My friends and I had heard sufficiently about the rich wildlife of the region surrounding Pollachi, its beautiful sceneries and perfectly trimmed tea estates. Valparai is a lesser known hill station in the Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary (earlier known as Annamalai Wildlife Sanctuary). Kollywood stars and burnt out urbanites frequent this place to de-stress themselves and savor a slice of nature. Here, as one ambles past mud walled, thatched roof dwellings, granaries of farmers and tea estates fringed plateau, don’t be surprised if you happen to hear someone screaming ‘start camera’, ‘action’. This is a hot spot for movie makers with over 1500 movies and commercials having been shot here. And we too got lucky when we happened to visit the sets and share our homestay with the crew of the movie- ‘Madras cafe’ during this trip of ours.
A weekend itinerary was primarily planned by one of my friends and a few must-see items were pushed into the plan by me. Since this place falls on the border of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, we decided to make it a three states’ drive including Karnataka. Accordingly, five of us started from Bangalore on a Friday night. Since it is also a bio-diversity hotspot, I had listed 5 animals on my ‘to-spot’ list while at Valparai. Valparai is the end destination after driving through 32 hairpin bends. Being a hill station, Valparai weather is specifically delightful with a cool climate throughout the year. It is usually the road leading to Valparai that is enjoyable with scenic vistas and photo-points. I had enlisted them with day 1 in the Tamil Nadu side of the sanctuary and then spending the second day on the Kerala side of the forested land.
Day 0: Leave from Bangalore by night (Own car)
Day 1: Reach Pollachi before sunrise. Backwaters of the Aliyar dam, monkey falls, Loam’s viewpoint, Carver Marsh viewpoint, Congreve falls, Vinayagar temple, Birla falls, Balaji temple, Iraichalparai falls, Nallamudi Pooncholai viewpoint, ChinnarKallar hanging bridge trek, Sholaiyar backwaters (night stay at a homestay in Chalakudy)
Day 2: Athirapally falls, Vazachal falls and return to Bengaluru via Ooty.
Part 1: Tamil Nadu
During the night journey, I had dozed away on the rear seat of the car. When I opened my eyes to the misty morning dawn, our car was greeted by beautiful countryside with tree-lined roads, emerald fields of paddy, whispering palms and coconut plantations in the backdrop of the towering Western Ghats. We had reached Pollachi in Tamil Nadu. We waited near Aliyar park until 06.00.a.m. for the forest check post to open.
a. We registered our entry into the wildlife sanctuary there and proceeded on our journey. Our drive further towards Valparai, was an ascent along the winding road by the backwaters of the Aliyar irrigation dam.
b. Four kilometers further from the forest check post, we reached the monkey falls. The waterfall is aptly named due to the many troublesome monkeys here. One even entered our car and happily carried away a bag full of fruits from the rear seat. Our drive continued…
c. Just as we approached the 9th curve (the Loam’s viewpoint), we were greeted by this gentleman who was calmly grazing on the edge of the steep rocks.
We scored off the first member on our list of top 5 wildlife to see- ‘The Nilgiri Tahr’.
d. Continuing our drive, we stopped at Carver Marsh viewpoint adjoining the Kavarkal estate. On a clear day, we were told that one can see the Sholayar reservoir (2nd deepest dam in Asia) from there.
e. We then cruised past the Tiger valley from where we caught a good view of the upper Aliyar reservoir.
f. We covered Congreve falls (located in the Nadumalai estate), Vinayagar temple (Jayashree estate) & Birla falls along the way up. We got good view of the Manopally forest and the grass hills of the sanctuary.
g. Ox-bow lakes situated inside the protected area is supposedly the highlight of this region for those who can manage to get permission from the forest authorities. We failed at it since we didn’t have insufficient information on the channels for the permits.
h. We visited the Balaji temple and the nearby Iraichalparai falls along way.
Just along our way, it was time to score off no.2: groups of ‘Lion tailed Macaque’ were walking all over the road and around. Even before we realized, we had reached the hilltop.
i. We stopped by and trekked through the tea estates to reach the ‘Seen god shrine’ at the Nallamudi Pooncholai viewpoint. An old man, who claims to have seen god, blessed us with some prayers and turned out to be an encyclopedia of knowledge about the local culture and history. He explained to us about the various tribal settlements in these hills… pointing out at colonies, he would tell- Kadars, Muthuvars and Malai Malasars. They are estimated to have 190 households in 8 settlements in the sanctuary.
While we walked towards our car, the women picking tea shoots warned us not to proceed further. She pointed at a herd of 8-9 elephants feasting around at a distance, thus scoring off no.3 on my list.
j. We then drove to ChinnarKallar for the hanging bridge trek. In spite of driving all the way, we refrained from shelling out 250 Rs. per head just for the entry which sounded to us more like a bribe at the forest check post. This place is among the highest rainfall receiving areas in India. No doubt that the Valparai weather is pleasant all through the year and is an upcoming weekend destination among the urban crowd of the nearby metro cities.
We put our car in reverse and just then… no.4: The giant flying squirrel (a young one and wasn’t flying though) crossed our road. We were excited…!!
k. After covering places in the Tamil Nadu part of the sanctuary, we headed towards the Kerala border. We saw a calm stretch of the Koolangal river and decided to spend some time there. We could not compel ourselves from not taking a sip of its crystal-clear waters.
And right there. we saw this little creature on no.5: ‘The common map butterfly’
Part 2: Kerala
We registered at the border check post and prepared to enter the Kerala land. Thick rainforests on both sides accompanied us all the way till our destination. We happened to drive through what I think is one of the dangerous roads I have been through. With the Sholaiyar backwaters on one side and a valley on the other side, only one vehicle can pass at a time. Beautiful views for most of the stretch kept us in an awe. Tunnels have been bored through the mountains to supply water to Parambikulam reserve from the Nirar dam.
We reached Athirapally reserve just after sunset. We got a quick glance of the beautiful waters cascading down to join the Chalakudy river. It was soon dark, and we checked into Maria cottage (a local homestay) where we were made us feel at home and served some sumptuous Mallu food.
Next morning, we walked past the palm plantations to reach the Chalakudy river to freshen up. This place is frequented by elephants at all times, but we did not care. We enjoyed the clear but rapids of the water there. We took a refreshing dip before returning to our homestay. We checked out of the place after having a good filling Malayalee breakfast.
Post this, we went back to the Athirapally waterfalls. We walked down to the base of the waterfalls and spent good time there. We had to then continue our drive, as our target was to reach Bangalore by night. After a quick stop at the Vazachal waterfalls (it is more like water flowing down a steep rock than a waterfall), we decided to say goodbye to Kerala.
Part 3: Karnataka
The original plan was to drive through the route covering Ooty-Bandipur-Mysore to reach Bangalore. But, since we were behind schedule, we could not reach Bandipur before the forest gates closed (the forest gates are open only between 06.00a.m. to 06.p.m.). So, we decided to drive back through the curvy stretch of Pollachi road again.
We further drove through Udumalpet which happens to be one of the windiest places in Southern India. Thousands of windmills dot the stretch on either side which is a sight to behold. It was dark in no time and we had to zip ASAP to reach our offices on the following morning.
Thus, ended our 50 hours’ drive, covering 1000 kms across 3 states!