Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Athirapilly, Vazhachal and Valparai – The music of water and Hills – Part II

It was not an early morning, still the atmosphere behaved so. I reached Coimbatore stand around 6.30 in the morning, Rajesh reached before me. After walking through the city for some time we came back to Ukkadam and boarded a bus to Pollachi. Well we reached Pollchi and walked towards the bus stands opposite to the one we got down.

From there we got another bus to Valparai. Well only 65km, what we thought was finish Valparai by afternoon come back to Pollachi and take a permit from the forest department to visit TopSlip. Well, let us what happened. Within a short period of time we were out of Pollachi city limits and heading right in to heart of Western Ghats. Our first stop was close to Aliyar dam. This 2.5 sq mi reservoir, constructed on 1959-69 era is located on the foot of Anamalai Hills of Western Ghats. A a 10 minutes long tea break we continued our journey around the reservoir and then slowly the old engine started her assent. It didn’t take much time for us - conductor was the other party - to become friends. His Tamil and my half Tamil someway worked.

After a brief stop at Monkey falls we started counting the hair pins. We need to cover 40 hairpins to reach Valparai, 35 hairpins to reach the top (and then 5 down). From the higher regions dam and the zigzag roads at the foot of the hills created interesting scenery. On the down side visibility started coming down, by the time we reached 30th hairpin, it’s dropped to some metres.

We were close to the back door. Conductor explained about the weather and the beauty of the place. Finally he looked towards me and asked, “Isn’t it looks like Kashmir?”  Well I don’t know, I never saw Kashmir except in movies and documentaries. Still I can’t compare it with icy Kashmir. Valparai was different, its displays the beauty of evergreen green forests, its greenery, its density and diversity characteristic of Western Ghats. Aliyar dam in the bottom only added its beauty. As our bus crossed some more hair pins the wind coming inside became colder and colder. Yes, conductor finally got my approval.

Finally we reached the top; tea plantations dotted with trees welcomed us. Cut in to beautiful patterns these plantations, from a distance, looked like the work of a great artist. Bus stopped here and there, homes started to appear close to the roads, and bi trees gave her way to tea plantations. After covering the 35 hairpins up, we started the final 5 hairpins down. Rajesh suddenly jumped out of his seat and started looking here and there, he thought that Valparai was over and we are coming back. It took some time for him to digest the reality. After a short interval we reached Valparai town. Indeed the journey was better than destination, Valparai town looks like any other small town in the plains.

After walking through the roads for some time, we seriously started looking for the nearby places. After much discussion we selected 'Sholayar Dam' as our next destination. You will get direct buses from Valparai junction to the dam area.  The tail of the reservoir is visible from a distance itself connected through small channels this channels forms a part of reservoir.  Tea plantations - cut in to beautiful shapes - in the sides of the reservoir made it a picturesque area. After walking through the top of dam's wall – visitors are permitted to a certain extent only- we decided to go back to Valparai town. Buses are not so common in these routes, after waited for a long time, waking here and there, sitting, standing etc; finally we heared the sound of a bus.

After lunch, we decided to go to Balaji temple. Another long wait for a bus, this time we need to go to Akka Malai – the highest area in Indira Gandhi National Park (IGWLS&NP) with a maximum height of 8146ft. I looked the tea plantations and slept for some time. After waking up also we are still in the bus and the person sitting next to me told its very close only one or two stops to go. Well in the hilly areas one or stops mean quite a long stretch of road. As the bus charge is very low in Tamilnadu (recently increased after an interval of 10 years) you can’t guess the distance by working out the rates in Kerala or Karnataka.  After reaching a point bus started her return journey - we were wondering – where the temple, is it over? But the conductor informed us that in the return journey it will go through the temple route. 

Finally we got down and looking for some signs of the temple. We followed an arrow mark indicating temple, and reached a private road suddenly a security guard stopped us and asked somewhat angrily - "Didn’t you see the board?" What board? We looked around for some board. There was a board hanging in the sides of the road with list of things not permitted from that point - which also includes 'camera'!!!

I was wondering after reading the board. Are we showing our power by banning more and more things? If you are in road side and want to take the photo of a butterfly, you need to answer a hundred questions coming from the passerby. If you are taking a photo of an innocent looking old architecture (say a public building) you need to answer another set of questions coming from the gate keeper, custodian etc. All in the name of security!!! Well if it’s some military or strategic area we can understand. But this one... temple is almost 2 km away. If the temple authorities ban the usage of camera in premises it was ok, we could have understand. What is the point of banning it in a 2km long road leading to it? I simply don’t understand.

We reached the temple, almost exhausted. Rain came and gone, sitting on the temple floor we looked the big rain drops coming with all her force only to hit the ground and split to hundreds of pieces. Listening to the sound of the rain and to the voices coming from the vocal cords of thousands of small creatures we spend a good amount of time there.

Finally it was the time to return. From the bus stop close to the temple you can catch a direct bus to Pollachi – only if you reached there in correct time. Sun started setting in the western mountains, by the time we reached Valparai it was dark. Bus stopped there for some time and started the long journey to Pollachi.

The bus was tightly packed. Even for standing there was not much space left. I was sitting in the seconding row from driver’s cabinet- if I can say it as a cabinet. Bus started slowly and went past the hairpins one by one. I was looking to the glass in front of the driver. In many points visibility reduced to some meters. In some areas I can’t even saw the things just some meters in front; head lights didn’t help either. Only the driver knew how he was driving in such visibilities.

Knowing well that I need to wake up all the night, I tried to sleep desperately. But unfortunately the person standing close to my seat was in some other world - thanks to the effect of liquor. He told me a lot of sorry in that journey. Well there was a couple standing front of us - in fact they were not couples - I need to appreciate their talking capacity!!! They discussed everything in that night - about their relatives, neighbours, that lady's current life etc; that too on the top their voice.  As we were in the front and there was only one door at the back people need to swim through the human ocean to reach the door. For the above mention group it didn’t matter, shouting at the top of the voice then made their way.

Finally we reached Pollachi, from there another bus tool as to Coimbatore. Around 12 in the night I said good bye to Rajesh and took a private bus to Gandhipuram. From there one more to Salem and around 3 in the morning got a direct bus to Bangalore.

How to reach:

1. Athirapilly & Vazhachal

From Thrissur take a bus to Chalakudy or any bus passing through Chalakudy. From here you will get direct buses to Athirapilly and Vazhachal (both are in the same route - Athirapilly comes first). If you continue through that way you can cross the Kerala - Tamilnadu border and reach Valparai. It better to have your own vehicle, otherwise you need to waste a lot of time by waiting for bus.

From Palakkad side:  Palakkad - Thrissur – 66km, Thrissur – Chalakudy – 29km, Chalakudy - Athirapilly - Vazhachal – 32km
From Cochin Side: Kochi – Chalakudy – 54km, Chalakudy - Athirapilly - Vazhachal – 32km

2. Valparai

If you are coming from Tamilnadu you can reach Coimbatore and if you coming from Kerala, there you will get a lot of Coimbatore buses from Palakkad KSRTC stand. From Coimbatore bus stand take a bus to Pollachi. There two buses stands in Pollachi as in the case of Coimbatore, but here the bus stands are close to each other (on both sides of the road). From here you will get buses to both Valparai and TopSlip. For going to TopSlip you need to take a permit from Pollachi Forest office. Here also having own vehicle will save you a lot of time.

From Thrissur side: Thrissur – Chalakudy – 29km, Chalakudy - Vazhachal – 32km, Vazhachal – Valparai (Anamala Road – 65km)
From Palakkad Side: Palakkad – Coimbatore – 56 km, Coimbatore - Pollachi - 40 km, Pollachi - Valparai - 65 km
From Salem:  Salem – Coimbatore – 215 km, Coimbatore - Pollachi - 40 km, Pollachi - Valparai - 65 km

After reaching Pollachi you can also visit

Pollachi - Topslip - 35 km
Pollachi - Udumalpet - 40 km
Pollachi - Vaalparai - 65 km (don’t go by numbers, it’s a hill route will take considerable time to cover this length)


Please visit this space for seeing the photos taken during the trip.

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