Periyar National Park

You know you’ve reached Thekkady when the air smells of sweet cardamom and spicy cinnamon. Drive along the meandering slopes past spice plantations, and spend some time at one to get a closer look at where your spices come from. Watch peppercorns being roasted, pick vanilla from the stalk, and take home some cloves; all fresh and completely organic.

After this spicy sojourn, enter wild elephant country. Periyar Tiger Reserve is all pristine evergreen rain forest. Just outside the forest gate is where the guesthouses lie, so every minute spent here is next to nature. At night, it takes just a short walk to watch fireflies light up bushes. With just a little concentration, you might even be able to listen to elephants trumpet to each other.

A day hike is the best way to explore this dense jungle. Listen carefully to your forest guide, because all the guides of Periyar are very special. They all belong to a conservation program that transformed poachers to protectors. These guides have been born in the forest and no one knows the plants and animals better than they do. They make great teachers and will be point out to a racket-tailed drongo that is miles away, know a hornbill from its call, and tell you when the elephants will make their next appearance. These learned guides have dedicated their lives to protect the forests. Their stories and enthusiasm is inspiring and just listening to them talk is bound to make any city dweller want to move to the forest.

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