Valparai - Chasing Monsoons, to the Lap of Verdant Greenery!

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Full Set of Pictures on Flickr [Still Uploading but you can keep a watch! :) ] - On Flickr

Panorama made of 5 vertical shots. Find the larger version here - View On Black


You know there is this very famous dialogue from the movie “Om Shanti Om” which loosely translates to if you wish/work for something with all your heart, the whole universe will conspire to bring it to you. Well something similar happened with this trip. It was planned even before I had gone to Ladakh and then it all fell apart. Sometimes I played the spoilsport and sometimes the weather played the spoilsport and another time everyone else took the turn of playing the spoilsport. While all this was happening over the week, only one thought was stuck in my head. I AM GOING TO VALPARAI THIS WEEKEND. How? I didn’t know yet and it was Friday evening already. True to the word, I was on my way to Valparai that night with a group of four.  

Now that I’ve bored you with the dreary details, let me tell you about the little piece of heaven called Valparai situated approximately 500kms from Bangalore. Valparai is located 3,500 feet above sea level on the Anamalai mountain range. 

Where? --> Valparai, near Pollachi, Tamilnadu
How far? --> 480kms from Bangalore
When? --> June 19-20th 2010, Monsoon Chases
Who? --> Let’s call them Mr & Mrs. A, Mr. V, Mr. R and Miss Blue that is me. :D
Why? --> Because it was there, Valparai that is. 
What’s there? --> Beautiful winding roads, serene Dam sides, enchanting rainforests, spectacular viewpoints, greenery and wildlife abound, not to forget the verdant tea plantations.
How? --> By road in a Ford Fusion, Self Driven. I have to tell you, Mr. A is an untiring relentless driver. 
What’s the route? --> Check it here – Marked it on Google Maps - Bangalore - Valparai.
Bangalore – Krishnagiri – Dharmapuri – Thopur (Take a diversion to Mettur here) – Mecheri – Mettur – Bhavani – Erode – Perundurai - Tiruppur – Palladam – Kattampatti – Pollachi – Valparai. 
How is the road condition? --> Very well maintained I must say. The hair pin bends are a pleasure to ride and the windings are blissful as ever. 
How Long? --> 7 – 8 hours. We took close to 12 hours with leisurely stops to fill our stomachs, take in the views and some photography. 
Wildlife? --> Yes, Lion-tailed Macaque, endemic to western Ghats, Nilgiri Tahr, Elephants, Bison, Indian Gaur, Bear, Nilgiri Langurs, Leopards, Jaguars etc.. and a wide variety of birds including Hornbills.
What did we see? --> Lion Tailed Macaques, Gaint Malabar Squirrel, Indian Gaur and lots of pretty birds whose names I know not!
Places of Interest? -->
Monkey Falls – At Indira Gandhi NP before Valparai
Chinakallar Falls – Chinakallar is South India’s Cherapunjee. It receives highest rainfall down south.
Number Parai and Nallamudi Pooncholai – view points near Sangili road. (12-15kms from Valparai)
Aaliyar, Sholayar, Nirar and Kadamparai Dams – Apparently Sholayar is the second deepest dam of Asia.
Athirapally Falls – 80kms from Valparai towards Ernakulam passing through the thick forests of chalakudi.
Grass Hills and Top Slip for trekking and wildlife sightings.
Where did we Stay? --> We stayed at a hotel modeled as a homestay in the town itself. There were two rooms and we took them both and it was quite comfortable. But the downside was the room had no view. It was bang at the center of the market. 
Details of the hotel - Holiday Inn, C.M.Complex, (Opp) Repco Bank, Valparai, Coimbatore, Tamilnadu
Contact - 04253 223165, +91 94864 12001
What are the options for Accommodation? -->There are quite a few expensive options in one of the Tea Estates around Valparai such as the Stanmore Bungalow etc. But you need to book quite in advance. 
There are few Hotels and homestays where you can get accommodation on the spot if you are lucky. But Advance Booking is recommended.


If you’ve read till here, I assume you are planning to go to Valparai sometime and if you do, please maintain the sanctity of the place. The best policy I’d suggest is leave nothing but footprints and take nothing but memories. Valparai is still relatively untouched by the winds of commercialization and yet we found plastic lying around everywhere. We did our bit and collected all the polythene lying at Number Parai. And I hope all the information I am giving wouldn’t be responsible for more litter. 

In the wee hours of Saturday morning, the four of us were still wandering on the roads on Bangalore trying to pass time until Mr.V would join us from his work. Conversations flowed and sleep eluded us as we spoke the language understood by all – travels in Ladakh.  Finally after a long wait, we were bestowed with the presence of Mr. V and we were on our way to Valparai. It was 3 AM in the morning. 
I slept through the night till we reached a small village at 5.30 AM where I got chased by a stupid dog. As we drove further ahead towards Erode, the heat was getting stronger. It was piercing. We could see no signs of monsoon we had hoped for. The ride was pretty much ordinary until we reached Pollachi by 11 AM. The anticipation was growing now that we were just 60kms away from the monsoon hideout or so we thought. 


You probably would not believe me if I said we were lost for an hour in the small town of Pollachi trying to find the road that led to Valparai. Apparently there are 3-4 routes that led to Valparai. As we found out an hour later, all the routes join the same route to Valparai. We were on our way to Valparai only at 12.10 PM – Exactly an hour since we entered the town of Pollachi. After a short drive, we passed by Aaliyar Dam and the heat wasn’t keeping well with the team. No one was interested in getting out in the heat over the dam and even though I was looking for an opportunity to put my camera to work, I had to pass. 

Just as we crossed Aaliyar Dam Main Entrance which was way too touristy for my liking, I spotted a culvert by the side of the road that opened into a wide open space with green pastures, grazing cattle and endless waters. Now this presented a wonderful opportunity for us shutterbugs.  We all spent quite sometime here, few of us clicking away to glory while the rest enjoyed the first signs of monsoon abundance. 



After a long break, we entered Indira Gandhi National Park paying toll (Per Camera – 75 and Per Person – 15 Rs) and few minutes from here start the 40 hair pin bends that would lead us to Valparai though tea estates and lush green forests. On the 9th hairpin bend is the Loam’s viewpoint, no clue as to why it is named so but it offers a panoramic view of the mighty mountains and Aaliyar Dam at the bottom. 

Even as we climbed higher, rains still eluded us. We could spot mist on the tips of green mountains and the temperature was lowering now after a whole day of sweltering heat. We were passing through tea plantations and I had my head stuck out of the window like a dog but so far, I felt Aaliyar Dam side where we had taken the first break was lovelier than what I was seeing now. 

In my opinion, Tea Plantations are no better than mining on mountains. Far across the distance, I could see huge mountains that looked barren with the trees and forests cut down giving way to tea plantations. It is a not a pleasant sight to see especially to think that this would have been dense lush forests if not for all the deforestation. 

There is a small patch of forest before entering the tea plantations of Valparai again, where we spotted a Giant Malabar Squirrel and it was quite huge and colorful too. We stood there watching its antics as it was gorging on a huge jackfruit. We also saw it jump over a huge gap in the trees above. 



After this sighting, the road was winding through tea plantations again and we reached Valparai by 4 PM. If you are expecting to be greeted to a quaint pastoral settlement, you my friend are in for a surprise! Small as it maybe, it does not fall into the category of those old world charming hill stations. 4 PM was when the schools closed for the day and we were quite surprised by the number of school kids on the roads suggesting Valparai was not a small village after all. 

The hotel operators informed us that the bungalow estates were booked already and the ones with vacancy charged exorbitant rates. Left with no choice, we settled for a homestay with no views but very comfortable and classy to an extent. 

That evening, a young entrepreneur who was convincing enough, sold us an idea of a sumptuous dinner at a local house and a night ride into the forests of Valparai. Of course these words coming out of an expert sales person’s mouth sounded much more exotic and adventurous. Us city slickers bored of mundane lives, always in search of an adventure were more than ready to try it out. Turns out the rendezvous was not all we had hoped for but the dinner was really delicious and the ride going further down the lower Nirar Dam in pitch darkness while the rain gods had finally drenched us in the satisfaction of witnessing monsoon rains was well worth the effort. We stayed at a small shed in the middle of darkness and forests until 11 PM watching fireflies put up a show. With the realization that the area was clear of wildlife (because we did not spot any while coming down), my earlier apprehension of a drive in the dark gave way to awe inspired by the wet and wild jungles glowing in faint effervescence. After a tiring day, it was time to hit the sack. 

The much needed sleep worked wonders and by 7 AM we set out to see Indian Gaurs that almost always make an appearance in the tea plantations around. We did see the Indian Gaurs. While I wasn’t very keen on spotting wildlife, the rest were having fun observing the huge creatures from close quarters. I used this time for some experimentation with hyperfocal distance charts and found the results to be quite satisfactory. So I guess, in few days you can expect photos with crisp subjects in focus from foreground to background. 

You’ve gotta hand it to the local boy, he was one hell of an entrepreneur. Today he came to us with stories of a lovely crater where the clouds, sunshine, rain and rainbows always played hide and seek. For what it’s worth, he could be an amazing writer convincing people this world is truly an enchanted place. There was no rainbow because there was no sun as he put it, but the place, Number Parai as it is fondly called, was nothing short of splendor. 12 kms from Valparai, set amidst a stunning setting of green plantations overlooking a vast luxuriant valley with Anaimudi Peak rising right in front of you and a distant view Sholayar Dam waters fills your heart with admiration for nature. 



The boy was accompanying us to show the route and there wasn’t enough room for 6 of us to fit in Fusion the conventional way which is when Mr. R and I rode in the storage space of the vehicle with dickey (boot) open. That did turn quite a few heads on the way and it was fun watching the view from a different perspective. The road that leads to Number Parai passes through a tea estate and is best described as a jeep track. The road stops 500 meters short of the drop. One needs to walk through the plantations to reach the view point. This valley separates the states of Kerala and Tamilnadu. Monsoon having arrived to here for quite some time now, the mountain slopes of Kerala were dotted with white streaks, huge waterfalls that is. The wind was pleasantly cold and we sat there for sometime in silence soaking in the beauty. And then it was time for me to prance around with my tripod and camera. After spending some defining moments of our trip here, we set out towards Bangalore. 

On our way back, we stopped at a refreshing stream for a quick dip in cool waters. After all, what is a trip without a dip? It was here that Mr. R and Mr. V got their share of curses from the irked Mrs. A for their entire stance on Mr. A’s future six pack. We shared quite a few laughs over this before we headed to Valparai for lunch where Mr.V had to pay the price of having four souls waiting on him in the darkest of hours, if you know what I mean. By the time we started back for Bangalore it was 4 PM. 

But seems our fate was shining bright and the Lion Tailed Macaques that had eluded us for two days came crossing the road right in front of us. Now one more thing I forgot to tell you about that boy at Valparai was that he also told us that these macaques don’t like girls/women and tend to attack single ladies. Go Figure! And needless to say, I was very apprehensive to go anywhere near them. But Mr. A insisted and I went near them only to find out the monkeys were not gender biased at all. 

The road passes right through the LTM habitat and many drivers drove recklessly as we stood watching the macaques. Forest Dept. had appointed two guards to watch over the macaques to prevent roadkills. With a huge grin on our faces at having spotted LTMs we headed down only to be engulfed in mist completely. Now this was even better - A fitting end to a monsoon drive. 


The journey back to Bangalore was filled with myriad conversations on myriads of topics but the most lengthy one that comes to my mind is how I gave Mr. R and the trigger happy Mr.V a long lecture on photography that would’ve made Ansel Adams roll in his grave. ;) You see, if you get me started on Ladakh or Photography, it would be next to impossible to shut me up after that. That being said, it was a lovely weekend escapade and since the rains evaded us, this trip shall be hence known as the pre-monsoon expedition and the monsoon expedition shall cometh soon!

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  1. Wonderful!!! I keep going to Tiruppur, which is quite near Pollachi, to visit my sis in law, but had no idea Valparai was near there! so much for my geography! would love to go sometime.....
    and about all the plastic lying around, looks like its all set to draw the crowds... should go soon,...

  2. awesome.. i'm planning it for long time now, haven't been able to go..

    and Jaguars? no no.. not in India.

    Chinakallar is South India’s Cherapunjee? I thought it was Agumbe

  3. I enjoy your photography. The clouds in the pics look almost unreal. Thanks for sharing such wonderful info.

  4. Wonderful Valparai. Nicely written. Exhaustive information. Thanks.

  5. Absolutely wow pictures!! and yes, its a place i've been wanting to go for sometime now.. hopefuly will happen soon :)

  6. Shall I comment or not!..........ok lets do it!

    A memorable and a unforgettable trip. The presentation is at its best.......

    Lets visit this place again!


  7. I jst love looking at the pictures you click...superb!

  8. ## Anu - he he..happens all the time.. I never knew western ghats were so rich and awesome until i moved to B'lore even though i stayed in South all my life! :D
    It is with great sadness that i say this, but Valparai is fast moving to be another Munnar! Make your visit soon. :(

    ## Sandeep - Well if the expert says so! :)
    I have no clue about wildlife there..just that locals were telling stories of leopards and jaguars and bison and elephants and LTMs that don't like single ladies... :D
    Apparently Chinakallar is the second wettest place after cherrapunjee..but my guess is as good as yours.. maybe it's one of those publicity things that caught on well.

    ## Giovanni - Welcome to my blog and hope to see you more often here! :)
    The clouds and the sky were lovely there.

    ## P.N. Subramanian - I, for one, have been completely charmed by Valparai. Wonderful indeed!
    Welcome to my blog and do visit again! :)

  9. ## Joshi Daniel - Thanks! :)

    ## Aarti -Hey thanks! Go soon... :)

    ## Vinay - :D

    ## Shweta - Thanks you so much! :)

  10. Dear Wondering soul
    ( I am not addressing you by your name)
    simle awesome, writing and the photos...I shall read all the blogs slowly else all will be finished the Leh one..Rupkund will be the last , dont remember how many times I have gone there and when was it last..
    Have anice weekend

  11. Awesome photographs and a brilliant write-up. Your travel write-ups are always magical. The build-up is what grabs my attention....

  12. The panorama image is a professional, calendar quality image! Great shot...

  13. Great presentation and crispy shots. This one would have been of help, if earlier....

  14. And yes Neelima, leopards frequent this place. Two kids were killed in seperate incidents just in last three months at Malakkapara. The killers were trapped recently. Another one dared to roam the market place you stayed, very recently.

  15. This is such an insightful article plus the photos speak wonders of the place! All of these places should be included in our best travel deals and entice a lot of would be travelers to start!

    Your blog is great, you might like to come and party with us at the World Wide Travel Blog Party, don't forget to invite more of your blogger friends along. Definitely the more the merrier! See you there and Kudos to you! :)

  16. Amazing place, nice write-up and really well shot photographs. Which camera do you use?

  17. all r very fantastic snaps... superb..keep it up






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