November 2015: To me India is much more than one country. With all of its varied landscapes, unique histories, cultures and tribe it is more like hundreds of countries all wrapped up into one. Visiting these different regions of India has long been a goal of mine starting with the Himalayas, the Ganges River plains, then the deserts of Rajasthan and now the rainforests of the western Ghats in the south of India. The rainforest of the western Ghats is lush and full of exotic wildlife like the Asiatic elephant, tiger, sloth bear and king cobra. My wife and I spent one week in southern India visiting the national parks to see as much of the wildlife as possible via overnight walking and driving safaris. This was our itinerary and the story of our weeklong trip that we organized ourselves via taxis and directly with the national parks:

Day 1
Departure 1120 Air India from Male arrive Thiruvanthapuram 1300
Pick Up in Medium Sized Private Taxi. The rate is inclusive of fuel expenses,
driver’s daily robe, toll, inter-state toll, parking fees, etc) approx. 4.5 hours to Allepey to Houseboat with AC.
Stay in houseboat parked in a scenic spot. (Boat can’t depart after 6pm)
Overnight Houseboat including food, evening coffee, snacks, dinner and breakfast.)

Day 2
Morning On houseboat (0730 to 1000 cruise), explore waterways.
Taxi To Periyar National Park
Kerela House Hotel overlooking periyar reserve

Day 3
Begin Trek in Periyar National Park
Camp

Day 4
Complete Trek
Taxi To Silent Valley National Park, forest Bungalow/hotel near park, hotel

Day 5
Silent Valley jeep safari
Depart To Nagarhole National Park Kabini River Lodge

Day 6
Morning And afternoon safari in Nagarhole National Park
taxi To Bangalore arriving midnight
Hotel near Bangalore airport

Day 7
Depart from 8:00 a.m. to Andaman Islands Port Blair Bangalore arriving 120pm

Our route

Renting a Houseboat and Exploring the Kerala Backwaters

No trip to Kerala is complete without spending at least one night on a houseboat and seeing the backwaters. There are hundreds of miles of water inlets, canals and lakes and all are best explored via the traditional wooden houseboats. For a modest price, Paula and I had our own boat with an air-conditioned bedroom, a spacious covered dining area with lounge chairs overlooking the water and a great crew that looked after our every need and pampered us with incredible south Indian cuisine and cocktails. We slept overnight on the boat parked alongside a river inlet and occasionally we would stop and visit a village or hike to an old, abandoned church. We spent two days on the boat and loved every minute of it.

Our Houseboat

Dining Area in Our Houseboat

Paula having coffee in the morning

Breafast omelette, pineapple and fresh mango juice

Sunset on the Kerala Backwaters

Village scene on the Kerala Backwaters

Fishermen

Fishermen

A legacy of the Portuguese colonialism in the south of India, is Christianity. The south of India has the largest population of Christians that date back hundreds of years and churches can be easily found like this old abandoned one in a backwater.

Old Church

Common form of navigation in kerala Backwaters

Religious Revelers 

Trekking Overnight in Periyar National Park

I was thrilled to discover that we could trek into Periyar National Park and camp inside the park overnight. This required a permit obtained well in advance and armed ranger led escort. I organized the trek directly with the national park and Paula and I stayed the night near the HQ for an early morning walking departure into the park. For me walking is the best way to see any wildlife is on foot even if it is a tiger and elephant, animals capable of easily killing us. Wild animals do not want to attack and usually provide warning signals before attacking that if heeded will leave the hiker safe from death or injury.  Our goal was to hike all day into the reserve and camp inside a small hut secured by a large ditch carved all around it to keep elephants out at night.

Before the trek, we did a short elephant walk in the reserve. 

Paula with the rangers. We wore leech socks because it was rainy season and there were a lot of leeches in the tall grass. 

Armed rangers leading the way

Macaque monkeys

Tiger sightings are always my main goal and India is the only place where I had a solid sighting of one in Ranthambore National Park. In Periyar, the rangers mentioned they have seen them and that occasionally they kill villagers on the outside of the reserve. One had even fought and killed a sloth bear. One ranger recently found a carcass or what remained of one. We didn’t see any tigers or hear them, but we did encounter fresh pugmarks in the mud. A ranger told me that the highest density of tigers is in the core of the reserve where tourists cannot go. The scariest patrol that rangers have to do is in the core of the forest where they walk at night alongside one other ranger and are most likely to encounter a tiger hunting. But according to the rangers, the elephant and sloth bear are more dangerous and one of the rangers said with a melancholic voice that another ranger friend of his was killed by an elephant while on patrol. This was a real danger for us, and we were constantly on guard for elephants. When we did encounter some, they were about 50 yards away and they sensed out presence immediately and the rangers were quick to back us away from them before being charged. We watched safely from a distance behind a tree once the elephants seemed to calm down.

Tiger pugmarks

Huge orb spider eating a dragonfly

Buffalo are another dangerous animal in the reserve and one we encountered a few times and had to give them their distance. 

Forest buffalo

A bat living inside an hallowed out tree

A black langur monkey

To get to our campsite had to cross a lake on a small raftmade of several logs tied together that one of the rangers rowed with an oar. 

Crossing the lake in a makeshift raft

No one is allowed in the park except for tourist with the exception of the indigenous people that have called these forests home for centuries. They are allowed to sustainably gather food, fish and event hunt in the forests freely. They are not responsible for the poaching and in fact they revere the wildlife such as tigers, and elephants that are being poached.

Indigenious man fishing

Indigenious Fisherman that we shared soe of our food with

Indigenious woman gathering worms for food in the forest

Our campsite in the middle of the forest designed to keep wildlife out. Paula, I and the rangers were the only ones in the campsite, and it was an amazing experience camping in the Indian forest in this rustic camp. At nighttime the rangers took us on a night hike which was an incredible experience.

Our campsite

Paula admiring the lake by our campsite

Giant porcupine that visited our campsite at night to eat food scraps 

Silent Valley National Park

On our way north to visit Nagar hole National Park, we visited Silent Valley national Park, the best rainforest to see the lion tailed macaque, a favorite animal of mine at the San Diego Zoo. It is rare and was almost wiped from existence when plans to flood its last forest refuge with the construction of a hydroelectric damn almost came into fruition but luckily conservation efforts staved off the damn for now. Paula and I took a taxi to a small rough town with no real decent accommodation. In the middle of the night someone pounded on the locked door for 5 minutes straight and I never did answer to find out what they wanted. Instead, I waited on the other side of the door with a weapon ready to defend we if they broke in. Silent Vallet didn’t disappoint. To enter, we had to go by a ranger jeep since no outside vehicles are allowed in. Then we had to adhere to designated trails where we saw giant flying squirrels and lion tailed macaques.

Mountains around Silent Valley

View of Silent Valley forest from Firewatch Tower

An angry lion tailed macaque that we saw up in the tree

Nagarhole National Park

After a long drive to get to Nagar hole National Park, we barely made it on time. We had to speed to get to the park gate within minutes before closure leaving us unable to get to the expensive eco-resort, I booked for two nights as a treat to us for a few rough days of travel. Iam very glad we made it to the resort because it was something that Paula and I almost fainted in excitement with at first glance. We had a small bungalow with an open courtyard that had a jacuzzi under the stars that we used one night, and food was to die for. We loved the cuisine and had some red wine to wind down the long journey on the road that took us up and over some scary winding roads across the Ghats. Our taxi driver really went out of his way to help us, and he even refused a tip, which I left in his backseat anyways. We did multiple jeep safaris into Nagar hole and saw amazing wildlife but no tigers although they are common. But my favorite sighting was of the large bull elephant that mock charged our jeep.

Me and Paula dining on our first night at the eco resort

Our jacuzzi open to the stars in our private courtyard in our room

Angry bull elephant

Deer

Langurs

Sambar elk

Visiting Hindu Temples

Wildlife aside, the main reason for our trip, seeing the Hindu temples and observing worshippers was also a highlight during this Shiva festival in a small village that brought everyone out to observe the self-flagellation of some of the devotees of Shiva to prove their love to the Hindu God Shiva.

Worshipper

Worshipper

Shoes of nails

Devotee whipping himself

We traveled with a jeep of Hindu worshippers to a sacred cobra temple where it is believed a cobra lives in the temple and only the priest can enter. Anyone else entering will be instantly killed. There is a cobra statue made of gold that I could see inside but no live cobras. We sat inside the temple while devotees sand the most hypnotic song in worship that was led by the Hindu priest. Even though we aren’t Hindu I could definitely feel the spiritual presence in the temple that the devotees were experiencing.

Hindu priest at the temple

Singing chants

Cobra Temple

Paula with the blessing on her forhead from the Hindu priest. 

From Nagar hole, Paula and I took a series of taxis and buses to get to Bengaluru where we sent one night before flying out to Chennai and onward to the Andaman Islands in a massive monsoonal storm the next morning.

 

11 + 14 =

error: Content is protected !!