Monday, October 17, 2011

215# Travel to Valparai, the small town in the middle of tea estates. Take the Athirappally waterfalls route, and you will be able to spot wild elephants in their natural habitat on the way...

 We started our trip to Valparai, a small town in the high ranges, on the 16th Nov, 2010 at 6.30 a.m in our Wagon-R. As usual, we had our morning prayer before venturing out, and that gives us the guts to get adventurous. The first thing we did on the way was to fill the fuel, and to check the air pressure. I was slightly skeptical about making this trip in Wagon-R, which is very new (done only 5000 km), and it's engine power was always a suspect, especially on high ranges. I just kept this concern to myself, deciding to face it, as it comes.

Since it was early morning, the traffic within the Kochi city limits was not very high. On the way, we stopped at the 'Bharath tourist home'coffee shop at Kaloor, and had our breakfast (dosas, iddly, vada anf filter coffee - a South India speciality). Journey from Kaloor to Chalakudy was smooth. At Chalakudy we took the diversion to Athirampally water falls. All of a sudden, the dusty roads, and the traffic jams gave way to the greenery of the fertile valleys. The drive was a pleasure. It was altogether a different world.
On our way, we took a break at Thumboormuzhi, lower damn, which is a small dam used to divert water for irrigation.They have a wonderful butterfly park there. It was around 9.a.m, when we reached there, and the sun was already out. Still we could see hundreds of butter flies. As per the care taker, one can see the bigger ones, if we can reach there early.

We could have easily spent a full day here, just relaxing at the garden, enjoying the wonderful breeze and the view of the reservoir and the mountains. The objective of reaching Valparai before dark (else the forest roads will be dominated by wild elephants, and it can rain as well), made us leave Thumburmuzhi early, with a decision to come back and camp there the whole day.

With another 30 minutes drive, we reached Athirampally waterfalls. The whole place was crowded by tourists, so we decided not to spend too much time there. We enjoyed the beauty and majesty of the waterfall from a distance, and had the luxury of quenching our thirst with fresh tender coconuts.

By this time, we were all terribly hungry, and there was no signs of good hotels nearby. This entire region is declared as plastic free zone, and  to my surprise, the forest department is very strict about it. In fact, they took stock of the number of plastic bottles and carry bags we had, and gave us a receipt which is checked at the next check post. If there is a shortage, then it is fined at 1000 Rs/ item missing (20 USD/item missing). The seriousness with which the forest department is working on this is commendable.

Based on the forest guards guidance, we stopped at the next junction to have lunch. The junction comprised of a bus stop and two small shops which did not look very clean. Then while on tour to the jungles, one cannot be always choosy about the food and the restaurant. Another option was to carry the food along with us. To our surprise, inside the hotel, the food was extremely delicious and warm. We had rice, fish curry, fish fry, dry prawns chutney, all served in banana laves. It was really nice homely food.

The next leg of the journey was through thick jungle, which I totally under estimated. There was no trace of humans on the way. What was visible everywhere was the signs of the elephant. The smell of the elephant was in the air, and my prayer at that juncture turned out to be 'not to see the elephant herd'. In the likely event of getting trapped in front of an elephant heard, I did not know even what to do with the car. Should I stop the car?, should I sound horn?, Should I raise the engine to frighten the elephant?, will it make them angry and attack...thee were the thoughts of mine at that moment. I could not even think of getting a puncture on that route. The only consolation was the knowledge of the timing of the next public bus that way, which was behind us by 30 minutes. That was the only contingency measure we had. In fact, it is absolute foolishness to drive through that route, without another vehicle accompanying. Then we reached a small town, which had a tea shop. We had tea there, and from the shop owner, we came to know about the elephant herd which was playing havoc in the nearby estate. We had to pass through that way. By this time we were past the thick jungle, and the presence of human beings around was a big relief. By evening we reached the valparai town, which is a small town made up of  tea estates, estate workers and beautiful estate  bung laws which was a big relief for a city dweller like me. We checked into a small hotel room, which was neat. We were all tired that day. The next day, after a well deserved rest we started our journey again, via pollachi. The route is full of hair pin bends, and is a perfect ride for the nature lover. We touched upon nelliampathy on the way, which is another small town surrounded by estates. The main attraction there was Poabson organic estate, which belongs to my good old friend Aby.

Overall it was a memorable trip, which we will cherish rest of our lives. It gave us an opportunity to get out of the huzzle and buzzle of city life and be with nature. The time was too short. I want to go there again for a longer be with nature....

to be continued.....

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