17-Dec-2008 The most beautiful route in South India across the Western Ghats: a narrow road amidst thick evergreen, grasslands and deciduous forests, crossing many waterfalls, valleys, lofty peaks and at-times crossing wild animals and much.. more (Chalakudy> Athirapally> Valparai> Coimbatore)
For most of us Athirapally waterfalls is the end of that breathtaking road. Those who have traveled further have enjoyed the one of the most beautiful rides in south India. A trip to Valparai (Tamilnadu) via Athirapally from Chalakudy (Kerala).
It has been a long while since I have been looking for a nascent route to do a trip. I have traveled along almost all border routes between Kerala and Tamilnadu, but there was one major route which I missed. This was the Chalakudy (Kerala) - Pollachi (Tamilnadu) route. This route passes through the beautiful rain forests of the Western Ghats starting from Chalakudy in Kerala, heading west beside the Chalakudy river via Athirapally-Puliyilapara-Malakkapara-Sholayar-Valparai- Aliyar and finally reaching Pollachi in Tamilnadu, across the western ghats. The famous Athirapally and Vazhachal Waterfalls are on this route.
Most of the buses from Chalakudy town will go only up to Athirapally (13Kms from Chalakudy ) from Chalakudy town to cater the tourist group to Athirapally waterfalls. The travelers make a visit to these waterfalls and just return: believing that is it is a dead end, even me for several years.
A far as I could learn there are only two buses, daily from Chalakudy to Valparai. The First bus is Sri Abhirami which starts from Chalakudy Private Bus Stand by Early Morning 6:30. The next one is at 1 PM and I am not very sure about this one. The bus fare to Valparai from Chalakudy was Rs 69 (The distance is 88 Kms. The conductor of the Bus was a very friendly person, who was talking at least a few sentences to every traveler in the bus. He explained to me about a few major picnic spots along the route. He talked to me about 20 top spots and mentioned about another 100 hidden spots along the route . Frankly speaking, this was the most beautiful route I have traveled in South India.
By 6.40, the bus moved out of the Chalakudy Bus Stand slowly heading east with a few passengers from the nearby villages. The roadsides drifted from the closed lonely streets and shops of Chalakudy Town to Houses and Plantations on either side. The road with steep ups and downs was very narrow, just enough for a bus to move. The driver, an young man with long hair was able to drive the bus along the route road with occasional gutters, making passengers bounce off their seat.
We were moving beside the Chalakudy River, which was flowing along our right side with violent waterfalls cascading from the huge rocks through a deep valley cut through the rock. I could hear the loud roaring cry of a waterfall far away from me, and for no doubt, I knew it was the Athirapally waterfall.
The Athirapally Waterfalls (GPS 10.23 N, 76.57 E) is the largest waterfalls in Kerala and so a hot spot for many South Indian movie cameramen. There were many tea shops and Pettykadas (Small shops selling food) all along the road side and near the entrance to the waterfalls.
I have visited these waterfalls long time back when I was a kid. The waterfalls were not visible from the road, but I could spot out the signboard leading to the falls. There was forest range office and a few small houses nearby. The bus made a short pause here for the entry and exit of a few passengers. There was a lot of luggage in the bus now, including but not limited to eggs, milk, bananas etc.
Beyond Athrapally waster falls was the winding roads through the scenic winding roads beside the Chalakudy river . There was a forest Check post just after the waterfalls and we there was a halt for a few Minutes. On both sides there were thick Deciduous forests and no sign of Human life.
A Tamil movie was played in the bus and all the passengers were enjoying it. A guy was asking the conductor, if they should stop the bus at his destination which is just few Kilometers away for a longer time so that he can finish watching the movie before getting out of the bus, but the smart conductor invited him to travel till Valparai, the final destination of the bus another 4 hours of Journey.
The road was a narrow road amidst the teak and Cashew nut plantations and there were pockets of bamboo grass. A co passenger was busy in making me frightened by telling his stories of mischievous elephants – blocking roads and damaging vehicles.. ..Luckily or Unluckily I haven’t seen any
After a few kilometers we crossed a very narrow bridge over the Chalakudy River, making the river to our left side. The bridge was so narrow – just enough for the wheels to pass over it and one require real guts to drive a bus over it- A slight turn would drive the bus down into the river. The surface of the roads was worse that, it resembled a jeep road.
By around 8 we reached at a place called Pulielapara, a very small town where there was a powerhouse. The villages were speaking Malayalam (Local Language of Kerala). The bus stopped for a while and we all had our Morning Breakfast from a restaurant near the bus stop. The conductor told me that, it was the last Village and the next town would be Valparai. Even Though I was not that hungry, I ate an Appam and then did a small walk across the town to have a look around.
There were only about 20 passengers in the bus and I took hold of the empty back seat, the long one stretching from left to right so that I can capture photographs from either sides.
The forest was almost dry, as it was close to the summer season, but it was lively with stretches of gentle streams fetching water from the wet rocks. We crossed several hairpin bends and many were so narrow that the driver had to drive back and forth between the road’s edge of bend the bus.
The road beyond the town was through thick jungle with no human beings around. I could spot out a few racks of Bamboo stems stacked at the road side. At times, I could spot out a few temporary tent set ups and very few tribal people walking.
There were many cross roads leading to dam sights and powerhouses on either sides. Since I was traveling in a regular shuttle bus, I could not visit these sights. Another thing I saw was a group of 4 huge pipelines carrying water from one dam to another. The next dam was Poringalkuthu Dam.
Poringalkuthu dam the forests dissolved into lush green patches, and all clues of summer season just vanished. This was the beginning of the evergreen forests. The Backwaters of this dam was not that vast like Idukki dam but the reservoir was almost full. I was lucky to have a glimpse of the dam, far away from the bus but couldn’t get a chance to get a close up. If you are traveling by a private car probably you can have a better view of the dam.
The condition of the roads remained the same, with thick evergreen forests on either side. The bus had halt several tribal settlements adding up the number of passengers every time. Most of them had big bunches of Bananas to be sold at the Valparai market.
Reaching the Border
After moving further, the forest cover disappeared and it was Coffee and Tea Plantations. I remembered about the Munnar and Peermade Tea plantations. The tea plantations at Valparai is run by Tata Tea (They have estates at Munnar too). It was the the boundary between Kerala and Tamilnadu.
The tea estate workers lived in small houses, painted in Bright Green and Blue Colors unlike Kerala. The houses lacked proper maintenance and I guess it was all built by the British several centuries ago. Major part of the population was Tamil Speaking, even though there were many Malayalis living here. People at Valparai are comfortable with both Tamil and Malayalam.
I saw a huge construction to my right side and it was the Sholayar dam, the second deepest dam in Asia. We crossed the dam via a small bridge over the channel in front of the it. Water was flowing out from the partially open shutter, which was channeled to Parambkulam dam. There were a lot of visitors to watch the beauty of this dam. The backwater of the Sholayar Dam was bounded by steep hills of tea plantations.
I reached Valparai by around 11:30. I had my lunch and went back to the bus stop to get a Pollachi (Available Frequently) bus. The town of Valparai was like any other hill stations of Tamilnadu. There are a lot of lodges and hotels to cater the needs of the tourists. There was no proper bus stand but there is a common place where all the buses are parked.
After roaming a bit in Valparai town I caught a cus to Pollcahi by 12:30 (45 Kms Charge 21 Rs) The bus moved down slowly along the winding roads through the tea plantations. At this side the road was a bit wider than its counterpart at the other side. I had a magnificent view of the Aliyar dam and a few other tourist spots including monkey falls,a few temples and many more.
By around 2 I reached Pollachi, and I got a bus to Coimbatore and went to Coimbatore (45 Kms Rs 12 Bus fare). Late evening I Left Coimbatore and went to Bangalore (350 Kms).
Travel by Own Vehicle
The road is suitable for cars and bikes. Start early morning. At some places the road is very narrow and though not tigers: except a gaur or an elephant. There will be very few vehicles and the road will be mostly yours. Never travel along at Night.
I love traveling and I have made the most of it while working in Bhutan.By traveling zig-zag all across India from North to South between Kerala and Bhutan for holidays. The mercy of many editors combined with my enthusiasm to photography and (re)creative writing has filled up the pages of several glossy magazines, newspapers and books...read more