It is an extraordinary communion with Nature in a countryside known better for its backwaters, the swaying coconut palms and the quiet beaches of the Arabian sea. It is here that one enjoys the ceaseless roar of water falls as the Chalakudy river system that rises in the renowned Sholayar rain forests wends its way through gorges overhung with trees down the slope of the breathtaking experience before it flows further down into the Sea.
What makes this a fascinating experience is the affordable opportunity to stay by the side of the majestic Athirapally falls for a restful escape from the cacophony of urban life to make the most of the monsoon and the verdant landscape. Trek along a cobbled path to reach the top of the falls for a spectacular view of the gushing water or move along a narrow path covered by a canopy of thick vegetation to take in the misty feel at the base of the falls. The road is so close and offers an equally awesome sight. That is not all.
By staying at any of the comfortable resorts in its vicinity there is much more to enjoy than the cool spray. The picturesque boutique resort Rain Forest offers a panoramic view of the falls as well as you hear the roar of the water falls days and night. Further down, at the sprawling resort of the Plantation Corporation of Kerala there is the incessant flow and gurgle of waters of the Chalakudy river that is broken occasionally by the chirp of a bird. Here it is also possible to take a refreshing dip in the river known for its diversity as it contains 85 freshwater species of fishes of the 152 species found in Kerala. This compensates for the relatively Spartan accommodation.
For the ardent Nature lover there is much more. Drive up five km to Vazhachal to yet another scenic spot with plenty of rocks over which the river flows creating a lot of foam. There is abundant flora and a herbal plantation in a garden managed by the Kerala Forest Department that offers a fleeting glimpse of what lies in store in the jungle ahead. For the adventurous ready to go beyond the check post of the Forest Department there is the fascinating rain forest on what is literally a road less travelled.
Such is thickness of this jungle that there are stretches where even on a bright afternoon only some streaks of light pierce through the canopy of leaves that covers the road. Driving through the serene and dense jungle it is possible to travel several kilometer without sighting a person or a vehicle, on the winding road that leads to Valparai in Tami Nadu.
On a safari through the deep jungle and mountain range complete with hairpin bends there are prospects of spotting the wild in the natural habitat. It is home to the Malabar pied hornbill, Ceylon frogmouth, strokbilled kingfisher, black baza, the rimson backed sunbird, the Malabar trogon, great Indian hornbill, Nilgiri langur, lion tailed macaque as well as some little known and fast disappearing species including the rare Cochin forest cane turtle and the Malabar flying squirrel. The diversity typifies the complex and fragile ecosystem. Encountering snakes and even elephants possible as this jungle is part of the corridor from the Parambikulam Sanctuary to Pooyamkutty forests through which the pachyderms pass.
There are the small Peringalkuthu and Sholayar dams at which hydel power is generated and thereafter the Malakapara tea gardens on the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border. Enroute is Anakkayam, which means elephant pit, which is used as a watering hole by animals at night. It is possible to fish or swim here. Take a diversion, by going off the road to Vachumaram, and you may sight spotted deer coming to slake its thirst at a picturesque lake surrounded by hills. Driving into the jungle at night is an equally exciting but daring experience.
Travelling in the opposite direction from Athirapally towards Chalakudy, there are more places to see the impact of the water flow. At the Thumburmuzhi gardens, the water from the river is directed into deep tanks overflows forming a spectacular semi-circular. Or, cross the river by a barge into the vast rubber, oil palm and vanilla plantations at Mookanur. Much of this is to be soaked in, spending at least three days, during or after the monsoon when Kerala celebrate Onam. In all senses Athirapally is like the traditional ‘pookalam’, a colourful floral offering, of the Creator for keepsake.
How to Reach Athirapally
Air: The nearest airport is Kochi, 55 km away
Rail: The nearest railhead is Chalakudy Junction, 30 km away. You can also get down at Kochi railway station and take a cab to Athirapally falls.
Road: NH-47 connects Athirapally through Thrissur, 63 km away
Where to Stay in Athirapally
Rain Forest resort, Hotel Richmond Resorts