Thekkady's Jungle Book

Thekkady Lake

Peace Rock is the most scenic locale in the movie Jungle Book. Peace Rock comes to light in the scorching summer when water dries up in the river in the midst of the jungle. An unwritten rule comes into effect in the jungle as soon as Peace Rock becomes visible - no one will prey on animals that come to drink water here.

Tiger, leopard, wolf, wild elephant, deer and rabbit are all equal inheritors of the water. They huddle and bow together before the water in unison. It is on such an occasion when the animals are busy quenching their thirst that the tiger Shere Khan, his eyes aglow with cruelty, comes to recognize the human scent of Mowgli. He instantly orders Akela, the leader of the pack of wolves who raise Mowgli as a son of the jungle, to banish the latter from there.

Also read Mowgli's forest, and Shere Khan's too

All this however, is a figment of the imagination of Rudyard Kipling, the creator of Jungle Book. In reality such rules do not exist in the jungle. Hungry animals pounce on their prey at the opportune moment and kill and eat them. Then they drink the water of the river to their heart's content. A long rest is next on the agenda. When hunger returns, it is hunting time again. Many rocks are surfacing in several parts of Thekkady's Periyar Tiger Reserve this summer. Animals arrive there alone and in herds to drink water. But this is hardly Peace Rock. On the other hand preys are often badly mauled by their predators.

The abode of Shere Khans

Thekkady's Jungle Book
Periyar is a tiger reserve. Photo: Istock

Periyar Tiger Reserve is inhabited by the descendents of Shere Khan, the villain tiger of Jungle Book. Periyar Tiger Reserve in Thekkady is one of 27 regions in the country set aside for the conservation of tigers. Established in 1978, Periyar is also the oldest wildlife sanctuary in Kerala. The temperature here is 15 – 20 degrees Celsius in December – January months and 31 degrees Celsius in April – May months. It is spread over 925 square kilometers in Idukki and Pathanamthitta districts. Pampa and Periyar rivers flow in this region. Seven varieties of forests, 62 species of mammals, 32 varieties of birds, 45 varieties of reptiles, 27 varieties of amphibians, 38 varieties of fish and 160 varieties of butterflies can be found here. Most of the animals in the Periyar Tiger Reserve are vertebrates. Tiger, elephant, sambar, bison, mouse deer, lion tailed macaque, endangered mountain goat, lemur, flying squirrel and fruit-eating bat abound here. Like in Jungle Book here too the tiger reigns supreme.

40 Shere Khans; Bagheera too

The forest department's figures speak of the presence of over 40 tigers here. These include varieties like common tiger, Panthera Tigris and Royal Bengal tiger. Bagheera the panther of Jungle Book lives here too. A heavy, hefty prey such as a bison will mean a sumptuous treat for a whole week for the tigers. Small deer will see them through just three or four days.

A fully grown tiger will be about eight feet long and weigh from 190 to 240 kilograms. The tigers love to finish off their prey by the river and then drink water stomach-full. The tigers set out to drink water during times of sunrise and sunset. Once they identify a prey they will not rest until catching them. Tigers even make 10 to 14 attempts at catching prey.

The ritual bath of the 'Haathis'

Thekkady's Jungle Book
An elephant approaches the water. Photo: Onmanorama

The elephants of Periyar Tiger Reserve belong to the family of Haathi, the leader of the wild elephant herd in Jungle Book. These peace loving folks love to wade in the water and frolic in the mud. The tuskers do not mingle with the younger crowd. They have their own 'group'.

The wild elephants are amazingly talented at sprinting in the forest and swimming effortlessly in the river. Helping one another in times of danger is an inborn trait in them. A fully grown up elephant weighs an average of five tons. They prey for food only during daytimes. A grown up elephant need 200 – 300 kg food a day. According to Dr. P. S. Esa, former Director of Forestry Research Institute, elephant drinks 150 – 200 liters water daily and the quantity is more during summer. In one stroke it draws in 11.5 liters water into its trunk. After reaching the riverbank the wild elephant herd cool themselves awhile before venturing into the river for their bath.

Friends of 'Baloo'

Thekkady's Jungle Book
The bear. Photo: Istock

The Periyar Tiger Reserve also houses ‘Baloos' who will make a beeline for the beehives the moment they smell wild honey wafting out of it. These bears never move in herds. The sight of honey makes them forget everything and gulp it with gusto. They also carefully preserve the honey combs. They are keen on quenching their thirst immediately. Weighing an average of 145 kg, they excel dogs in the matter of sniffing. They are belligerent and like to knock down others by punching in the face.

'Kaa' who tried to make a meal of Mowgli

Thekkady's Jungle Book
The python is found in the waterlogged areas. Photo: Istock

Also to be found here are the friends of Kaa, the python in Jungle Book who tried to devour Mowgli wholesale after promising to save him. Found mostly in the waterlogged areas, they are 2.4 to 3 meter long. They are skilled at hiding for hours together inside the water. They swallow their prey whole and then curl down and slumber.

No friends of 'Akela', just wild dogs here

There are no descendents in the Periyar Tiger Reserve for Akela, Mowgli's savior and the head of the wolf pack. Akela's types of wolves are found mostly in North India. At the same time there are plenty of wild dogs in the Tiger Reserve. They hunt only in packs. They also sound out warnings when sensing danger. The law of the jungle that Akela teaches its young ones in Jungle Book goes like this: ‘The strength of the pack is the wolf and the strength of the wolf is the pack.'