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Hidden Gems of Western Ghats

By Montu Makadia

Last Updated: 19 Feb 2021

Every traveler has a bond with a place or a season. I am no different, only my bond is with both the place as well as the season. No matter how many times I visit, at the end of the trip, I always feel that I want to go there again, sooner than later. Western Ghats and Monsoon are synonymous and I am allured by both. Western Ghats is extensively spread across a stretch of 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles). I am not boasting when I say I have covered 75% of this area over last 20 years. There are places I have been to so many times that I have lost count. One can understand and fall in love with Western Ghats only if you travel to and experience the same place again and again, during different seasons. The splendid beauty of Western Ghats blooms when it rains and that’s where lies my bonding with it. The downpour along Western Ghats continues for quite a long duration, at times for 5 months. Longer the duration of rain, stronger my attachment to this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

One of the things to do in Tamil Nadu when it rains is to take a road trip. Come rainy season and the passionate traveler in me keeps prompting me that I am due for the drive I cherish the most. It's a routine for my family, so they are not very excited. I have a friend who is part of the crazy gang of ENFIELD riders and he keeps exploring offbeat destinations. The recommendation came from him about a place quite deep inside Western Ghats. The blockbuster Bollywood movie "Bahubali" had a few scenes shot there and that was enough for the family to get excited about the visit. The plan was put into action and we soon headed towards Valparai in Tamil Nadu. This travel guide to Valparai will give you a glimpse of this beautiful hill station.

The pollution free heavenly land of Valparai is located 3,500 feet above sea level on the Annamalai mountain range of Tamil Nadu. Valparai is not just a small town. It stands with majestically spread lush-green mountains and forest all around. Valparai shares its boundaries with Annamalai Tiger Reserve, Parambikulam Tiger Reserve, Eravikulam National Park and Vazhachal forest division.

The unique grass forests and grass hills are also located in the vicinity of Valparai. The hill sports tall grass and is home to elephants, boars, cheetah and other wild animals. In addition, one can drive around the mountainous tea estates enjoying the pleasant climate and immerse into the dense forest that has paved way for tea bushes. The last stretch drive of 64 kms. from Pollachi to Valparai is truly an exotic experience. This is really an amazing place to visit in Tamil Nadu. Our first destination was Aliyar town after Avinashi and Pollachi. There is a dam in the outskirts of the town with scenic landscape and a garden at the lower level. It is a beautiful site to spend some time and take pictures.

Stunning landscape of Aliyar Dam on the way to Valparai

Stunning landscape of Aliyar Dam in the backdrop of lush green mountains and forestland

The distance of 42 kms. between Aliyar Dam and Valparai town passes through Ghat road with 40 hairpin bends. If you love driving, then this is the perfect drive especially when the roads are partly covered in clouds. We entered Annamalai Tiger Reserve, and then started the scenic landscape of Ghat road with blue skies and passing clouds as you drive through multiple viewpoints on the way.

Loams viewpoint offers an aerial view of the hairpin bends, enroute from Aliyar Dam to Valparai

Loams viewpoint offers an aerial view of the curvy roads and hairpin bends, enroute from Aliyar Dam toValparai

Some sections of the Ghat road circles around Aliyar Dam from where we had started the ascend. The view of dam is stunning from atop the mountain and you can't control the urge to frequently stop to soak in breathtaking views it offers. However, the best place is Aliyar viewpoint from where you can see the entire dam nestled between lush-green mountains. One of the other stopovers you do not want to miss on the way is Hornbill viewpoint. I have driven through many roads within Western Ghats but this drive stands out among all. By far, this is one of the hidden places to visit in South India during monsoon.

Breathtaking view of Aliyar Dam nestled in the middle of Western Ghats

Breathtaking view of Aliyar Dam nestled in the middle of Western Ghats with blue water and stunning sky

I have been roaming in and around tea estates and sloppy mountains for almost two decades. Since then, I had been craving to stay in the middle of tea gardens amid serene nature and surrounded by flora and fauna. Eventually, my dream was fulfilled or maybe I was lucky that I could arrange similar accommodation for us in Valparai. Almost midway through the drive, near the 20th hairpin bend is located a beautiful and privately owned tea estate. They have built few cottages for guests and to my good fortune, the owner welcomed me. Spending a few days in the middle of a forest almost hanging inside the mountain of Western Ghats in an experience in itself. The only color you can spot is "Green as far as your eyes can see. The entire setup offers calmness and serenity and you don't feel like doing anything except immerse yourself in the beauty nature has created for you.

Waterfall estate homestay in Valparai

Gushing stream flows through tea gardens from atop creating a small and beautiful waterfall with lush-green garden adjacent to the "WATERFALL tea estate.

The fascinating gateway to Valparai passed through narrow roads within the tea estate. We also passed by Monkey Water falls, a small but well-maintained photo shoot point for tourists. The Waterfall Estate is situated on northern slopes of Annamalai hills at an elevation of 4,300 feet. It overlooks the picturesque Alyiar Dam and Pollachi plains on the northern side while the rest is encompassed with evergreen forests. Anamalai Tiger Reserve, earlier known as Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary and National Park (IGWLS&NP) is worth a visit during the summer months.

Clad in clouds, surrounded by dense forests and drenched in multiple monsoons, the Waterfall Estate is a gift of nature for connoisseurs of tea. The cool air throughout the year produces succulent green leaves, a pre-requisite for production of high-quality tea. This advantage of location, coupled with modern and hygienic manufacturing practices, imparts unique color, characteristic strength and exclusive taste to the tea.

The scenic drive inside the tea estate (Homestay) of Valparai

The scenic drive inside the tea estate through narrow and curvy roads

I always found it tough to part ways with nature. After spending time inside splendid scenic mountains and green tea gardens, we went for a small trek to Balaji Temple. Located 10kms. from Valparai, Balaji Temple is owned by Periakaramalai tea industries and offers a relaxing spiritual rejuvenation to the devotees who visit it. Modeled on the Balaji Temple of Tirupati, this temple performs regular poojas like that of the former.

While driving between the tea estate and Valparai town, one can enjoy a scenic route of streams passing by and churches and temples atop hills. My respect for the people living in this area grew multifold as they have maintained the gift of nature very well and are extremely cautious not to pollute the surrounding area.

Karumalai Annai Velankanni Church amid tea gardens in Valparai

Beautiful Karumalai Annai Velankanni church surrounded by hilly slopes and lush-green tea gardens

About 20 kms. from Valparai and towards Athirapally, are strategically built Sholayar and Nirar Dams inside Annamalai Mountain Range for storage of monsoon rains. Sholayar Dam is the second deepest dam of Asia while Nirar Dam is built for irrigation and hydropower projects. These dams offer scintillating beauty of slopes and tea gardens on the other side of water.

Sholayar Dam in Valparai surrounded by lush-green tea gardens

Entrance to Sholayar Dam in Valparai surrounded by lush-green tea gardens

Our next destination was the other side of Western Ghats in Kerala. A journey of about 80 kms. through the dense rainforest and muddy roads leads you to Athirapally Waterfalls, one of the tallest waterfalls in the region. Chalakudy River that originates from the upper reaches of Western Ghats through the Sholayar ranges turns into this beautiful waterfall. Chalakudy River is 145km long and home to more than 85 marine species and passes through dense rainforest. The forest not known to many tourists is home to many endangered and endemic species of flora and fauna. Many popular movies in Tamil, Malayalam and even Hindi are shot at this fall including the blockbuster "Bahubali and others like Nayak, Madras Caf, etc.

Known as "The Niagara Falls of India, Athirappilly Waterfall releases water from a height of 80 feet offering a spectacular view

We decided to extend our journey further into Kerala after soaking in the memories of beautiful Western Ghats. However, there is no dearth of nature's splendor further down the road towards Kumarakom and Alleppey. Backwaters and living in houseboats have helped these places come into the tourist radar. The best way to enjoy these places is to stay put at one of the water facing properties, relax, rejuvenate and taste one of the finest cuisines of Kerala.

Kerala backwaters in Kumarakom

The view of Kerala's backwaters can be enjoyed best while swimming at the edge of it

When you are at the backwaters you do not want to miss out on the sunset. The experience is not only surreal but also quite different from a sunset view at any of the seaside beaches. We decided to board one of the sunset cruise boats in the evening that takes you further into the backwaters. You can witness the sun setting down while spraying its colors all over the skies and calm water beneath it. Many people prefer to stay inside houseboats along the backwater and experience the real charm that nature has to offer.

Sunset cruise along backwater is an experience not to be missed while you are in Kerala

Sunset cruise along backwater is an experience not to be missed while you are in Kerala

Kumarakom and Alleppey are considered twin towns along backwaters, separated by just 35 kms. You never feel like driving on the highways as you pass through zillion villages spread across the narrow "highway. The best part of the drive is crossing Thanneermukkom Bridge that connects Kumarakom backwaters with Alleppey town. The boat ride in the water alleys of Alleppey reminded me of my visits to Europe and its landscape. We got a glimpse of rural Kerala with villages spread across backwaters and shops on the shores selling tender coconut.

Alleppey backwaters in Kerala

Known as "Venice of the East, a boat ride along Alleppey's backwaters offers a peek into the lifestyle of this laidback town

Alleppey has a beautiful lighthouse near the beach and though people do not like to visit such places, it is worth visiting the ancient monument. The view from the top is amazing. You can get a spectacular view of the beach and railway line atop and you feel like hanging out there until sunset. That's exactly what we did before we returned to Bangalore. Western Ghats is a world of its own and as a nature lover, I will never get enough of it. So, until next monsoon. Adios!

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A half-day boat ride along the backwaters of Kerala is once-in-a-lifetime experience

Things To Consider

The winter months from October to February is the ideal time to visit. Avoid summer months as it is too hot and humid to handle. It rains heavily during monsoon.
Western Ghats is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a biosphere reserve. Backwaters of Kerala are tourist magnets for a couple of decades.
Tea Plantations are everywhere in Valparai and you would not like to come back without tasting different varieties of tea over there. Kerala is famous for its varied cuisine especially seafood varieties.
These places are quite safe for the tourists, however, they become deserted after the sunset.
Valparai and the surrounding area is an offbeat destination. You won’t encounter many tourists here.
The rain is frequent and unpredictable so carry extra clothes and an umbrella. Mobile network is not available in some parts of the Western Ghats.

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