then in kalaripayat.

3 mins read
THE WEEK
January 17, 2021

Milk of human kindness

Today, consumers all over the world are divided into three categories: non-vegetarians, vegetarians, and vegans.

2 mins read
Life Positive
January 2021

केंद्रीय टीम केरल पहुंची कई राज्यों में पक्षी मरे

देश में बर्ड फ्लू के बढ़ने से चिंता, प्रभावित क्षेत्रों में मांस और अंडे की बिक्री पर रोक

1 min read
Hindustan Times Hindi
January 08, 2021