Saturday, 13 February 2016

Trip to Valparai

Valparai – The long awaited trip

Here are more photos from Valparai

It has been my very long time wish to visit Valparai. During this December I wanted to ensure that I visit the place. I have never been here, so I did not have too much of expectations on this trip. I checked with a few of my friends and finally it was just myself and Saravanan who were into this. My long time friend Praven Kumar also wanted to join us from Coimbatore.
We started early morning on Christmas day so that we can reach Valparai in good time. With 2 breaks for a coffee and then breakfast, we were able to reach Coimbatore within 8 hours. We were quite hungry as the breakfast too was earlier than usual and light. So we decided to have lunch while waiting for Praven. He arrived at the hotel around 1:30 PM and we started on toward Valparai without wasting too much time. We just one break in Pollachi around 2:30 PM.
Once we hit the ghat roads we stopped at a few places to take the beautiful landscape and to take some pictures. By the time we reached Valparai it was around 6:00 PM and we were desperate for some good rest, especially Saravanan. He always insists on riding the car himself.
How good can be a trip without unexpected twists? The person who was supposed to have arranged out accommodation had messed up. Even contacting him over the phone did not help matters much. Being a hill station and its winter did not help matters much. Although it was not unbearably cold, it was still getting cold. Only consolation was the full moon giving ample photography opportunity! Luckily we had some backup. We were introduced to a local guy, Prathesh, while we were in Coimbatore itself and he was able to arrange a very good accommodation for us. The only drawback was that we were hoping to get some accommodation outside the town, but the one we got in the last minute was right in the middle of the main bazar. Could not have expected more in the last minute! Prathesh also introduced us to his brother who would be taking us to some of the usual local spots the next day.
We rested the night there and the next morning we planned to go a place where elephants or Indian gaurs are expected to be spotted. We decided to go there as early as possible, but due to tiredness we went there only around 7:30. It was a tea garden and we waited there some about an hour or so, but we were unable to spot any of those beasts. But the place provided good opportunity for some good landscape photos.
After returning back and refreshing ourselves, we decided to visit a couple of temples in the place. The first one was a temple in the town itself. This is where we were waiting the previous evening while trying to get some accommodation. We spent about 30 minutes in this place and headed over to the Balaji temple in Karamalai tea estate. This is a private property but is quite popular in the region. We had to park the car about 1 km before the temple and hike up to the place. Unlike the other temple this was thronging with tourists. We spent another 30 minutes here and decided to head over to a place called Thanalaaru.
Thanalaru is more of a scenic spot than anything else. Do not expect any entertainment here. But if you are looking for a place where there is absolutely no one around and to get some wonderful view of the mountains, this is the place for you! On the way to Thanalaru we stopped briefly at a spot to have tea and another brief stop to take some photos of a very scenic church located in a really beautiful location. It was a good 1 hour drive from the Valparai town to this place. The roads are well laid, but narrow, so need to very careful with the drive.
We reached a place on the way to the peak and spent quite some time taking in the wonderful views of the place. It was midday when we reached there and weather was very hazy, which is not usual for the winter. We were expecting to see cleared skies with some clouds, but certainly not haze. This restricted any photo opportunities that we would have had otherwise. Nevertheless, it was definitely a place worth the visit. We thought of exploring further up towards the peak and did drive as well. but since we were unsure of the terrain and the fact that everyone were famished, we decided to head back to the town. This is definitely another place that need to be visited again!
Back in the town, we had a good lunch, refreshed and in the evening headed over to koozhangal (pebbles) river. Not sure about the reason for this name, though we did not see too many pebbles. It is a small, but beautiful river well within a few minutes from the town. Due to its proximity to the town, one could expect good number of tourists here as well. of course, there were some unruly ones as well, who did not bother to pollute the place with loud music in their cars.
We were given strict instructions not to remain in this place past 5 pm as some elephants are seen coming here late evening to quench their thirst. Well, we are here to the elephants, aren’t we? But the local people were insisting that we do not remain too late so that we don’t get into any trouble with the local authorities. But we did explore the place in whatever time we had and we were able to spot the Indian gaur somewhere inside the tea plantations. We also spotted the elusive Malabar whistling Thrush. Heard the beautiful song of the bird for quite some time and finally spotted it in between the bushes on the ground near the river. Since I did not have a good tele-zoom and the light also was going down, could not record a photo of this beauty!
We returned back to our rooms after having some dinner. We had planned to drive to athirapally falls the next day, which is about 75 km and return to Pollachi in the evening. So the plan was to start a bit early. We vacated the room around 6:30, had an early breakfast and started on our way. Though the distance was not much, the entire route is through the ghats with narrow roads and a couple of check posts in the state border. The Kerala tourism and forest department are quite meticulous in ensuring that no non-permissible items like drinks or any inflammable items go through the forest zone. The ghat road after entering the Kerala border can be termed as the highlight of our trip. Though they were quite narrow, the drive was just amazing!
We stopped in Sholaiyar dam briefly, but were not too impressed by the place. We also stopped a couple of times, once for a break and another time to have a good look at the Malabar Giant Squirrel. We reached the exit post near Vazhachal falls at about 3:30pm, which about 2 km before Athirapally falls. This is a small one compared to Athirapally.
We spent a few minutes there and decided to proceed to Athirapally. We didn’t want to miss out on that after coming this far. It was already about 4:30pm so didn’t want to waste any more time even if Athirapally is just about 5kms away. We had driven only about 4km and there was long trail of vehicles standing. Everyone were waiting to get a parking space for their vehicles. The road being narrow (ghats remember) it was making things difficult. We found an empty space and parked the car there and decided to walk up to the falls entrance from there.
The ticket we bought in Vazhachal was valid here as well. So at least we were able to avoid the long
queue for getting the tickets. It was a short climb from the entrance of the place to falls. If the drive from Valparai to Vazhachal was the best part of the trip, then I should term this as the biggest disappointment of the trip. Athirapally is known as the Niagara of South India. But what we saw was nothing near that. There had been good rains this season and thought the water flow would be good. Especially after seeing incredible water flow in some of the lesser known waterfalls like Tiruparappu due to the rains, my expectations of Athirapally had grown high.

The place was definitely huge and if the river was in its full flow, it would have been a sight to watch for sure, but not sure why there wasn’t enough water, irrespective of the good monsoon that we had. We walked down the cliff to be bottom of the falls where there was a small flow of the water. Spent till 6:00pm which was closure time and then hiked backed up towards our car. We drove to Chalakudi town from there which was about 30km. The road, although narrow, was really well laid and not much of traffic. Keep in mind that this route – Athirappally to Valparai or back is open only from 7:00AM to 5:00PM and closed after that.
We had a quick dinner in Chalakudi and the next stop was Pollachi. So we had an early than usual dinner and decided to hit the road as soon as possible so we can reach Pollachi before it is not too late. We had a brief stop in Vadakancheri to buy the famous vadakancheri chips and proceeded on to Pollachi. The road after Vadakancheri was narrow and through villages making the journey a bit slow. By the time we reached Pollachi it was past 11:00pm. Praveen had some emergency back home in Coimbatore and had to leave immediately. So we dropped him off in the bus stand and went to our hotel which we managed to get booked through a couple of contacts.
For the next day we were wondering whether to go to Tirumurthi dam and explore the area, but we were told that permission is denied due to heavy rains in that area. So as an alternative we thought of driving to Topslip and then into Parambikulam Tiger Reserve. We started the day around 8:00 and took a leisurely drive in the beautiful Pollachi road towards the Anaimalai range. Had breakfast on the way and proceeded on with the journey to Topslip. The customary check at the check post did not take more than a few minutes and we were soon into the ghats. Once again the drive was really enjoyable and the weather was just perfect for a relaxed drive. We drove slowly deliberately to see if we have any luck spotting some wild life. We did spot some monkeys and a few birds but nothing much else.
In about an hour time we reached the checkpost in Parambikulam. Had to wait there for about 20
minutes to get our vehicles checked in and registered. We then proceeded to the Forest Information centre and got ourselves booked for the jungle safari. We had to wait for another 30 minutes for the vehicle that was allotted for us to arrive. I have to mention here that the Eco Tourism that Parambikulam runs is one of most organized ones. The safari was more than an hour. This was the only time in the entire trip that we were able to spot some Indian Gaurs real close. Otherwise the massive beasts were quite elusive. Apart from the Gaurs we were able to see some Spotted Deer, Sambar deer and few peacocks. The tribal village inside the jungle was our stop for lunch. It was quite good considering it was in the middle of a jungle. We stopped briefly in the Parambikulam dam and then proceeded to visit the Karianchola teak. This is the biggest living teak tree in the world. It should have been more than 200ft tall. You have to be there to see the sheer size of the tree.
After a few minutes drop there, we returned back to the information centre. It was already past 3 and we had plans of going over to Coimbatore for the evening. We had already vacated our room in the morning. So we did not rush our travel to Coimbatore. It was only about an hour away from Pollachi. The day ended with a good dinner in Coimbatore. We had plans of visiting Maruthamalai Murugan temple in the morning and start our journey back to Chennai. So we went to the temple as early as we could manage and returned back to the hotel around 9:30AM. I then caught up with my old time friend and mentor in Coimbatore. We had decade long stories to chat, which we did. The 2 hours went like 2 minutes and so did our plans to start back to Chennai. Since it was already noon, we decided to have the lunch in Coimbatore itself and start our jouney.

By the time we hit the highway it was around 2:00 PM. We should have been about an hour away from Chennai at this time, as per our original plan. Nevertheless the journey was a pleasant one and with just a couple of breaks we reached home in good time for a nice dinner and sleep. Yet another place, that goes into the always growing “must see again” list!

There could be a few places that we may have missed and could have missed things like bird watching. But this was just exploration for us. There are quite a few places that may be of interest to the wildlife enthusiasts. Parambikulam for sure is one such place. I hoping to visit again just for photographing some birds and other wildlife.


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