Thanks to MIT Chrompet’s Prayatna 14. Thanks to Sterling Munnar Terrace Greens. Thanks to Karuppusamy, our driver.
Mangalore mail was scheduled to leave at 8:25 PM on the 3rd of July from Chennai Central. My mom, sis and myself were on our seats at 8:20 PM. In the end, it wasn’t that close as the train started 5 minutes late. But it shouldn’t have been that close. Thanks to my mom’s usual irritating habit of being the last to get ready, almost waiting for the rest of the members to finish with their packing as if she can’t do it simultaneously. By the way, we didn’t exactly have our seats straightaway. I was certainly shocked to find people sitting “everywhere” in our compartment. We had booked 3 tickets for 3 persons but the looks on the people who were already seated were as if we were disturbing them by asking them to move. 4 each on lower berths, 2 each on upper, side upper and side lower berths. I was thinking how the hell am I gonna get enough sleep to restore energy for the morning trek I am supposed to do. But thankfully this was going to end by the time the train reached Arakkonam Jn. Basically these guys either couldn’t find a local train to jump onto or wanted to spice up my train journey. Mom and sis, as usual, found a little kid to talk to, watch and admire his antics during this phase.
In the evening before, my sister and I went to buy snacks, food items for the trip from Grand Sweets & Snacks. We also carried a 10L Bisleri water can, which, though it caused some discomfort to me while transporting it to the car at Podanur Jn., was quite handy.
Once we got onto the car, the only question was where we were going to have breakfast. It was 4 AM. It took us an hour to get to the Permit Office. Permission to travel to Kerala granted. I could see that the sun was rising here later than it would have at Chennai. Once the sky was slightly brighter, we were on a road where there were huge, infinite windmills on one side and huge, infinite windmills with the Western Ghats on the backdrop at the other side. Wow. I would have pointed to my sister which one was the Valparai hills, which one was the TopSlip, and finally the Munnar hills, if only she had been awake. But I did that during our return :P
Once we were at Udumalaipet, our driver wanted some refreshments. We had a 15 minute halt having tea & milk and were back for the climb. We stopped again, at the TN checkpost. I got down for a couple of ‘sun over the hills’ shots.
If it had been some other driver, I would’ve asked him to stop at a few places on the way to click some bird shots. But since we were inside Chinnar Wildliffe Sanctuary, he was cautious. May be the checkpost officials told him not to stop anywhere in between.
The break of dawn treated us to some wonderful bird calls. We stopped at two more checkposts which were probably 50 m from each other. We enquired for the place from where Thoovanam falls trek, the Highlight of our trip, is organized. We were there at Alampetty Ecocentre by 7:40 AM. It was completely deserted.
The main plan was to do this trek as early as possible as it was mentioned on the website of Chinnar WLS that we could do it between 6-11 AM or 2-5 PM.
The driver told me he couldn’t have come slower. That was completely unacceptable for me as I still couldn’t spot the real wildlife. I was certainly in for some surprise. The office, where we needed to pay for the trek, had a painted version of the giant grizzled squirrel. I crossed the road and I spotted two of them on a tree trunk. Innumerable butterflies were flying and sucking nectar on a spot closeby. I wanted to get those professional butterfly shots on my DSLR. I managed a couple before a swarm of bees were threatening me and I came back to the car.
Now time was ticking over. We weren’t entirely sure this was the correct place. So we went further and on the way we had a glimpse of the Thoovanam falls.
A couple of kms ahead was a café whee we got the confirmation that they will open the eco-centre office by 9 am. We were back to the office by 8:10 am. Had bread and Nutella breakfast. As if concerned by the fact that I didn’t have a zoom lens then, one giant squirrel came up close for me to have a decent shot.
Around 8:45 AM, a person dressed in Khakhi uniform came up to the office and opened the shutters. I quickly paid the amount for the trek and he introduced himself as the guide for the same. ADVENTURE STARTS!!!
Water bottles, camera, phone, spare dressà Packed in my laptop bag. Bade goodbye to mom and set our return time as 12.30 pm. There was a narrow rocky path right next to the road. First 5 minutes was just about being inside the jungle, uneventful for normal people. Not for a nature enthusiast like me.
The trek started expressing itself now. Throwing in some masala. Our guide stopped suddenly. Every single time he stops, my sister starts praying. Even I pray sometimes. That was one such time. He can hear an elephant crushing branches, down the slope to the right. We can too!!!
The golden rule when you encounter elephants is: If he’s alone, he can attack you. If you find a group of elephants, chances of attack/charge are lesser.
We aren’t able to spot him as he’s hidden inside the jungle but can find the trees and branches shaking. Destructive mood or Eating Time? Don’t know. Anyhow we proceed as he is quite a distance away and cant climb up so quickly. We see a rock bed over which if we move further we’ll meet Pambar river. But the trek path needs us to just cross it.
Right after crossing the above dry rocky surface, our guide asks us to stop by it. He goes and checks out the path ahead and comes back saying there is an elephant bang in the middle of the path. Again a singleton!!! He asks us to make a decision as to whether we want to proceed or not.
Translate this to tamil: Hands not running, legs not running. That was the state which I was in. The lesser I talk about my sister, the better.
Now he has another option. Guide: ”Can we take a longer route?”
Both me and sis are fast walkers, being young. We don’t mind taking this option unless there is another elephant out there. When I ask him about it, he said we walk down this rock bed and walk beside the river and join the original route after sometime. My sister objects. I overrule. I knew this was always going to be a NERVY TREK UNTIL WE REACH THE FALLS and a NERVY TREK UNTIL WE GET BACK TO THE CAR.
Trek resumes. Action sequence ends. Time for a short song (Walking besides a river). Whenever I see gurgling river streams, they just bring unbridled joy to me. We are done with the diversion. Once we join the original path, we are always on the lookout for a possible elephant encounter. We see something move in the forest, we ask the guide rightaway. His answer will be “squirrel” sometimes, “langurs” sometimes, “Just birds” at the other times. I made a very interesting observation on our guide. Since he leads the way, whenever he finds a piece of broken branch on the path, he picks them up. My sister and I will feel reassured for that brief moment he would be holding the stick. But he was just trying to clear the path. So he throws it away after holding it for 5 seconds. This happened N times.
After some time, we got our first glimpse of the falls. I relaxed thinking we had almost made it. But still a lot of distance was to be covered.
Reached finally. Mission Accomplished.
Va re va re va re va. Adraasakka adraasakka adraaaaaasakka!
The best thing about a place that can be reached only by trekking is that it eliminates a lot of tourists. This place had none. Absolutely perfect. A waterfalls just for us.
If you look at the picture, we are on the right side of the falls. After spending 15 minutes here, we crossed the river along the boulders to get closer to the falls according to guide’s suggestion.
Stood under the smaller left falls for some time and enjoyed the waters to my heart’s content. With connectivity not available there, we had to leave according to the plan to not create panic.
With heavy hearts and clothes (:P), we started back. “The Switzerland songs are over. Let’s get back to action” shouted the trek. Though we had covered quite a bit of the trek back, I was still lost thinking about the beauty of the falls so much so that I had a standard reply to my sister’s different questions “Will an elephant come now?”, “Is there an elephant over there?”,…
We met a group of 3 walking towards the falls. Our guide interacted with their guide and got to know that an elephant was spotted at the very start of their trek. And that he looks dangerous. Our guide told us it must have been the first one we encountered (the one that was crushing branches) and it might have climbed up which is why the other guide is cautioning us. When our guide asked the other about the elephant which was standing in the path itself, they put aside our fears for that moment. We resumed.
With respect to the action content of this trek, we are nearing the peak. We were on the rock bed now after crossing the spot where the second elephant was standing before. Just when we were relaxing, clicking pics, we heard a huge trumpet. I saw “Uyir bayam” in my sister’s eyes. Maybe she saw in mine too. United we ran. One more trumpet followed. Another detour. Basically we wanted to get away from the source of that trumpeting sound.
I would’ve asked our guide two-three times as to how you would tackle an elephant encounter. He simply didn’t reply for the first two times. And the third time his answer was on the lines of “It depends”. So, the point of having a guide is he can smell an elephant, he can sense an elephant being around better than what the rest could. So, no one can predict how a wild elephant would react. There is a reason it’s called wild.
This detour was a climb actually, not a walk. The slope would’ve been around 25 to 30 degrees. In no time, we were at some 100 meters higher than the rock bed level. We didn’t rest until we were reasonably safe. At this point, I asked the guide how far we would’ve walked overall. He said the total trek length was 3 km to and fro. I am still in disbelief. It looked a hell of a lot more. So, we had the opportunity of seeing tuskers three times and still missed. Trek was smiling wickedly at us. He knew what was in store for us.
We had now reached the main road after that climb. After walking along the road, our guide spotted a shorter route to the start point as the road route is a winding one. He was also sure we had bypassed the elephant that the other guide cautioned us about. Halfway through the route, the tusker was munching on leaves, twigs and branches and shaking his tail merrily with his back to us. He didn’t spot us. We saw him. We turned back. We joined the road route. No more diversions. Got back to the car extremely satisfied with the adventure, the views, the beauty, the thrills, the heart-stop moments and what not!
Pic showing the height we climbed in a short time mainly due to tusker torture.
Refreshed ourselves with tea provided by the Alampetty Eco-centre. Now we were hungry after the arduous trek. We stopped at a hotel at Marayoor. Temperature was dropping as we climbed along. Our next halt was at Lakkom falls. We had already visited this before during our 2012 trip. It was really dark at that time. We could only hear the sound of the falling water. This time we ventured through the pristine and ice-cold waters to get close to the falls. Took a shot with a reduced shutter speed but without a tripod. Excuse me, all you professional photographers out there. Just a few steps of climb from the road will lead us to this falls. So it’s a popular one among tourists.
Around 5.30-6 in the evening, we were at Sterling resorts, which is 18 kms away from Munnar. Once we crossed Munnar, it started raining heavily. The whole setting was looking magical. Sterlings Terrace Greens was a wonderful experience. The room was superb with astounding views.
We weren’t ready to spend truckloads for food. Hence, we searched for a good hotel and found Lake Zone Resort. Quality food at nominal cost. Had Roti/Naan with sidedish for the night.
The morning was cloudy. All of us were ready for the day’s trip. The breakfast that we had that day was unbelievable. Appam with kadalai kuzhambu-à Nutritious and Delicious. I think we had around 15 appams keeping in mind we might be having lunch on the go.
The Anaiyirangal dam was our first spot for the day.We got down from the car to get to the place where elephants get down to have water (according to the word “Anaiyirangal”). But a local autorickshaw man warned us that there is a lone elephant in the vicinity. I don’t know if he collapsed our plan or saved our lives. Anyway we dropped the idea of getting closer to the dam. Now the car was moving towards Muttukad, Bison Valley. I wanted to do a small leisurely round trip of the surrounding region. Initially I was planning to visit Idukki dam, Calvery mount viewpoint which would have made it hectic.
I have attached the route map in the next page. This was just an exploration. I knew there were waterfalls at Aruvi resorts and Kuthumkal. I was pleasantly surprised to have got good roads for the majority of the stretch.
The below pictures show the “Bison valley”. It was enjoyably windy out there. Spent around 20 beautiful minutes venturing onto the paddy fields.
Next up was Aruvi resorts. Finding the place was a bit difficult. But it looked a treat. I tell you I can stay there for a week looking at the small waterfalls. No one was there at the entrance. We quickly entered and it started raining and continued for another 2 hours. There was a dining area inside and we took shelter there throughout the time it was raining. Also had a light lunch of bread and nutella and various snacks that I had bought from the Grand Sweets.
I was experimenting with the DSLR, trying out some high shutter speed shots to capture rain drops. The Malabar Whistling Thrush’s whistles in the rain amidst that setting was HEAVENLY. Time just flew by. Sister was with me enjoying it too. We could see the water flow and levels increasing with the rain and the color turning to brownish due to eroded soil.
Malabar Whistling Thrush in the rains.
Mom was busy reading magazines and munching on snacks :D. Once the rain stopped, we got down some twenty steps to get to the stream and admire the flow.
A view of the falls and the resort from a distance
So after this break we are motoring towards Kuthumkal falls. It was reduced to an absolute trickle. Later after coming back home I was taken aback by the flow it gets during peak monsoon. But all I wanted was an interaction with nature. The falls is visible from the road itself. A short walk along a trail will take you closer but one has to walk longer to stand under it.
It was a wonderful birding picnic for me there.
I was very unfortunate not to have a zoom lens then. I saw a bird whose tail was 4 times as long as its body was. I think it’s a paradise fly catcher but not sure. I have a zoomed and cropped image of it but that doesn’t show you its tail. Also saw the Greater Coucal among other birds. Its red and black body is a treat to the eyes.
Then proceeded and we were only 10 kms away from Sterlings when we stopped at a Spice Garden outlet. We learnt that a small garden trip, wherein they will show the different spice plants, costs Rs.100 per head. Wasn’t interested and hence had a couple of special spice teas, bought Jackfruit chips (made from ones that aren’t sweet enough, though they were yummy) and returned.
Rest of the day was spent playing TT with my sister first. Then an old uncle joined for a couple of games. I won the first one quite easily. Lost the other. Now 3 bachelors, certainly elder to me, played a game each with me. After the first game was won, the loser asked me where I went for coaching. Facepalm.
Second game was also won by me. Now the other guy remarked that I must have been in the Institute team. My mind wanted to shout “Dei Venna fellows!!”. But I controlled myself to just say “ I lose to my friends. None of them are in any TT team. So, I am that bad actually”.
Now my reputation had grown leaps and bounds. But “Kannu pattuduchu”. The third guy won against me. I wanted to cite fatigue as a reason as I had been playing continuously for 7-8 games. But I said to myself “This built up image is enough for you!” Done for the day. Recharge mode on (zzz…zzz)
The last day once again was cloudy to begin with. The plan was to catch the return train at Coimbatore which departs at 3.20 pm. We checkout from the Sterling after settling the bills (none :P).
All set we were for the final car ride of our trip. I wanted to visit Attukal falls, the prime attraction of Munnar, before leaving for Coimbatore. But before that we stopped for a photo session amidst the clouds. Breathtaking!!!
Attukal falls had even lesser water than there was during our last visit. Took some customary shots.
Had breakfast at SaravanaBhavan of Munnar which provides good food. From there on, we had to rush a bit to board the train. A half an hour delay due to a road block near the foothills was the only hurdle to cross. Boarded the train. Trip completed.
Bye Munnar. Bye Thoovanam. So long. Aanandha kanneers.