Cruising along Idukki Dam.
The pool at Spice Village.
Sorrel takes a safari in the most popular wildlife sanctuary in southern India, Periyar.
The only mode of transport allowed in the reserve is motor boat, so all safaris are on the lake or on foot. Periyar is the only reserve where you can see wild elephants from the relative safety of a boat and still be close to them. If you choose to walk, beware of leeches: they are plentiful.
As the terrain is hilly, with the only flat areas being the grasslands at the edges of the lake, and more than half is impenetrable jungle, doing your safari by boat is not only the best way to see wildlife, but a very easy and peaceful way to go.
The sanctuary is home to bison, antelopes, sambas, guar, dhole, wild boars, monkeys, langurs, monitor lizards, python, king cobra, flying lizards and squirrels, 260 species of birds and about 900 elephants, leopards and some 40 tigers, though sighting the big cats is quite rare.
In the centre of the forest is a watchtower to accommodate the more intrepid visitor. It is a great place to see the animals from, but is as bare as it possibly could be. You have to take everything you'll need: sleeping bag, food, water, the works. It costs only $2.50 a night for two people, plus the cost of the boat ride, which gets you halfway there.
Just a few kilometres away from Periyar is the tiny town of Kumily, overlooking the spice plantations of the Cardamom Hills. The accommodation is appropriately called the Spice Village. There are 52 huts, (47 double rooms and five suites), with roofs of thatched elephant grass, terracotta floors, whitewashed walls, wooden furniture, fan and telephone. The ensuite has hot running water and there is a pool, restaurant, laundry service, conference halls and games room.
Activities such as boat safaris, tea and spice plantation visits, forest treks, tennis and badminton can be arranged from the Spice Village and you can easily reach the reserve from there. You can walk, catch one of the infrequent buses, hire a bicycle or go by auto-rickshaw for less than $1.