Thekkady, Kerala's iconic attraction, known for its jaw dropping landscape splattered with rolling hills, dense forests and spice plantations, is home to a variety of unique flora and fauna. If you take a walk along the nature trails that cut across lush greenery, you will be enthralled by the beauty of the place. The chirping of the birds, the sounds of the jungle animals, the rustle of the leaves and the gushing of the mountain streams all work in harmony here to give Nature a unique rhythm.
Apart from this, there are elevated flat terrains, lush valleys, picturesque lakes and greenery that merges into the horizon. There are great opportunities for treks and other Nature-related activities. Apart from the thick forests and the abundant wildlife of the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, the slanting hills of Thekkady are home to plantations of vanilla, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, ginger, nutmeg, tea, coffee, etc.
Inside the Thekkady forests and the Periyar Tiger Reserve are tribal hamlets that hold on to age-old practices. Their presence adds to the charm of Thekkady. A visit to one of the tribal villages will give you a glimpse of lives lived in complete harmony with Nature.
Snuggled in the southern region of the Western Ghats, the Periyar Tiger Reserve sprawls over an area of 925 sq. km of forest land and is home to thousands of different species of flora and fauna, including rare and endangered ones. Thick, evergreen forests form about 360 sq. km of the total area of the valley.
The valley derives its name from one important river - River Periyar - that originates in the reserve’s remote forests. The river, which is 244 km long, is the longest in the State. One of the few perennial rivers in the region, it meets the drinking water requirements of a number of towns in Kerala. Moreover, the Idukki dam on the river generates a big share of the State’s electrical output. On account of these reasons, the river has been rightly named the ‘Lifeline of Kerala’.
Apart from the Periyar, the valley is an important watershed for another river, the Pamba. An artificial lake of about 26 sq. km forms the central part of the sanctuary. The lake, created as a result of the construction of the Mullaperiyar dam, adds to the picture-perfect beauty of the place. A boat safari, apart from being great fun, is the ideal option for viewing the wildlife from a safe distance.
Of the 27 tiger reserves in India, the Periyar Tiger Reserve is the oldest in the country and the largest in the State. Apart from being a recognised breeding ground for tigers, the reserve has also been identified as the best place for researching elephantine life.
Thirty-five species of mammals have been identified here. They include rare and endangered species. A boat ride on the lake is a great way to spot the wild elephants, the Gaur, the Sambar and so on. While the Gaur is the largest of the bovines here, the Sambar, the largest deer in India, is the main prey of the tiger and the wild dog..
Apart from these, there are wild pigs, Malabar Giant Squirrels, Small Travancore Flying Squirrels, jungle cats, sloth bears etc.
The endangered species in the area include Nilgiri Langurs and the Lion-tailed Macaque, that is usually seen only in the evergreen interiors. Nilgiri Tahrs are also found in the reserve, especially in the higher rocky areas. Salim Ali’s fruit bat, one of the rarest bats, is also reported to have been found in the area. The stripe-necked mongoose, usually found in the semi-evergreen and evergreen forests, the extremely rare Nilgiri Marten - the only species of marten found in southern India- and endemic mustelids are also seen here.
There are about 265 species of birds in the Periyar reserve including migrant birds. The birds include raptors, water birds, galliform birds, pigeons, wood peckers, darters, kingfishers, golden orioles, Brahmini kites, cormorants and passerines, as well as a large flock of the Great Pied Hornbill and the Ceylon Frogmouth.
The endemic species include the Malabar Grey Hornbill, the Nilgiri Wood Pigeon, the Blue-winged Parakeet, the Nilgiri Flycatcher, the small Sunbird and the White-bellied Blue Flycatcher. Other birds found in the area are the Black Baza, Forest Eagle Owl, Nilgiri Thrush, Little Spider Hunter, Rufous bellied hawk eagle etc.
An interesting sight is that of water fowl perched on the dead trees protruding out onto the lake. Other aquatic birds include the Indian Darter and the Black–Necked Stork. Woodland birds, owls etc can also be seen in the forest.
About 45 species of reptiles constitute the reptilian population of the reserve. There are about 30 species of snakes, including venomous and non-venomous ones. The venomous ones include the endangered and deadly King Cobra , the cobra, the viper and the krait. The python is one of the non-venomous ones commonly seen. Other members of the snake family inhabiting the reserve are the Malabar Pit Viper, the Hump-nosed Pit Viper, the Striped coral snake etc.
There are 13 species of lizards and two species of turtles. The lizard species include, among others, the Flying Lizard and the Monitor Lizard. A total of 27 species of amphibians are found here which include limbless caecilians, and a variety of toads and frogs. The Malabar Gliding Frog, the Common Indian toad, the Fungoid frog, the Bi-coloured frog etc have been found in the area.
The Reserve houses about 160 species of butterflies including endemic and rare species. Among them, about 19 species, commonly seen in the Western Ghats, are found in the moist deciduous forests. The common species found here include the Lime Butterfly, the Malabar Tree Nymph and so on.
Among the rare species is the Travancore Evening Brown (Parantirrhoea marshalli) endemic to the southern Western Ghats, that was identified here after a gap of several decades. The species was first discovered by the Englishman, Harold S Ferguson.
A wide variety of moths including the Lunar moth and the Atlas moth, the largest moth species in the world, are also found in the area.
There are about 40 species of fish in the lake and the streams of the Periyar Tiger Reserve. Notable among them is the endangered game fish, Mahseer. Among the many endemic species here are the Periyar Trout, the Periyar Lattia, the Periyar Barb, the Channa Barb, the Curcuma Barb and the Travancore Loach.
Protozoans, annelids, arthropods and molluscans are the major invertebrate orders found in the Periyar area.
The vegetation in the Periyar Tiger Reserve includes evergreen, semi-evergreen and moist deciduous forests, grasslands, an aquatic eco-system and eucalyptus groves. There are 1966 varieties of flowering plants, including angiosperms. Both dicots and monocots have been included in this count. There are about 171 grass species and 140 species of orchids in the region.
The richness of the flower wealth is so outstanding that it constitutes more than 50 percent of the entire flower wealth of Kerala, which is about 3800 species. Teak, Rosewood, Terminalia, Eucalyptus, Sandalwood, Jacaranda, Mango, Jamun, Tamarind, Banyan, Pipal, Plumeria, Gulmohar and bamboo are some of the trees found here. The three main endemic plants are Mucuna pruriens thekkadiensis, Habenaria periyarensis and Syzygium periyarensis. Rare plants like the Podocarpus wallichianus, the only South Indian conifer, are also found in the reserve.
More than 350 medicinal plants, including trees, shrubs and herbs, have been identified at the Periyar Tiger Reserve, mainly in the evergreen and moist deciduous forests. Plants belonging to the family of Fabaceae and Euphorbiaceae are the major ones among them. Glory Lily (Gloriosa superba) and Kino Tree (Pterocarpus marsupium) are two plants with medicinal value found here.
The Periyar Tiger Reserve is surrounded by tea, cardamom, pepper and coffee plantations. The arresting green of the plantations add considerable charm to the region.