When Western Ghats tempts you with its grandness, it’s a challenge to resist it. We happily give in almost all the time. Once spread across a good part of Kerala and host to many endangered species of flora and fauna, Western Ghats is now dwindling, forcing UNESCO to tag many parts of it as natural heritage areas.
This Diwali season’s Western Ghats delight for us was Athirapally Waterfalls and beyond. After the Nilgiris, the Western Ghats take a break at Palakkad gap, the natural plains that cuts the mountains and connects Kerala and Tamil Nadu. And beyond the gap, toward south, it rises again to the majestic Anamalai ranges and thousands of square kilometres of rainforests, covering many many wildlife sanctuaries, large rivers, hydroelectric projects, tea estates, and hill stations till the southern tip of the peninsula. Athirappally Waterfalls is on the Chalakkudy river, which originates from these ranges and flows down west to join Arabian Sea.
Athirappally is 30 kms from Chalakkudy town, which itself lies on the Trichur–Kochi section of NH47 (Salem to Kochi). The road passes through Athirappally Falls, and extends beyond through the forests to Peringalkuthu, Sholayar, Malakkaparai, and Vaalparai in Tamil Nadu. Athirappally is one of the major tourist attractions in God’s own country. Athirapallly also became famous after it was featured in the Maniratnam movie, Ravan. The waterfalls is at its mightiest during monsoon, especially when the dam shutters are opened. The Peringalkutthu dam is upstream and has a hydroelectric power station.
We were travelling from Palakkad to Kottayam and our itinerary was only to take a detour from Chalakkudy to Athirappally, spend a couple of hours there, and return. But the temptation of wilderness is indeed difficult to resist. As we came out of the Athirappally area, forest department’s direction board told us it is only 40-odd kms to Sholayar. And we knew the road is through dense forests and an elephant corridor. Before we realised it, we were on the road again.
It was mesmerizing! The sound (or lack of it), smell, and other myriad senses only forests offer! Roads darken as the foliage deepens. Birdcalls of all sorts. Old bridges across gurgling streams and rivers. Fresh as well as dried elephant dung all along the road meant some chances of sighting a herd around. As we drive, we spot the Giant Malabar Squirrel, a species native to India, hopping around on a treetop. After jumping across a couple of branches, it settles on one and keeps staring at us. Though that is the only catch for the day, it delights us immensely. Giant Malabar squirrel is considered to be a shy animal and difficult to spot.
We cross the Sholayar power station and climb further up till the dam viewpoint. Dams have always fascinated us. But most dams are now closed for tourists due to security reasons. So we settle for the view of the vast backwaters, which itself is fascinating.
In the middle of wilderness, we stood mesmerized. The road continues through the deep forest—inviting as ever. Reluctantly, we turn back as it was getting dark and it is another 1-hour drive back to civilisation. At about 5 km before Athirapally, we stop by the stream for a refreshing dip. And then moved on.