The onset of monsoons and we were itching to embark on our sojourn to catch the torrential downpour amidst hills, soak in the serene beauty of a Tea Estate, trek the forest lanes and catch the waterfalls, all thundering and roaring. So we zeroed in on the rainiest days as per the weather forecast, readied our bags n drive and set out on Friday to beat the weekend crowd.
A 4.15 AM start, which is quintessential for any long drive ensued. We start early – not just to beat traffic, but to spend more time amidst nature and land at our destination in time for lunch. That feel of a hot meal when it’s raining cats n dogs and when you’re bang in the midst of a Tea Estate, with a roaring river in the background, is just soothing for the tired mind and hungry stomach.
A slight drizzle accompanied us for a while but not for long though. The early start meant we were among the first few customers at ‘Saravana Bhavan (Aasai Dosai)’ Salem, they claim that theirs is the only original ‘Saravana Bhavan’ on the highway in that part of TN. A quick Idli, Vada, Pongal batting done with, we drove on towards our destination. No rains for company as yet, and we were a wee bit disappointed. As we veered off the Highway and onto single roads, our hopes and spirits just got better, a slight drizzle and heavy winds got us into the monsoon drive mode. The Windmills and Maize fields captured in our cams, the gusts of wind blowing away to glory, the tempo set for our onward drive and we finally reached the foothills – We began the ascent through Anamalai Tiger Reserve, after paying the mandatory entry and camera charges. Lots of local vehicles zoomed past without being stopped for any entry fees et. al. Seemed more like it was just bcoz our’s was an outstation registered vehicle that we were required to do the honours.
The Aaliar Dam though not full n brimming, was a glorious sight and the waters gave us company all the way up the hills. Numerous stops to capture the ghats n backwaters followed and we were lucky enough to spot the elusive n endangered Nilgiri Tahr. The steady drizzle and heavy winds caught pace and as we climbed the 40 Hair Pin bends, heavy rains welcomed us and ensured that our monsoon drive was well and truly on. Numerous small waterfalls, streams and bends later we finally arrived at a mesmerizing VALPARAI.
Our stop for the night was Stanmore garden bungalow, Injiparai. We docked at the heavenly abode by 1PM, amidst torrential downpour, manicured tea estates and misty mountains.
We checked in to our chalet, sipped hot strong coffee and got out our rain gear in full force which would be our trusted companion for the next 48 Hrs. A small walk around the property listening to the Malabar Whistling Thrush was invigorating, this birdie has in it that divine call which comforts one immensely. Lunch for us is a simple Veg combo and the one served was yummy, much to our liking.
Not much time to relax post lunch, we just sauntered around for a while soaking in the glory of monsoons and the serene green environs. Eve was all about a trek to the Nadumalai river. It was a walk through the Tea gardens in pouring rain, the power of nature comes to the fore in such situations. The rains did take a break once in a while, allowing us to get free from the shackles of our rain gear. We waded through knee deep water and reached the opposite side of the estate where the Nadumalai river which in spate was roaring through rapids. We were well advised to move out from the location before dark as it was Elephant territory. The trek back was punctuated with a couple of Indian Gaur sightings, the majestic males stood grazing away to glory, unmindful of our presence. The rains continued, we sipped another cuppa caffeine and let the night grow dark. All we heard was the rain, Cicadas and a million other insects, the Malabar Whsitling Thrush had retired for the night. We called it a night after a sumptuous dinner and hit the bed pretty happy for we had completed all that we had aimed for that day.
Day two started early, a 6AM start was delayed as our guide for the day Shekhar had dozed off and nor was our cuppa chai n kaapi ready till 6.30. We finally drove off, a sleepy Shekhar in tow at about 7AM. Our first stop, was the Puduthottam Nature walk trail, this is basically to sight the Lion Tailed Macaques in their environs. As usual rains accompanied us and as we reached the century and a half year old British Tea bungalow, from where the trek starts, it was some serious downpour. We were welcomed by a family of busy LTM’s, a few pics in rain and we set of on our trek, rains notwithstanding. The Umbrella procured a couple of days ago was put to optimum use, so were the raincoats. The nature walk done with, we set out to have a glimpse of the Koolangal river enroute the Nirar Dam. The river was in spate and flowed in full force. The Nirar Dam is in deep forest and an entry at the forest gate ensured we drove on without much hassle. We were the first to hit the dam that morning and must admit it is a beautiful location where the placid waters and the forest around blend with the silent beauty of mother nature.
We were already running late for check-out, so without wasting any further time we made a quick dash towards Stanmore. Traditional breakfast and hot beverages followed by a hot shower meant we were done with Valparai for now.
We then continued our drive from the Hills and Tea Estates towards Dams, backwaters, forest and waterfalls. A few kms from Stanmore and we were close to the backwaters of the Sholayar Dam, amidst the Tea Estates the lakes formed by the Sholayar were simply spellbinding. The backwaters keep us company for quite some distance till we cross the Dam. Our next stop was the Malakappara Check post, noteworthy point being cars are allowed here only from 6AM to 6PM and bikes only upto 4PM, the stretch from Malakappara to Vazhachal is through dense forest inhabited by lots of elephants. The drive was just enjoyable, the roads are pretty narrow and one needs to be on the look-out for oncoming vehicles and wild animals alike. The winding stretch climbs up till a fantastic view of the lower Sholayar Dam and backwaters spreads out far and wide. The Dam, a little down the road is out of bounds for public, but for the view from above. We didn’t sight any elephants, don’t know if were lucky or unlucky, coz there have been instances of elephants taking a liking to cars in this wooded stretch. Exited the Vazhachal Gate well within the prescribed time limit of two hours.
Our next stop for the day was Riverok Villas, bang on the banks of Chalakudy River. Our drive took us through the roaring Charpa Falls which though is just on the roadside, isn’t bereft of beauty or brilliance. It pummels downwards with some force ensuring none pass that stretch without getting wet.
Riverok Villas is a small decent property with a great location, late lunch it was for us at almost 4 PM owing to the narrow roads, numerous stopovers and countless small waterfalls which we just stood admiring. We were joined at Athirapilly by my school friend n his family from Punalur who decided to have a run of the waterfalls along with us.
A quick recon post 5PM and we had a glimpse of the Athirapilly from the river side behind the resort, followed it up with a quick dash for a different perspective of the falls from a view point adjacent to the road. Charpa Falls again took our breath away and misty magic was created. A hectic day done with we drove back to the resort for much wanted rest, dinner and a good night’s sleep.
Day 3 was all about Athirapilly Falls, Vazhachal Falls and Peringalkuthu Dam. The previous eve was glorious with some clear skies but night brought some heavy rain which continued to pour as morning dawned. Out came our rain gear again after a brief lull, we were the first ones to hit the Athirapilly Falls, the ticket counter is almost a km away from the viewzone which is kind of perplexing, strange are the ways of our system. Viewed the splendid drop of the Chalakudy at Athirapilly and marvelled at nature’s beauty. Proceeded to the Vazhachal Falls which is more a cascade – and this time of the year it is in full force.
The Peringalkuthu drive is again through the Vazhachal gate and we are given a time limit of 1 Hour to visit the dam and get back. 7.5 Kms it is from the gate and heavy rains kept us company all through, reached the dam where we were welcomed to an absolute spectacle, all the crest gates were opened and the water was just thundering away. We quickly rounded off our visit to the dam to keep up with the time frame, drove back towards Vazhachal gate, and then onto our resort for a late breakfast yet again. Breakfast was yummy and hats off to the resort chef, he dished up some great stuff.
Our return was delayed and we could leave only by 1PM. We were well advised by locals to avoid the Kuthiran Stretch of the Thrissur – Palakkad NH owing to the tunnel work. The previous day a friend of mine from Thrissur was stuck at that point for more than two hours. So we set out on a li’l circuitous route, we took the Athirapally – Thrissur – Wadakancherry – Chellakara – Pazhayanur – Alathur stretch. Narrow roads with heavy traffic and rain all the way, almost 29 Kms more than the usual route but probably helped save precious hours.
Post Alathur we followed the standard Palakkad – Coimbatore – Salem – Bangalore stretch. Were treated to some visual spectacles, courtesy the monsoon clouds and the setting sun playing hide n seek on the Palakkad – Coimbatore stretch. Reached home by 10.20 PM which meant a 9 Hr 20 Minute drive with stops galore for lunch (At Aryas Thrissur, just after the Toll Gate – Good grub), bio breaks and eve snacks (at a ‘Saravana Bhavan’ post Coimbatore – surely not the original chain).
01) Total Distance: 1185 Kms
02) Avg Speed: 52km/hr
03) Run time: 22 Hours 32 Minutes
04) States covered: 3
05) Mileage: 16 Kmpl (Creta 1.6 D)
06) Total Toll Paid: 680 (Fastag) + 65*2 Cash (Fastag lane at Krishnagiri Toll was packed) + 45 (Coimbatore L & T Bypass – No Fastag)
07) Paytm Fastag was flawless
08) Rain Force: As torrential as it gets
09) Valparai is a must visit in monsoons.
10) Athirapally is rocking n roaring, so is Charpa and Vazhachal.
11) Road Conditions:
A) Valparai Ghats is a smooth tarmac, holding up pretty well inspite of the downpour
B) Valparai – Athirapally via Malakappara is a dream run thru Backwaters, Dam and forest. Narrow road, hardly enough for two cars to pass simultaneously. Drive time allowed is 2 Hrs between Malakappara and Vazhachal.
Hope you folks enjoyed the read, do visit these places but please help protect the beauty and serenity of these divine destinations.
The above article was posted by Chandra Sekhar on HV Kumar – Fan, Forum & Message Board facebook group.