The animals

Our main wish was to see elephants. Of course, we'd have loved to see tigers, but that is a bit like winning the lottery. (Our guide in Periyar said he'd only seen 2 in his life.)

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Elephants at a festival in Enakulam
Our first elephants were ceremonial, at a fiesta in a temple in Enakulam. They were fine beasts, and the drumming and blowing very impressive. However, elephants at a fiesta don't actually do anything apart from stand imperiously, eat bamboo, and walk slowly in procession.

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Elephant tea break Elephant pulling logs
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Elephant pulling logs Work gang lifting a tree trunk
From Thattekkad, we went on a cycle ride along a small road alongside the river. Around a corner, we saw an elephant all by himself in a clearing, scoffing a big pile of bamboo. He had a chain harness, and was obviously a working elephant having a break. Later, when we returned, he was hard at work pulling tree trunks from the forest onto the road. The way this was done was to lash the trees with a chain. The chain had a thick rope tail spliced onto its end. The elephant took the rope tail between in its mouth, and pulled the load backwards. He wrapped his trunk round the rope to guide the tow. When he got to the road, he needed to pull the load forward, so he looped the rope over a tusk so that the tow was to one side, clear of his legs. He pulled the logs to a lorry, where a gang of some 20 men lifted each in turn onto the back of the lorry. All this struck us as a good life for the elephant, certainly more dignified than performing in fiestas.

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Otters Solitary turtle
Periyar has a wild life sanctuary of some 777 square Km. The first afternoon, we took a boat trip on the lake. This was bit unsatisfactory, as there were some half dozen boats in convoy, all with loud, smelly diesel engines and crazy drivers who wanted to race, so that any wildlife that could flee, did. However, we saw otters playing by the shore, and a solitary turtle.

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On the trek A wild elephant in the forest
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More wild elephants grazing
Next day, we took an official all-day guided trek. This cost R1000 each but was well worth it, as we had 3 tribal guides for our party of 5 (the maximum is 8), and they brought breakfast and lunch. In the morning we climbed a small mountain and came down the other side, with magnificent views and lots of bird life, but no mammals. However, around midday, we heard and then saw an isolated elephant half hidden in the trees. The guides were clearly worried, as they said this particular elephant was nervous and dangerous. So, we had to creep past to a better vantage point, and then away. In the next half hour we passed a group of wild boar, and then came out of the forest to see nearly 20 elephants, mothers and young, grazing in the grass beside the lake, about 200m away. We watched them for about an hour, before they ambled off, perhaps aware of our presence. In the afternoon we saw bison, and then it seemed as if every path back to our starting point had an elephant or 2 blocking it. One was having a mud bath, where he was scratching the ground with his foot, then picking up the mud with his trunk and scattering it over his back, apparently as way of cooling down. Another seemed to be consuming whole trees as he forced his way through them.