When you set out for Ithaca ask that your way be long, full of adventure, full of instruction…Your arrival there is what you are destined for. But don’t in the least hurry the journey,” Greek poet Constantine Cavafy’s century-old verses meander into memory as the lush green vegetation of the Western Ghats rises like a prelude to what the hills hold within.
For many who have packed their bags for the land of backwaters, the staple itinerary of beaches, boat rides and banana chips also feature a pitstop at the Athirappilly Falls in Chalakudy district. The road that leads to the three-plumed waterfall is definitely a beaten path if the footfall is anything to go by and there is not much that has not been penned about the cascading waters.
Thumburmuzhi Dam Gardens
Midway through the climb to the Athirappilly falls, an arched gateway announces the entry to the Chalakudy River Diversion Scheme and the Thumburmuzhi Gardens. This spot affords a peaceful view of the flowing waters of Athirapilly falls as it is situated further down from the falls. Well-maintained gardens and benches invite you to linger and linger you must if you are to see feathered friends and yellow and blue butterflies throng flowers.
More importantly, the place houses toilets and a decent café, the only ones you will come across on this stretch and allows you to capture the water scape at your own pace. A nominal entry fee of `10 is charged per adult and a parking fee of `10. A definite stop if you must answer nature’s call. Literally.
Vazhachal and Charpa Falls
A little further from Athirappilly falls and before the Vazhachal falls, cradling the main road, is the Charpa falls. The gentle Charpa waters are inviting and motorists often give in to the pleasure of bathing in its waters. As the climb continues, signboards announce Vazhachal falls and the last signs of civilisation before the road enters dense forests and brings warnings of animals on the prowl. A small shack at the Vazhachal falls offers a delicious meal of staples and freshly-caught fish. Better to make a meal of it if one plans to go where the road leads.
Peringalkuthu — Valparai stretch
From here, the deserted forest stretch, flanked by towering vegetation, is strictly a test of mettle and there’s no looking back until the route stops at Valparai in Tamil Nadu - a reason why many return after glimpses of the falls. It is advised to cross this stretch latest by 2 pm as the night comes sooner in the jungle.
About 12 km from the check post lies the Peringalkuthu Dam which houses a hydel project but is off-limits. However, the Peringalkuthu Lake, nestled between luscious greenery, more than makes up for it.
The next 30-odd kilometres is barely motorable but the prospect of spotting wildlife like elephants helps deal with the terrible roads and a bird’s eye view of the Sholayar Lake is good consolation.
After leaving Chalakudy, the semblance of human habitation resurfaces when the tea plantations of Malakkapara dot the horizon. The plantation town’s tea shop offers hot fixes to beat the chill in the air before the journey continues to Valparai. The little town in Tamil Nadu is often the night’s stop after a daylong journey through the Western Ghats.
To return, one can always trace the same route back or forge ahead, hopeful of new sights and trails. The best option is to begin the descent to Pollachi, a route that boasts of 40 hairpin bends with picturesque views. From Loam’s view point at one of the bends, the Aliyar Dam is visible. One can also ask for directions to Nallamudi Poonjolai, a view point atop a tea estate, from where the ghat section in Kerala is visible and in clear weather, the Anaimudi ranges too.
From Pollachi, the state roads will take you to either Coimbatore or Palakkad; only until the engine is revved up again for another journey that bids goodbye to the familiar.