One of the largest national parks in India, the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary (also known as the Periyar Tiger Reserve) occupies 925 square kilometres of the Cardamom Hills region of the Western Ghats. The majority of its visitors come in the hope of seeing wild elephants – or even a rare glimpse of a tiger – grazing the shores of the reservoir at the heart of the reserve. Daily safari boats ferry day-trippers around this sprawling, labyrinthine lake, where sightings are most likely at the height of the dry season in April. However, for the rest of the year, wildlife is less abundant than you might expect given Periyar’s overwhelming popularity.
Just a few hours by road from the Keralan coastal cities, and Madurai in Tamil Nadu, Periyar ranks among India’s busiest reserves, attracting thousands of visitors over holiday periods. The park’s ageing infrastructure, however, has struggled to cope with the recent upsurge in numbers. Just how overburdened facilities had become was horribly revealed in September 2009 when an excursion boat capsized on the lake, killing 45 tourists. Since that Thekkady disaster, strict restrictions have been imposed, but the lake safari experience hasn’t improved; most foreign visitors leave disappointed, not merely with the park, but also its heavily commercialized surroundings and apparent paucity of wildlife.