ATHIRAPALLY CASTS ITS MAG­I­CAL MON­SOON SPELL

Airports India - - CONTENTS - TEXT & PHO­TOS: CHI­TRA RA­MASWAMY

Abruised and swollen, midoc­to­ber sky eclipses the sun as we head to­wards Athirapally Falls from Cherai Beach Re­sort, where we are booked on this trip to Ker­ala. At first it’s only a whip of light­ning that flashes above us. How­ever, it soon gives way to chains of molten sil­ver that rat­tles across the wedge of sky.

“We are go­ing to have a huge down­pour”, Hari, our chauf­feur, tells us. “Not to worry. Hope­fully you will get lucky and see the best of Athirapally. We’re near­ing the end of the mon­soons now. So you could see some sun­light by the time we reach the wa­ter­falls,” con­tin­ues Hari, on see­ing the looks of dis­may and con­cern writ large on our faces.

No sooner has Hari spo­ken and a few more kilo­me­ters on, tiny droplets of rain strike the win­dows and wind­screen of our In­nova. The rat­a­pat of rain swells and comes down in blind­ing tor­rents, blur­ring ev­ery­thing out of vi­sion. Hari slows down

and deftly ne­go­ti­ates the car through the ser­pen­tine black rib­bon of high­way that is well paved but nar­row. It is flanked by sway­ing palms and jack­fruit trees, in­ter­spersed with vast and dense stretches of a med­ley of green veg­e­ta­tion. He art­fully dodges and avoids ev­ery an­i­mate and inan­i­mate crea­ture – both two and four-legged, scur­ry­ing and trundling on the road.

Mer­ci­fully, the down­pour turns to a mod­er­ate pat­ter, and from a pat­ter to a scat­tered plop-thump of blobs as we get closer to our des­ti­na­tion. We make a brief stop at a way­side eatery to par­take of steaming hot ‘chaya’ as the lo­cals call the quin­tes­sen­tial brew. The heav­enly del­uge of a while ago com­pels us to the in­dul­gence. And it’s not just the bev­er­age, but more. The air around us is redo­lent with cook­ing food, nay, fry­ing snacks, per­fumed with spices with an over­tone of gar­lic. The temp­ta­tion to avoid the binge weakens by the sec­ond and we suc­cumb to the lusty call

of our palates. We have a round of pazham pori, also known as ethakka ap­pam, the all-time favourite snack of the Malay­alees. I de­cide to try the snack that I have so of­ten seen served in long haul trains to and from Ker­ala, but not ven­tured to ever have! Th­ese ‘bha­jjias’, ripened plan­tain slices dipped in all-flour bat­ter and deep fried in oil, ap­pear a tri­fle in­sipid on our taste buds that beg spicier munchies to suit the weather. So it’s a guilty but highly de­lec­ta­ble course of crisp ulli and parippu vadas or onion and lentil frit­ters, gen­er­ously pep­pered with red chillis.

Our gus­ta­tory im­pulses sated, we con­tinue on our way to Athirapally. The sky is still over­cast but the drape of driz­zles has stopped. The for­est thick­ens as we ap­proach Athirapally and the drive is rav­ish­ingly wild and sur­re­ally mag­nif­i­cent. As we drive closer to our tar­get through the windswept, rain-doused woods, we warm to the am­bi­ent sights and sounds of the for­est.

The splen­dorous, 80-feet high and

330-feet wide Athirapally falls, of­ten re­ferred to as In­dia’s Ni­a­gara, be­gins in the Sho­la­yar River which is a trib­u­tary of the 145 km-long Cha­lakudy River, Ker­ala’s fourth long­est river, orig­i­nat­ing in the An­na­malai re­gion of Tamil Nadu. The river, ce­ladon at times, murky brown or glis­ten­ing sil­ver at other times, is a beauty in it­self as it winds its way through Palakkad, Thris­sur and Er­naku­lam, be­fore tum­bling into the Ara­bian Sea. How­ever, the river’s rag­ing beauty is best seen at Athi­ra­pallu, the aqua avalanche on the fringes of Sho­la­yar rain­forests, a ver­i­ta­ble es­cape from the fre­netic pace of ur­ban ex­is­tence. The ri­par­ian forests rid­den with ev­er­green flora and sev­eral species from the wild, is a bio­di­ver­sity hotspot along with the Chalukudy River, which con­tains nu­mer­ous species of fresh wa­ter fishes, many of them con­sid­ered en­dan­gered.

We alight from our ve­hi­cle and fol­low a well laid stone path­way to reach the falls. A litany of voices greets us as we come upon the aqua ter­ri­tory. Other pic­nick­ers, lo­cals by the looks of it, are al­ready there. They are hav­ing a dip in the rivulets or sim­ply sit­ting on the sev­eral rain-drenched boul­ders of all sizes, aim­ing their dig­i­tal de­vices at var­i­ous points in

their sur­rounds. The rocky area that slopes down to the wa­ter body is lit­tered with half sub­merged boul­ders cov­ered with dull green moss. To­gether with the falls, we are co­cooned by lush forests which res­onate with the am­bi­ent ca­coph­ony or­ches­trated by count­less winged res­i­dents from their hid­den perch. We move to­wards a bar­ri­caded precipice to get one of the best views of the bois­ter­ous and bel­liger­ent pris­tine white froth as it thun­ders down in a per­fectly ver­ti­cal de­scent, send­ing up smok­ing splashes of wa­ter.

A blue-gray mist wraps it­self gen­tly around the sur­round­ing moun­tains and river as it forks into fin­gers of streams, lazily glid­ing over mossy, slip­pery rocks that lie strewn across its path. Af­ter loung­ing on the rocky sur­face over­look­ing the falls, we make our way care­fully down stony and slip­pery steps to reach the base of the wa­ter­falls. A few steps down, we re­al­ize we are not ap­pro­pri­ately booted for the trek! We re­move our san­dals and traipse down the path, bare­footed, lug­ging our footwear in hand! We take a good twenty min­utes to ac­com­plish the task. The trek is well worth the ef­fort, for we get one of the most splen­dorous views of the co­pi­ous plunge as the wa­ter falls in swathes down the deep ravines and surges through the stony slopes at a ri­otous speed. As I revel in this aqueous beauty, the child within me is abruptly over­come by won­der at na­ture’s many hues. Noth­ing seems

more in­vig­o­rat­ing than stand­ing at the foot of the falls and be­ing en­veloped by the mag­i­cal spray that shoots up in a steady con­tin­uum. The foamy falls as its crashes on the rocks, sends up jets of wa­ter that rise to meet the swirling mist and then merge with the hang­ing clouds. The sight has us mes­mer­ized and we are forced to tear our gaze off this sen­su­ous drama of na­ture as we re­al­ize we have been drenched by the del­uge. Our at­tires firmly hug our skin and the hu­mid­ity does noth­ing to ease the shiv­ers we ex­pe­ri­ence.

No won­der then, Athirapally has been a favourite with In­dia’s tin­sel­town. If Airsh­warya Rai has cooed ‘Barso Re Megha’ from the flick Guru, waltz­ing atop a rock a couple of hun­dred me­tres off the drop zone, other hero­ines have siz­zled be­neath the en­chant­ing del­uge. Athirapally, which cat­a­pulted to fame with Pun­na­gai Man­nan, the Tamil block­buster, has since been a much sought af­ter lo­cale for film shoot­ings that in­clude Dil Se and Sar­farosh.

Our vis­ual senses lust for more wa­tery ex­pe­ri­ences and we head off to Chapra and Vazhachal Falls, 2km and 5km away from Athirapally. Though less known to most visi­tors out­side Ker­ala, Chapra is just as cap­ti­vat­ing, tum­bling right onto the road. The brood­ing sky yet again sends down end­less del­uges of rain and we are forced to stash away our cam­eras in the safe con­fines of the car. Well, though we are dis­ap­pointed at not be­ing able to cap­ture the won­drous sights un­rav­el­ing be­fore us, we are happy to drink in the de­lights, un­in­ter­rupted by the need to have tes­ti­monies of our visit!

We skim past the Poringalkuthu Dam and fol­low the Cha­lakudy as it me­an­ders in the midst of lush forests to come upon Vazhachal. The route it­self is spec­tac­u­lar with the for­est area rid­den with simi­ans of var­ied species, some ele­phants and the chi­tal and sam­bar deer. Sit­u­ated amid dense for­est and herba­ceous plants, the scenic won­der of Vazhachal thrills us. It is not a wa­ter­fall in the true sense but sev­eral low cas­cades of foam­ing wa­ter that bound atop a plethora of boul­ders. We cool our legs and seat our­selves on benches in the gar­den nearby which ac­cords scin­til­lat­ing views of the Vazhachal.

Once out of the wa­ter­falls area, we heed

the calls of our rum­bling bel­lies and head to a vege­tar­ian restau­rant on the high­way. The show­ers from the skies con­tinue but have mel­lowed to a thin veil. It is late af­ter­noon but lunch is still served in many restau­rants. We go for the ba­nana leaf thali even as some of the vis­cous del­i­ca­cies run off the leaf, threat­en­ing to cre­ate an un­sa­vory pool on the ta­ble. We build a check dam of sorts on the fringes of our ‘plates’ with lit­tle mounds of rice and curry, scoop­ing up the co­rian­der doused, aro­matic rasam, us­ing the crisp pap­padams for spoons.

We re­turn to Cherai Beach Re­sort via Thum­boor­muzhy check dam and the River­side Gar­den, an eco frag­ile area with plenty of ac­tiv­i­ties. The Hang­ing Bridge, built across the Chalukudy River, is a ma­jor at­trac­tion in Thum­boor­muzhy, offering panoramic vis­tas of the sur­rounds. The beach at Cherai is a charm­ing wa­ter body, over­look­ing a vast sea. We see rows of color­ful boats lined up and lo­cal fish­er­men bring­ing in their catch. Even as I watch the rain tat­too the lawns of the re­sort, I am still in a daze. The spell cast by Athirapally is mag­i­cal. As the moon makes a weak pres­ence in the dusky sky, patchy in places with fluffs of clouds, I soak in the time­less­ness of the mo­ment, en­joy­ing ev­ery nanosec­ond as if there is no tomorrow.

While in Cherai, we visit the 10 acre Anakotta or ele­phant sanc­tu­ary close to Gu­ru­vay­oor. A cer­tain must-visit spot while in the re­gion, the sanc­tu­ary has a wide range of ele­phants of all tem­per­a­ments and sizes. While few of them romp freely, making a feast of palm leaves, most of them in­dulge in the ac­tiv­ity while re­main­ing chained. The back­wa­ters of the Chet­tuva River and the neigh­bour­ing Chavakkad Beach are no less al­lur­ing.

We wind up our Athirapally visit on the sec­ond day by tak­ing leisurely strolls on the promenade, over­look­ing the Chi­nese Fish­ing Nets. We are greeted here by sprightly young school kids out on a pic­nic, pos­ing for a pho­to­shoot!

Any time is beach time at Chavakkad

Chi­nese fish­ing nets, Kochi

Div­ing in the wa­ters of Chavakkad Beach

Ven­dors at Chavakkad Beach School boys pic­nick­ing at the Chi­nese

fin­ish­ing nets, pos­ing for a shot

A well laid green path takes us to the Athirapally Falls

Cherai Beach Re­sort, a beau­ti­ful land­scape

Chet­tuva River, en route Chavakkad Beach

From the gates, to­wards the wa­ter­falls, Athi­ra­palli

Athirapally lures aqua buffs

Ve­hi­cles parked at Athirapally

Athirapally, a ver­ti­cal plunge

Athirapally sees visi­tors in good num­bers

Athirapally Wa­ter­falls, a

view from its base

Anekotta Ele­phant Sanc­tu­ary

Ket­tuvalam, back­wa­ters, Cherai Beach

Cloud and Mist merge on the Sho­la­yar Range, Athi­ra­palli

The rag­ing beauty from the base of Athirapally

Athirapally, shrouded in green­ery

Ap­proach­ing Athirapally

Mist kissed avalanche, Athirapally from its base

Chavakkad Beach

REACH­ING

AIR: Cochin Air­port is the near­est air­port to Athirapally which is 40 km away. RAIL: Kochi and Thris­sur are two ma­jor rail­ways junc­tions nearby. The near­est rail­way sta­tion is Cha­lakudy Rail­way Sta­tion, 32 km from Athirapally. ROAD: Buses ply at reg­u­lar in­ter­vals be­tween all points in Ker­ala. Cherai Beach Re­sort in Kochi is 85 km from Athirapally. Anekotta is 88km from Athirapally and 2 km from the tem­ple town of Gu­ru­vay­oor. How­ever, there are plenty of bud­get, av­er­age and star prop­er­ties (Ho­tels & Re­sorts) to suit all pock­ets at both Kochi, and Thris­sur, which serve as a base to visit Athi­ra­palli and the sur­rounds.

Church close to Athirapally

The pachy­derms have their rou­tine

at Anekotta Ele­phant Sanc­tu­ary

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