Asia

Monsoon Magic at Athirapally Waterfalls, Kerala

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There are many beautiful waterfalls in India, and Athirapalli is not necessarily the grandest of all. However, it has a charm and appeal, unique to itself, with dense greenery all around and forested hills in the backdrop, to which the tropical monsoon of Kerala lends its misty magic – ancient, pristine and mysterious. This makes a trip to these waterfalls a truly incredible experience.

Indeed, “Athirapalli is not a place, it is a feeling”.  

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During our 15-day tour of Kerala in October, we visited the Athirapally and Vazhachal waterfalls in Thrishur district, north of Kochi. We set off from Kochi fairly early in the morning after a sumptuous breakfast at Brunton Boatyard hotel in Fort Kochi, where we had spent our first two nights.

From Fort Kochi, we crossed the bridges over the back waters to get into Ernakulam and from there we proceeded to Angamaly. Traffic was pretty bad, made worse by the construction work on the Kochi Metro railways. But it was an inconvenience that had to be put up with. From Angamaly, we took the right hand turn and passed through Mookkannoor and Ezhattumugham towards Athirapally. On our way, we passed through rubber, coconut, oil palm and banana plantations.

Rubber_trees_in_Kerala,_IndiaI was keen to show Minnie (my 10 year old daughter) a rubber plantation and we pulled over to the side. Minnie and I walked through the grass and shrubs and went up to the boundary wall of the plantation. As I was showing her how the bark of the rubber tree is neatly cut in a downward slant to extract the sap into little coconut shells tied to the stem, we were stung by some insets and suddenly our feet were on fire. We ran back to our car and by then, the burning sensation had turned into excruciating pain. I don’t know what had stung us, but it was very painful even to me and I have a high tolerance to pain. What was particularly difficult for me was to see Minnie in such pain. Although on the verge of tears, she bore it bravely and did not cry. I felt she and I had a common ability to bear pain. It took about half an hour for the pain to fully subside. Minnie’s education on Rubber Plantation alas came at a severe price. Nevertheless, it did not dampen our spirit.

We soon began to enjoy the unfolding scenery around us. It was the second monsoon season in Kerala, the sky was overcast and the winding, gentle uphill road had deepened into lush green and dense tropical forests, deep into elephant territory. At a few places, there were sign boards along the road, cautioning that it was a regular crossing point along a track taken by wild elephants, and stopping there could be dangerous. The warning boards served only to whet our curiosity and we got down from our car to look for any wild elephants lurking around and take photographs. Our driver, Mr. Manilal did try to dissuade us – repeatedly warning us of the risk and urging us to get back into the car. His warnings only fell on deaf ears.

The elephants were elusive and we were disappointed. But thank goodness for that, for wild elephants can certainly be very dangerous if you got into their territory, which it certainly was. Little did we know that we would indeed have a dramatic encounter with a wild (and rogue) elephant by the road a few days later in our trip!  More about that in another post…

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It had begun to drizzle lightly and the weather was wonderful, with the cool winds blowing gently, laden with moisture. Before getting back to our car, we took a short walk along the beautiful road through the forest and it was like a soothing balm to the mind and body.

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Further on into our journey, as we neared Athirapalli, from our car we could see the Athirapalli waterfalls at a distance, to our right. We stopped the car once again and spent some time gazing at the waterfalls from distance. It was there amidst lush vegetation, to the backdrop of mist laden and densely forested hills. Tropical forests, ancient volcanic boulders, water cascading over the plateau and plunging below in thick plumes and the cloud laden sky created a picture postcard image.

And then, 10 minutes drive ahead, we finally reached the entrance gate  to the Waterfalls. From Kochi, with two brief adventures (one a misadventure) in between, it has taken us about three hours to reach Athirapalli.

Athirappilly Waterfalls is located in the Thrissur district of Kerala north of Kochi and it is formed by the 145 km long Chalakudi River that originates in the Anamudi Mountain of Western Ghats (mountain range) and then enters the Sholayar ranges in the Vazhachal forest division. The river eventually ends up westward, into the Arabian Sea. Till Athirapally, the Chalakudi river is quite sedate, but at Athirapally, it encounters huge rocks and boulders making it extremely turbulent. From there, it falls sharply over a plateau, approximately 80 feet to create spectacular waterfalls and plunge pool below. The Falls is located 1000 feet above sea level.IMG_1813IMG_1818

By the time we reached the entrance to the waterfalls, it has started raining heavily. Our driver, Mr. Manilal bought the entry tickets for us (Rs 50 or USD 0.80 for two adults) and we waited for some time for the rain to recede. As soon as it did, we made our way to the waterfalls. After a five minute walk over a wide cobbled path, we came to an open space at the right hand side of the waterfalls on top of the plateau where the river cascades and plunges below.IMG_1857

The clouds had cleared and the sun had come out by then. The view from the top was unforgettable, as we saw the river tumble over rocks gently and then fall over the edge violently, in thick plumes.IMG_1866We admired the view and took some photographs, but did not stay there for long because it was an open exposed area under the full glare of the sun and there was no place to sit, unless you sat on the sloping rocks directly under the sun. IMG_1876IMG_1833IMG_1870IMG_1858IMG_1856To ensure safety of visitors, there are security guards in the area and there is a small security shed at the edge of the rock, from where guards keep a constant vigil on visitors. One of the guards came over to us and informed us that if we wanted, we could take a short hike down to the bottom of the falls.

The suggestion was well received and thanking the guard, we found ourselves taking a 10 minute hike along a trail to the bottom of the waterfall, near the plunge pool. At places the track was a bit slippery from the recent rain and I would not advise this for senior citizens who may have difficulty negotiating fairly steep slopes. And I would advise caution for everyone going down the trail in the monsoon. It is very important one wears shoes that have very good grip. We were as cautious as one could be and the hike down was wonderful. I would recommend it highly.

We encountered many monkeys, who are absolutely harmless, if you can ignore them and are not carrying food items, which they are only too eager to snatch. Minnie enjoyed watching the monkeys.IMG_1920IMG_1913IMG_1914At the bottom of the falls, there were barricades put up to prevent visitors from entering the plunge pool, which, at the time of our visit was quite dangerous, because of the force of falling water and slippery rocks. The sound of the falling water was deafening and it created a dense mist above the plunge pool. Even from a distance, we got wet in the spray. Needless to say, the view was spectacular and dramatic.

We spent about an hour there. We wanted to spend more time, but were informed by the security guards that a rain storm was approaching and that we should make our way back. The storm broke just as we reached the top and got under cover.

I though overall, the place is very well maintained, although the washroom facilities needed a lot of improvement. This is a common problem all over India.

Many endangered species of flora and fauna (including four endangered Hornbill species) are found in the forests of the Athirapilly and these are endemic to this area. In addition to hosting populations of birds and other animals, it is also one of India’s most successful elephant conservation areas. Having a unique riparian and mountainous ecosystem, the Vazhachal forest division is considered the second most bio-diverse area in Kerala; and it is located the Western Ghats (bordering Kerala and Tamil Nadu) which is considered as one of the most important biodiversity hot spots in the world. I am told that if one spends and additional day in the area, one can visit the Vazhachal-Athirapally forest to see wildlife and many small streams and waterfalls.

There are many beautiful waterfalls in India, and Athirapalli is not necessarily the grandest of all. However, it has a charm and appeal, unique to itself, with dense greenery all around and forested hills in the backdrop, to which the tropical monsoon of Kerala lends its misty magic – ancient, pristine and mysterious. This makes a trip to these waterfalls a truly incredible experience.

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As Nina aptly summarized our trip – “Athirapalli is not a place, it is a feeling”.

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