The forest trail : Athirapally - Sholayar Road Trip

TGIF, yes it's the last day of the week, and it was noon already and most of them were in the weekend mood. We started asking each other what's the plan for the weekend. Majority of them already had plans to visit their home town to spend time with family. After discussions broke out, we decided to go out for dinner with the team that night. Especially we had two cool visitors from Spain and Germany. We took them to Awaany Homely Dine Restaurant, Ground Floor, Grand Central, Infopark, Kakkanad, Kerala. They specialise in Arabic, Chinese, Thandoor, and Indian Dishes ( South and North Indian ). Myself, Liphin, Gustavo, Denis and Sutharson decided to go. Other team members were already off to their home. 

We ordered juicy n spicy arabic Pepper al-faham with kerala porotta along with beef nadan varutharacha curry with coconut milk. We were a little skeptical about whether our guests would like it or not. To our surprise they loved it. Kerala Porotta and the Pepper al-faham combination was really mouthwatering. While having our dinner we discussed our weekend plans, and if Gustavo & Denis had any plans for the weekend. They were excited to visit Fort Cochin and wanted to visit Fort Cochin Beach, the Chinese fishing nets, Dutch Cemetery, St. Francis Church, Jew Street, Jewish Synagogue, etc. We also suggested that they should visit Sholayar Reserve Forest and Athirapally Waterfalls. Liphin wanted to join our wild drive plans, but due to a pre planned personal appointment he had to drop out. Anyways, the plan was confirmed to go along with Gustavo, Denis and Vijay ( who is my colleague). We planned to start the next day at 7:00 AM IST from Four Points by Sheraton, Infopark Kochi. Vijay confirmed that he would join us from Chalakudy since he is coming from Thrissur. 

We had two plans as of now, the first one was to go to Athirapally Waterfalls, drive through Sholayar Forest and Sholayar Dam. The second plan was to go for a whole round trip past Sholayar Dam towards Valparai Nallamudi Viewpoint and then via Valparai hairpins towards Pollachi then back to Thrissur / Kochi. 

Plan A :

Plan B :

We all went back home excited about the next day's drive through the jungle ;-).

Journey Begins

My alarm went on at 06:00 AM IST. I jumped out of bed instantly, took a shower in ice cold water, and pumped up the ignition by 06:45 AM IST. Gustavo and Denis were already waiting for me at Four Points by Sheraton, Infopark and we were to pick up Vijay from Chalakudy. Since it was still early, the roads were pretty much deserted till Chalakudy. We picked Vijay from Chalakudy, fueled up and loaded the car with some food & water.

As we entered the forest reserve, we saw a couple of monkeys perched upon the branches of the trees. We stopped by to take some pictures and then trooped back in and continued towards Athirapally. The winding roads and the tall trees were already giving us a forest feel. We could hear water flowing, somewhere nearby. The Chalakudy river was flowing next to our road, so we parked our truck right next to the Silver Storm Water Theme Park and went down the Vettilappara bridge to experience the river. The bridge was under maintenance. To our surprise even before the onset of the summer season, the water level was alarmingly low. While under that bridge we noticed a big beehive and as we were admiring the beehive, a chameleon dashed past our legs. We hopped back in and hit the road again. 

Trek to the Mesmerizingly Beautiful Athirapally Waterfalls

We took random stops in between, wherever we found interesting places like a few old bridges. However our next target destination was Athirapally waterfalls. Athirappilly Falls, is situated in Athirappilly Panchayath of Thrissur District in Kerala, India on the Chalakudy River, which originates from the upper reaches of the Western Ghats at the entrance to the Sholayar ranges. It is the largest waterfall in Kerala, which stands tall at 80 feet. Athirapally Waterfalls is also known as "The Niagara of India". In this reserve forest area, animals like the Monkey, Asiatic Elephant, Tiger, Leopard, Bison, Sambar Deer, and Lion-tailed Macaque and birds like different species of Hornbills and the most commonly known Great Hornbill (the state bird of Kerala) are also found in this forest reserve. 

The entry tickets are available from the Sholayar check-post, approximately 2 km away from the falls ( from Chalakudy side ). Below are the current ticket rates ( as of Jan 2020 ) 

Ticket Rates Athirapally:

Adults : 40 INR
Children ( 5 to 13 years ) : 5 INR
Students ( Schools & College ) : 10 INR
Other Nationals : 150 INR

Vehicle Parking Rates
Heavy Vehicles : 50 INR
Medium Vehicles : 30 INR
Light Vehicles : 20 INR
Two / Three Wheelers : 10 INR

Camera Rates
Video / Cinematography : 300 INR
Stills / Photography : 50 INR

We got our tickets, and were ready to do a small trek down to the waterfall. The temperature was soaring. Even on such a hot day there were a lot of visitors, especially school picnics. As we reached the Athirapally entrance, we were greeted by lots of monkeys. Ask anyone who visited this place and they would talk about the monkey problem. They will look friendly a few feets away from us. But if they see food or any drinks then they would swing by for sure. We started to trek to the top of the waterfall via a paved path that leads through thick bamboo clusters. The trek down to the top of the waterfall took us less than 15 mins (approx 500 meter from the entrance), which is a comfortable walk suitable for all ages. Our breath was taken away by the picturesque view from the top, even though the flow was less compared to the monsoon season. The Athirampilly waterfall doesn't dry up like most other seasonal falls. Even in peak summer season, there will be a minimal flow, ensured by the reservoirs in the upstream of the Chalakudy river. Those who want quick bites and snacks, there are a few snack bars managed by the eco-development committee of the forest department. Also there were ample facilities to take a rest, change clothes ( if you want to dip in the water, however it's only allowed at the top side of the waterfall ), and clean restrooms. 

After admiring the waterfall from the top, we decided to go down to the bottom to enjoy the view from the bottom. The lower viewpoint is better, if you can manage a small and steep hike down hill. There is a proper pathway and it took us approx 15-20 mins to go down and a little more while climbing back up. We spent nearly over 30 minutes down admiring the falls. To get closer to the falls, you have to go over rocks and here there is no proper pathway. Believe it, it’s worth the pain. Be very careful though. As we inched closer to the falls we could feel the force of the showers, which are quite strong. It is strictly not advisable to try swimming or even getting into the water here. The currents can be unpredictable. During the monsoon, the falls would have been a lot more beautiful.

While we were enjoying the mesmerising falls, the guards were so curious to see me bending down and laying there to capture the low angles of the falls. He advised me to be careful while taking the pictures, as there were a few loose rocks. But that was the starting for a 15 mins talk which gave us a lot of information about the falls and the situation during the 2018 Kerala floods. I still remember there were few waiting sheds near the lower falls, which are no more there. When I inquired, they told me that it was washed away during the floods. Also a lot of big trees and plants were destroyed. We took a few pictures with them and we decided to trek back. 

As we were going back to our truck, we saw a lot of monkeys waiting by to say goodbye. Right before we started, we decided to hydrate ourselves while discussing how cool this place was. Meanwhile, a monkey swung by and hijacked Vijay's drink. With a smile the monkey left the spot within seconds. 

Drive through RainForest

Here we started the next leg of our road trip. This time our destination was Sholayar Dam and we drove through the Sholayar Rainforest. From Athirapally, Vazhachal was around 5 - 6 Kms away. At Vazhachal,there is a forest check post where our vehicle details have to be produced along with the details of the visitors and even the number of plastic items that we are carrying. The stretch between the Vazhachal check post and the next one at Malakkapara is around 45 to 50 kms. The authorities also allot a definite time for the trip. Two hours is the standard time to cross this stretch. While our data was updated, we noticed some foreigners motorbike riders groups just entering the forest for a pre summer ride. We waved at them wishing a safe and engaging ride and then we moved along.

The roads were not too bad, however in some areas it was quite bad that even my SUV had to crawl, especially at some stretches closer to Malakkappara checkpost. Valparai is about 60 Kms enroute from Vazhachal. This stretch is a combination of scenic views, thick jungle sections, and plantations. There are hardly any snack shops / tea shops until you reach Valparai. So it's better to take along any food or snacks accordingly. If you plan to use google maps or so, do download it prior to starting, since the mobile signals are not so good in this sector. Right after we crossed the Vazhachal check post we took a break, had some snacks and hydrated ourselves again. We were feeling refreshed, however Vijay was quite tired as he was watching movies all night. Yeah, he is a movie buff who loves to watch movies all the time. Sometimes he would give reviews in such a way that we end up watching those movies in no time. I was expecting a few latest movie reviews, however after the snacks and drinks, he fell asleep. Even when we did random stops to admire the beauty he was fast asleep :-). There were spots where the rocks and debris from mountains had slid down to the roads. Also we could see that at places, concrete walls were used to reinforce and avoid such slides again. While driving through, do be careful with loose debris and slides, if in doubt do look around before you drive through. 

We then stopped at the penstock pipes which are used to pump water to the Peringalkuthu HydroElectric Project. It is a beautiful view on the way. We did a quick stop over to see the penstock pipes. While admiring the beauty, we were also catching up with the sounds we heard. Mostly those were the sounds made by different insects from the Gryllidae family. These sounds were totally loud and seemed to go in a rhythm, the rhythm of nature, far away from the concrete jungle. Though I had the chance to see elephants on earlier trips, this time luck was not on my side. A few kilometers past the penstock, we started to look for elephants, as we had spotted a lot of fresh elephant poop. Now our full concentration was towards spotting wildlife. Until now we were not having any hope of seeing any animals as it was around 2 PM IST and the place was too hot of animals to roam around. Probably they would hide in the thick jungle than roam around the roads. This made more sense as the temperatures were rising as high as 37-38 Degree Celsius around this time. While wildlife used to be a certainty on this route a decade ago, it has become a bit rare these days.

We stopped by another viewpoint, where we saw the Sholayar Reservoir. The scenic beauty took our breath away. The perfectly blue waters and the green forestation was a sight to behold. If we are lucky, we can spot elephants coming around to drink water during the day time. It is advised against having food and leaving any plastics plates/cups/bottles/covers around which could potentially harm the wildlife. We started our engines and as a few more kilometers passed, we were in the thick forest area once again. Through the silence of the forest, all we could hear were Gryllidae chirping, tires screeching and cool breeze. We once again started looking around for elephants, as we saw more and more elephant poop. However as we drew closer to Malakkappara checkpost, we started seeing the tea plantations. Our hopes started to die out, but we did spot a few wild bison, deers and wild hogs on our way out. 

We reported at the Malakkappara checkpost, it was a long queue there as almost all the foreigner bikers were reporting together as a group. The police officers at the checkpost advised us to take the Pollachi route or to stay at Valparai itself that night as we were not allowed to go back the same route since it was getting dark. We confirmed that we could take the plan B which was a long way back via Pollachi. However, it would be good for our guests that they could see more of Tamil Nadu as well, in such a short one day trip :-). We decided to move forward to the Sholayar Dam. 

Once we reached Malakkappara, there were two ways to get to Valparai. One goes through the Sholayar dam and the other goes to Nallamudi Poonchola viewpoint which I had not tried yet.This time we went forward to see the Sholayar Dam, which we expected to be have high water levels since there were heavy rainfalls the last two years even with Kerala Floods. We were also boasting about the Dam to our guests and to our surprise we saw nothing but dry Dam. The upper sholayar Dam was nearly empty too. 

After spending some time at the upper view point at Sholayar Dam, we decided to go to Nallamudi Poonchola viewpoint. However the local people there told us that it's too late to go that route. Also Google started suggesting that the Nallamudi Poonchola viewpoint is closed after 5:00 PM, and it was almost 06:00 PM IST. So we just drove to the next township at Valparai to get some tea. While driving through the township we saw colourful houses downhill. When we reached the township we got tea and some freshly cooked parippu vada as well. Post that short break, we started over to Pollachi, Tamil Nadu. Pollachi - Valparai road has got 40 Hairpin curves, which are awesome and mesmerizing road strips. Especially at 38th and 10th I believe, we could see the rest of the hairpins downhill. Also while we were in the last hairpins or so we started seeing Aliyar Dam. However it was quite late so we didn't stop at this point, we drove past the Aliyar Dam and its view point towards Pollachi. The view and the feel we get while we drive past this stretch is pretty awesome. We all simply loved it. 

We drove for another 2 hours and took a short break somewhere near Pollachi, and it was a veg hotel, I couldn't remember the name. We all had a coffee each, and Vijay had Onion Uthappam which he claims to be mouth watering :-). That was our last break. On our way back, we dropped Vijay at St.Antony's Forane Church Pudukad which is located near Pudukad Signal. The Feast Of St. Sebastian is Celebrated in the first week of February in every year, and which happened to be on that day. Post that we took another 1 hour or so to reach Four Points by Sheraton, Kochi. Officially we called this trip ended and bid goodbye to our friends there. I drove home. All of us were too tired, however it will remain with us forever. It was such a crazy and fun 18 hours drive. 

Things to remember while going for such road trips:
  1. Keep the car / bike in the top of its condition as even a flat tyre can bring in great trouble. 
  2. Fuel up before you start the journey. You will appreciate it if the tank is full as sometimes it will be difficult to figure out the fueling stations in such a road trip. 
  3. Keep enough supplies as you need. Carry enough food / snacks as you might not find any shops for stretches like 50 Kms inside the forest roads.
  4. Carry enough water too. This will help you hydrate during the road trip. But keep in mind, that no rubbish goes out of your car. This will end up in heavy penalties and harm the wildlife too. 
  5. Liquor is strictly prohibited.
  6. For entering the forest area, it's strictly for 12 hours starting at 06:00 AM IST until 06:00 PM IST. ( so the entries are mostly restricted starting from 04:00 PM itself. ) 
  7. Drive slowly and very carefully. If you spot any animals, do not stop and step outside. 
  8. Carry all the necessary documents, which includes all the important documents of your car, as well as your identity documents / proof. 
How to reach:

By Road: Roads are pretty well connected, and if you are coming from Cochin to Chalakudy then from there take right to Athirapally ( 13 to 15 Kms from Chalakudy ). Cochin -> Chalakudy -> Athirapally -> Vazhachal -> Sholayar Forest -> Valparai.

By Train: The railway station of Ernakulam / Cochin  (code: ERS / ERN ) is well connected to other cities of India. You could make use of to check the connections from your city.

By Air: Cochin International Airport is the nearest airport, and from there you could rent a car or use public transport towards City or directly to your stay / destination. ( for resorts its worth to look at Athirapally Rainforest Resort )

By Bus: Most of the buses from Chalakudy town will go only up to Athirapally (13 to 15 Kms from Chalakudy ) from Chalakudy town to cater the tourist group to Athirapally waterfalls.

*All the pictures were taken using Sony A7M3ZEISS Batis 25mm f/2 lens.

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Rahul Devakumar
Creative Media Studio

We take photos as a return ticket to a moment otherwise gone.


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