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Periyar Tiger Reserve – sounds and images

14 May, 2011 (04:46) | Living in Europe | By: admin

Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary

Although we’d like to spend a whole week in Varkala, we’ve decided to proceed with the plan to go to the wildlife sanctuary. It is a long drive. Rajeev has a list which includes several stops but he fails to communicate his agenda for us. We are under the impression we are going to the Parambikulam Wildlife Sanctuary, as this is the sanctuary described as the best for getting up close to the wildlife, as the location is in an isolated valley. As I mentioned in earlier blogs, our driver Rajeev does not speak very good English and he understands even less. We do not know the roads and our tourist map is inadequate, so we trust he is taking us there. There are houses, temples, fruit stands, etc. all along the drive, which we learn later is how all the roads of India are; even if the property behind is a rice field, a forest, or even if its fallow, along the side of the road itself you are never far from civilization.

About 3 hours into the drive Rajeev pulls over and tells us to get out, “This is where we are to take an elehant ride”. We contest, we do not *want* to take an elephant ride, we really just want to get to the sanctuary. We’ve ridden elephants in other countries, and it is not an experience or an expense we need to include on this trip. Although Rajeev has a difficult time understanding we do not want to do this, he finally does, and crosses off the word “elephant” from his list. This is about the time when both Rajeev and Mark become grumpy, Mark because its so difficult to communicate and Rajeev because he’s a typical stubborn Indian man. He storms off and calls Bijoy, who we presume tells him to let it go, to do what we wish, so we all climb back into the car. About 6 hours into our journey we enter the Connemara tea country. Again Rajeev pulls over and makes us get out. There is a “cheap” tea tour along the road which he has been instructed to show us. Over the last hour of driving I can see Mark grow visibly more agitated. It has come to our attention that Rajeev is not taking us to the Parambikulam Wildlife Sanctuary but is instead headed to the Government run Periyar Tiger Reserve, which our book says can be a bit like Disneyland, but it does boast a wide variety of wildlife. By this time we’ve accepted that we’re not going to the sanctuary we had planned and its just settling in. I look up the Periyar Tiger Reserve and it also looks promising though more mainstream than the Parambikulam Wildlife Sanctuary, so we hold our tongues. However, we refuse to do the tea plantation tour, this is not something we are interested in. I buy a bag of Connemara tea to bring home from the stand outside and we continue on our journey. Despite the fact we’re all grumpy by now, I know it would be silly to not buy it here, as the tea is famously smooth and only grows between here and Munnar (if I understand Rajeev correctly, that is).

We realize we cannot force Rajeev to go to the reserve we *thought* we were going to, that he doesn’t even understand that a sanctuary named Parambikulam Wildlife Sanctuary exists, that his instructions are to take us to the Periyar Tiger Reserve. We chock all this down to “lesson learned”. Next time we come to India it will be with our good map and we will make sure to find a driver who caters only to *our* interests. There will be no list involved of popular tourist activities we have no interest in.

We stop nearby for lunch and then head out on the last leg of the drive, through endless lush connemara tea plantations.

We drive past lush tea plantations

Periyar Tiger Reserve

An audio recording to put you in the mood for the Kerala wildlife experience

Hours later, but before sunset we finally arrive at the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. Rajeev is keen to take us for an ayurveda massage in the village, also on his notepad of must do’s, along with the elephant ride and the tea plantation tour. We are more concerned that we find a reasonable hotel than with getting a massage. Mark says to me: “I’d rather have *your* hands all over my body than some stranger and I quietly agree. Rajeev brings us to an ayurvedic center recommended by his boss. Kerala is famous for its healing ayurvedic massages, people travel here just for treatments we are told.

The problem is, neither of us are in the mood for a massage; its not something one does from a checklist. Sure, we’ve passed countless Ayurvedic centers since being in Kerala, and although maybe I’ll try one while in Kerala, now is not the time. I leaf through the brochure while Mark barks at Rajeev to *please* just take us to a hotel, we need quiet and relaxation.

I ask the eager massage therapist if the treatment called “Uzhichil¨” which boasts of “improving your circulation and stimulating your senses” could help with the hearing loss in my left ear, which has been my only medical concern of late. The brochure says this particular massage “opens your brain chakras and leaves you with heightened senses”. But I am informed that no massage can help my hearing, and that *maybe* if I had treatments every day for a month I might notice some improvement. I shut down, go sit in the car and let Mark deal with the situation. All either of us wants right now is to get away from our driver and to not sit in a claustrophobic car. I officially wash my hands of dealing with it.

Rajeev is upset and although he’d never admit it, I’m sure he’ll be just as happy to get rid of us as we of him when the time comes. He’s just trying to do his job, and I must concede overall he is a really good, safe driver who is delightfully quiet while driving. He takes us to a charming hotel overlooking the wildlife sanctuary. We are given “low season” rates, which proves to be an incredible deal. Our room has a big balcony overlooking the sanctuary, where I plant myself and relax in *my* style, consuming more of my birthday present from Varkala.

1) Tools of the trade – cameras, laptop, NAGRA audio recorder, sun hat, lighter and a gold bag of stash. 2) Excellent wildlife viewing from our hotel balcony.

I am happy recording sounds and images from our balcony:

I can hear macaques but do not see any yet.

A big bird flaps by, really close to me.

Once in our room I plant myself on the balcony and record audio, video, photos and passing thoughts. I would be happy to stay put – the jungle safari will probably be fun, and if I had my wish we’d stay here a few nights so as to record all the intoxicating sounds in a relaxed fashion. But Rajeev is not excited about sleeping in his car in the hotel parking lot for 3 nights. I can see him imploding with anger at the thought of a third (unplanned on his itinerary) night spent in this fashion. We offer to put him up in a room but he is embarrassed and refuses the offer. So two nights here it will be, and we intend to make the most of it. I know now in my heart that we will return to Southern India someday and do a better job of sound designing the experience. This trip is a teaser.

Once Mark and I are on our own, with a free evening to relax, hold each other, sit on the wonderful terrace and take in this heavenly ambient wildlife experience we come to an inevitable executive decision. We’ll have Rajeev drive us back to the coast and then let him go on his way. With two more weeks of travel ahead of us, we are both weary and excited. I am extremely inspired and shoot lots of video and photos from our balcony.

Wonderfully weird wildlife photos from hotel balcony.

I love this area. So what if its not the sanctuary we thought we were going to; we’ll go to Parambikulam Wildlife Sanctuary *next* time we visit. Everything about where we are *now* pleases me, from the banyan tree TV stand to the poetic shower with a glass view overlooking the nature reserve.

Sensuous shower.

1) I love this banyan tree TV stand/hat rack. 2) Heavenly creatures graze outside. What a view we have!

Exotic animal sounds.


We are tired of being rushed through these wonderful Kerala experiences, will be relieved not to have someone sleeping in his car because of us in days to come. When Mark catches up with Rajeev later to get the info for our daybreak jungle jeep safari he informs Rajeev of our decision. Rajeev is both disappointed and relieved; he was under the impression he was to take us to Munnar next, something we had never discussed. This would involve another full day of driving. We are not interested in seeing more tea plantations. And although he doesn’t say it, I know in his heart Rajeev is happy there is an end in sight to our travels together. We insure him we are very pleased overall with his skills as a driver, which makes him happy. We explain to him, although I don’t think he understands, that we are nearing the end of the month and although we are on vacation, we have *work* to do. We need to make our way to a hotel on a pretty beach with WIFI if we’re serious about keeping our business afloat while we travel. With only a few days until March 1, or payday, plus a few website programming issues that need to be tended to, we need to stay in the same place for at least 5 days to take care of business. We have a reputation for paying our composers at the beginning of every month, and do not want to let them down. Our highest earning composer averages about $5000 a month and we have at least 10 composers who normally earn around $1000 a month. Even the composers who only earn $100 – $200 a month from rely on a timely paycheck. In the early 90’s, when we wrote music for Mark Mothersbaugh’s company, Mutato Muzica we would get paid every couple months even though we were writing about a song a week. We were kept in a constant state of rags to riches. We know how that feels so we strive to spare *our* composers from the insecurity of not knowing *when* their next check will be.

Later, Rajeev is anxious when I exclaim in glee “I love this place! I could easily stay here a week!” And I could, I would be happy to just enjoy the balcony and the view indefinitely and record sounds and images from our room… From his reaction I know we will stick to the departure plan though. Next on Rajeev’s written list is Munnar, 6 to 8 hours north. “No way!” we say. After consulting his boss he agrees we’re to head back to the west coast after our 2 nights here.

We’re advised not to go trekking by foot because it rained recently and there are too many leeches for the uninitiated. So we book a private wildlife jeep safari leaving tomorrow morning at 6:00, wake up call at 5:00. It sounds exciting! We like the *sound* of going on a jeep safari. I imagine chasing elephants and sloths through the bush with our ¨private jeep¨. We hope to record the pure animal sounds of the Periyar Tiger reserve. We know its not guaranteed we’ll *see* the animals we hear but are told we’ll see *some* of them and definitely hear them.


Part 2 – Jeep Safari Through Periyar Tiger Reserve


Daybreak at Periyar Tiger Reserve.

The intrepid duo

The jeep ride to the official park entrance is a jumbly, bumpy 20 minute drive. All illusions of this being an intimate, private affair are dropped as we cue up behind a line of jeeps full of French people, Germans, even Spaniards. We are not alone. In fact, we are given an itinerary of what is included in our package tour, none of which really excites us. We tell our driver our objective to record the animal sounds but although he nods his head in agreement I’m not sure he understands. I realize that this *is* a Disney ride, only more fun. There appears to be only one road, a dusty one, and I try to embrace the discomfort of the initial early morning chill, the jostle of jeep over mottled terrain. This is reality We are here!!! No elephants or sloths appear, but we do spot some exotic wildlife, as evidenced by the video at the beginning of this blog.

Our driver stands up in the jeep as he drives, scanning the terrain for signs of interesting wildlife. All the jeeps appear to be in communication with each other, so if one jeep spots something, those following will pull over to see if they see what our driver thinks he sees. I force myself into patient mode, which is a good decision. The truth is we are travelling in a caravan of “private jeeps”, effectively negating the personal contact with nature I was hoping for. However I begin to snap photos and shoot video from the jeep, and as you can see from the photos I share, the beauty did not disappoint.

At one “scenic stop” I take a short walk and record some sounds before the jeeps start up again. Here’s what I recorded:

Jungle sounds

Mark looks at the itinerary pamphlet and sarcastically grunts, “Typical Kerala buffet is part of our package, I can’t wait…” Both Mark and I hate buffets, which usually serve up lukewarm, spongy food matter in our travelling experience. There are strict lunch hours (12:30 to 1:30) so all are encouraged to be mindful while exploring the park. I ignore the red flares that go off in my brain and take photos:

The safari tour package is divided into 3 parts, the first being the one hour drive to the nature center, where we are encouraged to do one of 3 guided activities, which appear to be strictly timed. There is a big patronizing sign spelling out what is *not* permitted on these verdant grounds. When I ask about the stern language I am told “This is a government run operation” as an explanation.

1) we can do an “easy one hour guided walk”, or a more taxing 2 hour trek along the well trodden footpaths which visitors are admonished not to wander off of.
2) we can take a row boat (with driver of course) and paddle around the lake.
3) we can just hang out at the lake until lunchtime, after which we are encouraged to go on a tea plantation guided tour. (not at all appealing to us).

We are deposited at the center, slightly disgruntled but willing to make the most of it. Thankfully we remembered to pack some granola bars and 2 bananas, because the buffet it a noisy, cacophonous disaster which we refuse to be a part of. We want to go home to our quiet hotel… but we’ve learned to somehow get our way, so despite all the organized efforts we are able to find a sweet, young guide willing to take us on a private hike despite all efforts to rope us into a bigger group. Pure sound is not easy to capture, especially in a group.

Interesting looking ficus tree

Strange, colorful, poisonous wild mushrooms and a huge ant nest hanging high up in the trees.

It is blissful here. We distance ourselves from the other park visitors, young guide in tow. He asks if we want a 1 hour or a 2 hour trek. “We don’t know” I reply, “Is it possible to improvise the length of our hike?” He is a bit confused, but we start out on a hike nevertheless. His name is Indika and he’s lived in this area all his life, though he’s only been working at the park a few years. “Its a good job” he says, “I love this park” and as we walk he tells us several charming tales of his encounters with the wildlife here.

Once he gets the gist of what we’re after Indika allows me to fall behind and do my thing. Both Mark and I have digital audio recorders and our guide learns to be quiet while we’re recording. He is very astute, calling our attention to and identifying the animal sounds we hear, pointing out paw prints, trying to teach us some plant names as well as calling our attention to birds we see.

We come across some fresh leopard paw prints, which we are told is unusual to see.

1) Leopard paw print almost looks like a child’s hand print. 2) Fresh elephant poo on our trail

Indika is a wealth of elephant anecdotes. He says its easy for them to climb up a hill but downhill is a different, slippery matter because they are so heavy. He also mimics the different sounds they make. He’s learned what the different grunts and sounds they make are. Normally an elephant will make a low pitched, friendly “humph” to let you know they see you if they are grazing when you pass. But if they make a series of sharper, more percussive sounds it means you better get out of the way. He has a mirthful, full belly laugh which makes his ear lobes shake.

We are in heaven. It wasn’t easy to maneuver a good result from this safari, but we are having a great time. It would be hard to imagine a prettier location.

1) I see this shape in a lot of Kerala ironwork 2) Happy husband.

1) A perfect opuscule of a lake. 2) These are the tiny rowboats we are allowed to paddle around in (but only with a guide).

After our hike we have Indika paddle us around in the lake for a bit. He takes us to a waterfall which is only a short hike from where we dock. I choose to stay in the boat because I don’t want to get in and out of my cumbersome life jacket, but Mark hikes there, says its “pretty” . On the ride back Mark and I decide we don’t want the buffet lunch nor do we want to visit a plantation. We want to go back to our mellow hotel room overlooking it all. Indika sings a pretty song as he rows. I am so bound up in my life jacket that I can only access my iPhone. So I record the sound of Indika singing as we row with my iPhone:

Boatman sings while he rows us across the lake

Once ashore we find our napping jeep safari driver and ask him to take us back. He is surprised, says “but don’t you want the buffet lunch?”

“No!” we reply in unison.

“And how about the tea plantation, don’t you want to see a *real* historical tea plantation?”

“Absolutely not”

On the drive back we have better luck spotting animals.

1) A monkey hiding in a tree 2) A rare flying squirrel.

1) The drive back is lush. 2) A cute monkey.

Crimson and green landscape.

Once back in our room, we are thankful we’re so compatible. Its a luxury to kick back on our balcony and just be *lazy* sound designers. We relax; I enjoy my Varkala ganja while Mark sips his Kingfisher. We are elated to have a quiet evening assimilating our thoughts. Mark works with our website programmer in Bangalore while I capture the magic of where we are.

Later when we take a stroll through the tiny village we come across Rajeev, who is pushing us to get an early start tomorrow, is anxious because he wants to make it to the coast before sunset. But we’ve been through the drill; we’ll check out when we’re ready to, and not a minute sooner. There’s no point in having a discussion on the topic.

I leave you with a parting image:

A very happy ME holding my Nagra recorder in the air.

Here are some more wildlife audio tracks to listen to while you continue on to read my next Kerala blog post:

Night sounds

Mysterious animal groan

birds, apes, roosters – what other animal sounds can you identify?

More night sounds