The Monsoon Meanderings II : God’s Own Country

Day 2:

Both of us were up by 5:00 am, planning to make an early morning start. Until then, Thrissur had been the perfect host – perfect weather, decent accommodation and great food! It took around 30 minutes for us to get ready and pack up. But before we had finished gearing up for the ride – Nature decided, once again, to grace our ‘monsoon ride’ with her blessings! A sudden thunderstorm brought in a heavy downpour, once again making us hesitate – should we start or not ? What followed was the same old cycle of emotions and decisions – the initial reluctance to start in the rain, the impatient waiting for the rain to stop, the gradual realization that it was not going to stop, and then the final resolution of ‘fuck it, let’s ride’. A very sleepy ( and surprised ) receptionist checked us out, and we started off yet another day of our monsoon ride, with the rain.

The first leg of the journey was to reach the Athirapally waterfalls. According to Google’s suggestions, the fastest way to do that was to take the NH544, and take a diversion towards the left from Potta towards Athirapally. But we were not particularly interested in taking the fastest route – we wanted to soak in the beautiful combination of this monsoon weather and the lush greenery that God’s own country had to offer. Another route, which branched off from the main road just beside our hotel, was the one which seemed definitely more interesting, more so because it did not show up in Google’s efficient algorithms.
And yes, it did not disappoint us – a narrow tarred road that snaked its way through villages, smaller towns and mostly dense, green vegetation bordering the Peechi wildlife sanctuary and reserve forest. The early morning start meant that there was almost nothing on the roads except for us – except for that one solitary truck that hurtled down a blind corner and almost tried to mow us down. We passed through small towns which were just stirring up, isolated settlements that were yet to wake up from their slumber, deep set forests where the roads had disintegrated into scattered remains of gravel – and everything in between.

Road signs were few and sparse, and in most cases, were restricted to the local language, which meant we could not rely on them. Our only option was to follow the GPS ( which was equally unreliable ) and maintain a general sense of direction. It took about 1.5 hours of riding to finally reach SH21, which would take us to Valparai.

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Finally, back on good roads!

About a couple of kilometers before Athirapally, there was a check-post where we had to get entrance tickets for our bikes. Athirapally, located on the Chalakudy river, is Kerela’s largest waterfall. The actual entry gate towards the waterfall is a couple of kilometres away from the check post – and shows signs of being a well maintained tourist destination. Here, we had to get entry tickets for the waterfall and parking tickets for the bikes. ( Both the entry and parking tickets are common for Athirapally as well as Vazhachal waterfalls, so if you are getting it at either one, you don’t need to get it again for the other ). Several makeshift souvenir shops lined the road beside the entry gate. There are designated parking spots nearby, though the space is limited. As we were there pretty early, none of the shops had opened and most of the parking spots were vacant. Fortunately, Atirapally also has cloakroom facilities ( thankfully ) where we deposited our saddle bags, helmets and miscellaneous riding gear, before heading towards the waterfall. As we trudged on the footpath leading towards the waterfall, we got a lot of curious stares – but then again, I guess we did look somewhat strange in all our riding boots and rain gear. As expected, there were quite a few other tourists who had decided to brave the constant downpour and enjoy the beauty of the falls. There are a couple of shops selling tea/coffee/snacks, and a couple of sit-around tables where the footpath ends before the waterfall.

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First look at the Chalakudy, just before the main step of the waterfall

The waterfall is a sight to behold, especially because the rains seemed to have swelled up the flow. Though it was not too swift, there was a gentle current as the water flowed past, approached a sharp drop and then tumbled all the way down and continued to flow beyond. A moderate mist cover and the splattering rain drops made it all the more difficult to capture anything substantial on our phone cams.

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The best click that my phone camera could manage in the rain and the mist

One of the good things that we observed was the presence of a supervisor, probably to discourage the more ‘adventurous types’ from venturing too far into the river – it’s a pity that we need supervision even for our own safety, but then again that is the sad truth. This waterfall is referred to by some as the ‘Niagra of India’ ( though there are a couple of other claimants to that title ), and is said to be a popular backdrop for shooting movies. We spent around 30 minutes here – and then started off towards our next destination.

Charpa is not as big a waterfall as Athirapally – but one thing that works in its advantage is the location – you can see it bang on the left side of the road while travelling from Athirapally to Vazhachal. Moreover, at that point of time, we were the only ones there – so both of us took some time in lining up for a sitting-on-bike-standing-in-front-of-a-freaking-waterfall-and-looking-cool-af-photo. Meanwhile, other prospective photographers and ‘models’ had started arriving and invading our frames, so we quickly finished our photo shoot and took off for Vazhachal.

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By the time we reached Vazhachal, the constant pounding of the rain had managed to breach the rain jackets – and we had almost reached ‘enough of water for the day’ stage. Nevertheless, when you really see the flowing river cascading its way on the stony slope, foaming and frothing – you cannot but stop for a moment and enjoy the handiwork of Nature. Once that stage passed, we were back on the roads, this time moving towards the popular tea-estate surrounded destination of Valparai.

At Vazhachal, there is a small check post manned by a couple of Forest Department officials, who took down our vehicle numbers and issued a pass for Valparai. To be honest, the officials present here seemed a bit disinterested with their jobs, and I guess the only reason they did issue me the pass was because I went and inquired if I needed one to pass through. The irony is, while exiting Kerela, you would be stopped at another checkpoint ( where the officials seemed to be much more vigilant ) and asked to produce the same pass.

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Vazhachal Waterfalls

Vazhachal to Valparai was roughly 70kms of beautiful roads passing through dense forests and restricted areas. We came across hundreds of ‘animal crossing ahead’ signs throughout the road , though the only thing related to animals that we could physically see was copious amounts of elephant poo. At first, whenever either of us saw something that was worthy of a photograph, we would stop for a click. A few kilometers, and almost 3-4 unscheduled stops later, it was clear that if we continued stopping everywhere, we would certainly be missing our scheduled time of arrival at Valparai by a large margin! Also, we had not had any breakfast whatsoever since the morning, and that was making me a bit cranky. We stopped at a small settlement and bought ourselves a few bananas to satiate our hunger – and then ended up stuffing the peels inside my saddlebag when we could not find any garbage bins to dispose them off!

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Somewhere enroute to Valparai , overlooking the Shoolayar reservoir
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One of those places where you simply cannot resist stopping for a photo!

We had to stop at the check-post where the Kerela jurisdiction ended – we had to produce the pass that was issued just after Vazhachal. A few meters later, we had to stop at another check-post marking the beginning of TN jurisdiction. After the customary checking of bags ( honestly, I have no idea what they check the bags for! ), the personnel manning the post were intrigued when they saw R with her bike. One of them suggested that R was a lady, while the other one vehemently disagreed – then both of them asked us to take off our helmets to validate their assumptions!

The downpour ceased for sometime as we passed into TN – we crossed Malakkapara and stopped at the Sholayar Dam for a small break. The weather seemed to be in a pretty fickle mood, with alternating spells of sunshine and showers.

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A view from the Sholayar Dam
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Trying to satisfy hunger pangs with jack-fruit

We also stopped at the first tea farm we came across – because I remembered R mentioning probably a zillion times, about her desire to ‘ride through a mountain-side tea estate’. We made ample use of the selfie stick, got a few great captures and a few not so great ones, and sped off towards Valparai.

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Tea country!!

 

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Someone is excited!

Valparai, not unlike other hill towns / high altitude tourist destinations, seems like a sudden explosion of human activity after riding through the dense silent forest roads. All at once the cacophony of sounds, the chaotic traffic and the plethora of smells shakes you awake from a state of zen. Hotel Green Hill was not much difficult to find, it is almost bang on the main road. We were ushered in into the parking lot, and then handed our room’s keys by a very co-operative receptionist. The overall state of the hotel was not what you would call luxurious, but then again, one can’t expect much from a budget hotel. The prime agenda was to dry ourselves, after what had been almost 7 hours of continuous riding in the rain. Everything, starting from the insides of our helmets right to the soles of our riding boots – was soaking wet. We managed to hang every thing that could be hung, praying that they would dry out before the next morning.

The next agenda on the list was obviously, food. Usually, we have had a less-than-average experience with restaurants that are attached to residential hotels, so we thought about going out and finding a decent place to eat. But life is not so easy when you have limited network and no Zomato to enlighten your path – so after a while, our exhausted selves just gave up and decided to just get something from the hotel’s restaurant.
And boy, we were in for a welcome surprise – because I can honestly say that the food that we had there was THE BEST beef roast and kerela paratha combo that I have ever had, literally anywhere ( I guess it might have also had to do with the fact that both of us were near-famished ). After gulping down ungodly amounts of chicken sukka and beef roast and overloading ourselves to the point when neither of us could sit straight properly, we went back to the room to plot our next move.

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Heaven on earth

While the urge to stay in the room and round off the awesome food with a quick nap was irresistible, we decided that we should go out and explore Valparai. We spent some time riding through the roads winding through the tea plantations and the small hill-side hamlets – wandering and roaming aimlessly just enjoying the view. But this joyride came to an abrupt end when the clouds set in and it started drizzling. Apparently this is a very common occurrence in these parts, and all the locals commuting on their two wheelers carry a kind of a plastic poncho to save them from these exact situations. Unfortunately, neither of us were carrying either our rain jackets or our riding gear – both of us had set out in our t-shirts and shorts. We hurried back, but within a few seconds both of us could feel the chill in our bones as our t-shirts got drenched in the rain. Ironically, by the time we reached our hotel, the drizzling had stopped and the sun was up once again.

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One of the most common views in Valparai
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We had plans of sitting here and enjoying the view for a while – before the clouds set in and scared us away

Fed up with this constantly changing weather, we decided to call it a day and retire back to our room. The day was almost over, and there is usually not much to do in these parts once the sun goes down – so we spent the evening watching a couple of sci-fi movies on TV, ordered a couple of fried rice dishes from the restaurant, deciding our route and pit stops for the next day.

Note : This is Day 2 of the Thrissur – Athirapally- Vazhachal – Valparai ride. Day 1 and Day 3 will be added separately.

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