Athirappilly Falls and more – That Kerala Monsoon !

“The best thing one can do when it’s raining is to let it rain”, so said an inspiring fellow not very long ago, and nowhere is this more true in Southern India than on the Malayali bhumi. Coz when it pours there, it just pours ! The green cover is simply phenomenal so to say, and to see it in full bloom enchants many a city-weathered soul.

And so it was one fine rainy morning, that we got down from our overnight train on this small station called Chalakudy; our gateway to the Athirappilly and Vazhachal falls, among others. The dark, ominous looking clouds had already been hovering and drizzling from above, even as I was reveling at the sights of a small town station. I guess anything laid-back inspires me for sure ūüėČ !

No sooner had we set foot on the platform and walked our first few lazy steps, did those clouds open up all the more, and the drizzle made way for a sudden downpour. I enjoyed the feeling for few initial seconds but had to sprint myself thereafter towards the dry confines of the station shed, which eventually led us to the exit.

A glass of tea while waiting for the rain to end … bliss ! The downpour ended not long after it had started, and we ventured out of the station on to the greenery and wetness all around us. After trying to find a hotel nearby but to no avail, we hailed an auto to the PWD rest-house ( Ph # 2702686) which was 2 kms away. We had done some homework yes ! It was to be realized later that the Chalakudy town is actually some distance away from the railway station, but frankly it was surprising to find no hotels bang opposite the same.

The rest house is located in a beautiful and spacious compound. It’s a huge building, and we got ourselves a basic room, which was worth the money of course. A good sized room for 2, with a clean and big bathroom as well. Only negative: there was no food or even tea on order. The coffee shop just outside the rest house would have to be utilized for such necessities and for some basic food as well.

We had booked a govt tour on the 1st day of our stay there, just to get an idea of the places/waterfalls that could be worth photographing later. This booking has to be done on phone before you arrive; possibly through the rest house ( or check the web link below ). That is where your bus will start from. It’s a day-long tour that covers 4 to 5 places, and a total of 88 kms according to their brochure. We had chosen the Malakkappara Jungle Safari tour. However, it is not the usual jungle safari even if it does pass through the forest area for the most part, albeit only on regular roads. They cover tourist attractions, but the icing(s) on the cake are some of the places which are off radar for usual vehicles. Details below. Check their website for other tours: http://www.athirappillytourism.org.

After the usual morning purification processes ;-), we rushed to join in the rest of the bus crowd. The bus size depends on the no. of people on board as well as the specific tour, so have your fingers crossed for comfort. Having said that, all the buses that we saw ( different tours ) looked to be well maintained and of good quality. The tour starts at 8A.M., but some delay can be expected of course !

After the usual introductions and a welcome kit later ( which included a big umbrella which is so useful in these parts; monsoon season in Kerala is relentless ), off we started from the rest-house, then drove through the city and on to the winding roads towards the star attraction that is Athirappilly, but not before our first stop at the Thoomburmuzhi dam/butterfly garden. It’s not the big dam if you assumed so, but a check dam. Forget the technicalities and enjoy the view !

The Chalakudy river it is !
The complete view of the river !
The hanging bridge which rendered the above images possible !
and, well, of course it was the rainy season !

It’s a nice place to soak in nature’s bounty as well as indulge in some walk. I did not come across many butterflies though ( as per the name of the attraction ). Perhaps flowers were not in abundance, or the butterflies were already out and about in tune with the rising sun.

A basic but tasty breakfast later in the same campus, and after buying a small jar of the local jack-fruit pickle that I am still relishing, we rushed to the bus once again, and were dropped off at Athirappilly a short while later.

The approach to the falls builds up the excitement quite much, what with the roar being heard from some distance away, and also because of the splendid view that the falls command. The bus dropped us close to the main entrance, but closer to a short-cut which would lead us directly to where the falls ‘fall’ ! We decided to take the latter of course, and wound our way through the wet green path, at times interspersed with a regular staircase, while at times just plain muddy.

A snake crossed paths ahead with it’s breakfast in it’s grips. Our eyes met, and it was love at first sight, at least for me ! My new friend was, of course, more keen on having his meal, and after that sudden momentary exchange of exciting glances, both of us made a silent pact to go our own separate ways !

The roar got quite much more pronounced even as we approached the base of the falls; the sheer volume of water falling on the rocks as well as our proximity to the same, dictated that we enjoy but protect ourselves and our cameras from the ‘watery’ onslaught ! We tried hard but couldn’t capture one side of the falls at all, but yeah the sun came out for a bit and I could click the other side. This !

Notice the rainbow at the bottom of the picture, and ignore the smudges on my lens even if you spot them ! It was watery all the while that I was trying to get this shot.

There was quite some crowd frolicking around, so yeah I had to manoeuvre myself on the rocks until I got a decent vantage point. It was not too busy though; everyone had their share of space that they were comfortable enjoying and posing in !

I hope this pic gives you a feel of the location I was in !

After enjoying all the wetness that I could, I wound my way up to the head of the falls. Its a bit of a steep, but paved path; a short one. and no, you don’t have to walk close to the falls. You are safely tucked inside the canopy that the vegetation around you provides.

This is what I saw from the top !

That valley yonder !

After wandering about for a bit more, we were huddled into the bus once again ( it was a little more than an hr that we would have spent at the falls ). We said bye to our star attraction of the day, and headed down the road on to it’s other lesser known cousins, the Charpa and the Vazhachal falls.

Charpa comes first ( 15 to 20 mins drive ), and is exactly by the roadside.

The Charpa in full flow !

The Vazhachal is a mere 2 kms ahead, with a small garden compound inside which you can take a short leisurely walk by the riverside. The gradient is not much, but it’s still a treat to the eyes to watch the river so close and in full spate.

The ‘Falls’, supposedly ! It gets a little more steep further downstream.
A clearer view when the skies cleared up a bit as well !

The falls done with, we headed out for our lunch at the Peringalkuthu power house site, which is closed to general public for the most part. Some exclusivity there ! The bus wound it’s way up a hill from where one gets a splendid view of the Peringalkuthu dam yonder. Intermittent showers added to the charm of course ! Lunch was a well spread out fare, with freshly prepared vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes at our disposal. To top it all, our hunger pangs were satiated inside a heritage mansion, with a beautiful lawn embellishing it’s front.

The dam site as viewed from the hill top/mansion lawns !

A hearty meal later, we proceeded for a leisurely stroll in the lawn, enjoying the view from above amidst cool wind on our faces. Even as we chatted with our other trip mates, it was quite imperative that macro photography had to be tried out.

A wandering hopper; one of the babies perhaps !
and then on to an adult !

The bus engines had already come to life by now. We hopped on to our seats, courtesy those honking horns. Our next stop was supposed to be the Sholayar dam site, which was another half an hour away ( or may be a little more than that ). The heavy lunch cast it’s drowsy spell on us as soon as the bus started rolling up and down those curvy roads. It was a nice and breezy ride to the dam site, what with a splendid view awaiting us, even though we were not allowed to walk on the dam bridge per se.

It was a great view nevertheless, which was enjoyed to our fill before starting our journey back to Chalakudy, which was to be our finishing point as well. The water level was not that alarming though, in spite of this being the peak monsoon season.

The Sholayar dam site !

Before Chalakudy, however, another surprise awaited us not far from the Sholayar. A pleasing walk few kms inside from the main road it was; a beautiful viewpoint. Rains played hide and seek with us all the while that we wandered towards the same; the hills beyond peeking at us through the thick forest vegetation. Ultimately, we were greeted to a vista of rolling hills all the way till our eyes could see, covered in miles and miles of that carpet that was so green !

Standing there with your eyes closed and hands stretched out; gulping down all the fresh air, and with water droplets trickling down in bits !

The walk towards the point was nothing less exciting, what with a variety of frogs camping on the wet rocks on the other side, looking over their newborns. My first experience with those little ones that were tadpoles not very long ago, but were frogs not as yet. We clicked all we could !

spot me if you can !
Not that camouflaged from predators.

The rain got a little more intense even as we hopped on to the bus for our journey back. It was to be a bit of a tired and sleepy drive, but there was still some excitement in store. The roads pass through reserve forests for the most part, and this tour is called the jungle safari. We did get a taste of the same when elephants crossed our paths not once or twice, but thrice all in all ( yes I was counting ! ). Vehicles had to wait on the road all the while that the pachyderms would stake their claim on it. And once,  a pair of baby elephants decided to get playful on the smooth tarmac itself. Even when we lost sight of them inside the road side vegetation that was so thick, their trumpets would get us back on our toes, waking us up from our tired slumber from time to time.

And then there were those LTMs ( lion tailed macaques ) and langoors which were spotted on the roadside trees during one of our pit-stops. Come to think of the pit-stops, we were served with Kerala snacks during one such. Till then, I had no idea of the spice that these guys are capable of adding to their chutneys; after licking it a couple of times just to be sure, I contended myself with the humble tea alone ! I’m sure the Malayalis in our group relished the snack quite much, but I can’t say the same about myself. All I remember is that it had something to do with the jack-fruit.

The bus drove in to the compound of the PWD rest house just a little before dinner time. The coffee house was still functioning but it would not be late before it would close along with the rest of the others in the town. Chalakudy is used to sleeping early, so we decided to freshen up fast and head out for our dinner.

The coffee house is good only for the basic fare, but would have sufficed for myself had not my friend decided to look out for famous eating joints in the area. He was on the lookout for a hearty meal, which stirred up my hunger pangs as well ! We started asking around for famous food places, and were directed towards one of the main streets nearby, the trunk road. The walk and the research that ensued, cost us a good half hour, but we were not to be bogged down. We ended up having a hearty and delicious fare at the Red Chilli’s. Every bit as content after having the same, we walked back leisurely to our abode back in the rest-house. The town was already fast asleep, or so it seemed. Roads were deserted and dark after the light from the last of the shops started fading out. It was total silence but for the sound of insects that are so typical of the monsoons.

My friend had another swing, meanwhile, to have a glass of tea before the slumber that I was so looking forward to. Off we went on our quest once again, and after being refused by a couple of open bakeries and restaurants alike, were about to give it up, when succor came in the form of Hotel Royal Palace on the same trunk road. Both of us heaved a sigh of relief after hearing a ‘yes’, albeit for different reasons, and wasted no time in returning back to our beds soon after our tea cups went empty.

The following morning was to be our own, and leisurely. The pre-breakfast session was spent doing some macro photography near the rest house itself, the vegetation nearby throwing ample opportunities at us. That I feel, is the beauty and uniqueness of this state, the greenery and all the bounty that comes along with it. It was just by the roadside that we clicked these, and a few more.

The Abode !

A content photography session later, we had a content breakfast as well, this time at another famous food court that the place had to offer, and which is highly recommended from our side: The Mody Live Food Court; on the same trunk road, just ahead from Red Chilli’s. It looks pretty new and is quite swanky, serving everything from breakfast to dinner, and has a bakery as well. You would certainly want to pack up some of it’s ‘halwa’ and banana chips for your folks back home.

The second half of the day was decided to be spent at Athirappilly once again, photographing at leisure and when the falls would get clear of tourists later in the evening. We took public transport this time, a private bus from the nearby municipal bus stand. The bus was let go of as soon as the falls came in sight, and well, we did capture all possible views of the same from the road-side. This went all the while till the sun had set and we were left deserted on the road yet again.

The very first view from the road !
and this … the most awesome distant view that you get from “The Rainforest” ( http://rainforest.in/ ). Imagine watching the same for hours, with a cup of tea, or better, a book by your side. That’s exactly what you can do here ! A ’boutique’ property this ;-).
and when, once again, we reached the bottom of the falls; it was wet and wild, really !
So much fun !!
Engulfed by the dark, but still shining bright !

The night had fallen by now, and the road was deserted. The shops started to close as well, and we were some distance away from the bus stand, or for that matter from any significant hint of civilization that the place possessed. That concerned me a bit; my feeling worsened by the fact that the last bus might have already left for Chalakudy. We were still confident of a lift somehow, and prepared to spend the night in the falls’ environs in the worst case; courtesy some kind soul who would rent a bed or two.

We were still hoping against hope for the last bus and asked around a few of the shop folks. Our hopes were assuaged, and we were told that the bus is yet to arrive. Rest assured, we started walking slowly towards the stand when we saw the lights from a big vehicle not far away. It was indeed the ride that we had been looking for, and we hopped on to it with glee !

The rest of the journey was a breeze, literally so as the breeze from outside rocked my tired frame to a deep slumber, only to be woken intermittently when the bus would stop to pick up a passenger or two ! It was a pleasant ride otherwise on the ghats’ curves, after which we were dropped off at our favorite eating joint in town, the Mody Live Food Court. A filling dinner later, we headed back to our room and to our beds, with beautiful visions of a satisfying deep sleep that was to follow !

Next morning was drizzly at best, with intermittent intervals of heavy shower as well. Undecided over what to do, we saw a window of opportunity opening up even as the clouds opened up for a while too. The rest house campus was quickly surveyed, and a corner chosen for practicing macro photography yet again. What better way than that, to enjoy the last few moments here; amidst all the rainy weather and greenery around ! Basically, if you have free time when in Kerala, go macro !!

The icing on the cake; that ‘weird look’ on the spider !
That mosquito resting after a ‘bloody’ night out !
Nature’s designs !
The ‘marble’ droplet !

Satisfied after the shoot and when it got too rainy for the same, we headed back to our room and packed our bags. Alas, we had to leave Chalakudy even as our trip came to an end, but not before some more clicks further at Thrissur town. That is where we were to board our night train back to Bangalore. After having said our good-byes to the rest-house ‘cheta’, off we drove towards the bus stand nearby. A 1 hr bus ride later, we were at the Thrissur railway station. Our bags were snug nicely inside the cloak room, even as we headed for lunch at the famous ‘Hotel Bharath’ on the¬†Chembottil Lane close by. It’s quite a famous vegetarian eatery known for it’s thali meals, which was popularly evident from the fact that it was packed to the full even during the closing hour. We had to beg for our thalis … well, almost !

A filling fare later, we were out and about once again, eager to savor the last few moments of our vacation time. We hailed an auto which took us to the nearby Shakthan Thampuran Palace; named after the most famous king of the Cochin dynasty. We had decided to take a stroll in it’s precincts and see the museum sights before heading on to the very famous Vadakkunnathan Temple nearby.

Even as you enter the gates of the erstwhile palace !
Beside the palace building and on it’s right side, is a garden quite dense … the rainy season made it look more so !
With a butterfly garden inside, but with not much to be seen; probably coz of the clouds again !
For you to sit by once you get tired maneuvering inside that small green jungle of a garden !
Many such sights inside; this one to sit by the pond in the campus. The pond was a not a very pretty sight for a click, what with the road being on the other side. A good place to sit by and relax anyway !
Once outside, I walked over to the back of the palace. It’s not a very huge building, but a beautiful one nevertheless. Here we can see few rooms which are towards the back side. The path goes all around the palace/garden and makes for a easy walk on the muddy terrain otherwise.
And this is when I closed in on the Dutch style architecture of the palace. Those windows !
Smaller Windows !
The huge door to the palace has this as it’s lock handle .. creative !

By the time we were done clicking that door handle above, the time to close the palace had come to pass. We were the last ones to step out; rather pushed out by the guard on duty, but of course this was nothing new ūüėČ !

The Vadakkunnathan temple was where our trip was supposed to end now; we walked a quick walk towards the same. It’s in the same core campus ( as the palace ) that the town has sprung itself around, so yes you can walk up to it from the palace gates.

We decided to spend some time clicking the temple from the outside. Cameras are not allowed inside anyway, for good reason.

The main entrance to the temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva; built in the traditional Kerala style.
The banyan tree near which lies the original “Mula Sthana”, where the Shiva Linga was initially found before it was housed inside and the temple built around it.
Found this interesting head-of-a-sculpture opposite to the main gate of the temple. Perhaps someone sleeping since centuries past !

Now that we moved inside the temple complex sans our cameras, I can only help you imagine the same through my writing. Rest assured that it’s one delight of a temple precinct, very much worthy of a visit even apart from the spiritual kind !

Just as you enter from the gate pictured above, your eyes widen out to an expansive courtyard, scattered within which are quite a few small shrines. The main temple complex sits in the middle of the same, constructed in the typical Kerala style with a red tiled roof sloping around it’s entire perimeter.

Even as I was wondering where to start, my eyes went to the smooth/wet pathway in front of me that I could take to encircle the main complex, while visiting all small shrines on the way. I decided to do the same and hopped on with numerous other like minded souls.

All the while I was encircling the main complex, I couldn’t stop myself from being awed by the sights in front of¬† me. In-spite of so many people inside the temple by now, the silence was palpable and gave an almost mystical touch to all that my eyes were taking in. Imagine a wet and cloudy evening; walking amidst ample green lawns that are spread out in front; dense foliage from trees accompanying you with birds singing from the same ! Add to it the golden finials of the main temple roof against the cloudy backdrop, and you have a picture perfect moment. I did miss my cam during these very moments, but I was also rejoicing in being witness to nature’s magic and how well Kerala preserves the same !

My mind wanderings apart, I entered the main complex now through one of the side gates. This one again has numerous shrines packed in, all cleaned up and glowing after the rainy day. Lamps were starting to be lit; Aarti and related music was underway; and I was basking in it all even as I was hopping from one shrine to the next and back ! Finally though, I decided to sit back and relax all the while till the temple closed for the evening, enjoying my space at a corner from where I could observe.

I could not help but notice that the architecture of the yesteryear’s had been preserved to a¬† great extent here. One does not see the type of vandalism that is evident in a lot of temple complexes at least in South India ( For that matter, in the north, many temple complexes had been done away with completely, so we just can’t compare¬† ).¬† Instead, the colorfully decorated motifs/designs/sculptures on the outer walls of these shrines gave it all a magical spell and helped me attain my spiritual ‘high’ I would say ! I was certain in that I had not visited many other temple complexes as this one, and a treasure like this was sure to be one of our high-points of the trip !

Those moments came to an end not long after, when I bought my share of the tasty ‘prasadam’ and bade my goodbyes to the temple authorities who were getting ready for the evening rituals. The temple doors closed after us, and we were out on the streets again.

A short walk later, we were having our dinner at another famous eatery near the railway station ( sorry, forgot it’s name; it’s famous for it’s non-vegetarian fare ). A little wait again, and just as I was about to fall asleep on the waiting room bench, the announcement came in. The train arrived not long after, and we threw ourselves on our sleeping berths.

The next morning and the week that followed, were as usual as they could be.

So long, until I start trekking in Manali again ;-), all for the love of writing !

P.S. The only thing that I would like to add in, is that Kerala is most beautiful during the rains, although it does get humid too. We did our trip in July, but it rained for quite some time even thereafter. There was heavy rain just few days back as well. So, in effect, the sights described here should more or less be the same even now. Count your chances !

In general, best months to visit Kerala: Oct-Feb; mostly due to good weather and lesser humidity. Just after rains; all the more better !

 

 

 

 

 

 

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