A bruised and swollen, mid-October sky eclipses the sun as we head towards Athirapally Falls from Cherai Beach Resort, where we are booked on this trip to Kerala. At first it’s only a whip of lightning that flashes above us. However, it soon gives way to chains of molten silver that rattles across the wedge of sky.
“We are going to have a huge downpour”, Hari, our chauffeur, tells us. “Not to worry. Hopefully you will get lucky and see the best of Athirapally. We’re nearing the end of the monsoons now. So you could see some sunlight by the time we reach the waterfalls,” continues Hari, on seeing the looks of dismay and concern writ large on our faces.
No sooner has Hari spoken and a few more kilometers on, tiny droplets of rain strike the windows and windscreen of our Innova. The <g data-gr-id="140">ratapat</g> of rain swells and comes down in blinding torrents, blurring everything out of vision. Hari slows down and deftly negotiates the car through the serpentine black ribbon of highway that is well paved but narrow. It is flanked by swaying palms and jackfruit trees, interspersed with vast and dense stretches of a medley of green vegetation. He artfully dodges and avoids every animate and inanimate creature – both two and four-legged, scurrying and trundling on the road.
Mercifully, the downpour turns to a moderate patter, and from a patter to a scattered plop-thump of blobs as we get closer to our destination. We make a brief stop at a wayside eatery to partake of steaming hot chaya as the locals call the quintessential brew. The heavenly deluge of a while ago compels us to the indulgence. And it’s not just the beverage, but more. The air around us is redolent with cooking food, nay, frying snacks, perfumed with spices with an overtone of garlic. The temptation to avoid the binge weakens by the second and we succumb to the lusty call of our palates. We have a round of <g data-gr-id="151">pazham</g> <g data-gr-id="152">pori</g>, also known as <g data-gr-id="153">ethakka</g> appam, the all-time favourite snack of the Malayalees. I decide to try the snack that I have so often seen served in <g data-gr-id="154">long haul</g> trains to and from Kerala, but not ventured to ever have! These <g data-gr-id="342"><g data-gr-id="155">bhajjias</g>,</g> ripened plantain slices dipped in all-flour batter and deep fried in oil, appear a trifle insipid on our taste buds that beg spicier munchies to suit the weather. So it’s a guilty but highly delectable course of crisp <g data-gr-id="156">ulli</g> and <g data-gr-id="157">parippu</g> vadas or onion and lentil fritters, generously peppered with red chillis.
Our gustatory impulses sated, we continue on our way to Athirapally. The sky is still <g data-gr-id="339">overcast</g> but the drape of drizzles has stopped. The forest thickens as we approach Athirapally and the drive is ravishingly wild and surreally magnificent. As we drive closer to our target through the windswept, rain-doused woods, we warm to the ambient sights and sounds of the forest. The splendorous, 80-feet high and 330-feet wide Athirapally falls, often referred to as India’s Niagara, begins in the Sholayar River which is a tributary of the 145 km-long Chalakudy River, Kerala’s fourth longest river, originating in the Annamalai region of Tamil Nadu. The river, celadon at times, murky brown or glistening silver at other times, is a beauty in itself as it winds its way through Palakkad, Thrissur and Ernakulam, before tumbling into the Arabian Sea. However, the river’s raging beauty is best seen at Athirapallu, the aqua avalanche on the fringes of Sholayar rainforests, a veritable escape from the frenetic pace of urban existence. The riparian forests ridden with evergreen flora and several species from the <g data-gr-id="336">wild,</g> is a biodiversity hotspot along with the <g data-gr-id="137">Chalukudy</g> River, which contains numerous species of fresh water fishes, many of them considered endangered.
We alight from our vehicle and follow a well laid stone pathway to reach the falls. A litany of voices greets us as we come upon the aqua territory. Other picnickers, locals by the looks of it, are already there. They are having a dip in the rivulets or simply sitting on the several rain-drenched boulders of all sizes, aiming their digital devices at various points in their surrounds. The rocky area that slopes down to the water body is littered with <g data-gr-id="147">half submerged</g> boulders covered with dull green moss. Together with the falls, we are cocooned by lush forests which resonate with the ambient cacophony orchestrated by countless winged residents from their hidden perch. We move towards a barricaded precipice to get one of the best views of the boisterous and belligerent pristine white froth as it thunders down in a perfectly vertical descent, sending up smoking splashes of water.
A blue-gray mist wraps itself gently around the surrounding mountains and river as it forks into fingers of streams, lazily gliding over mossy, slippery rocks that lie strewn across its path. After lounging on the rocky surface overlooking the falls, we make our way carefully down stony and slippery steps to reach the base of the waterfalls. A few steps down, we realise we are not appropriately booted for the trek! We remove our sandals and traipse down the path, barefooted, lugging our footwear in hand! We take a good twenty minutes to accomplish the task. The trek is well worth the effort, for we get one of the most splendorous views of the copious plunge as the water falls in swathes down the deep ravines and surges through the stony slopes at a riotous speed. As I revel in this aqueous beauty, the child within me is abruptly overcome by wonder at nature’s many hues. Nothing seems more invigorating than standing at the foot of the falls and being enveloped by the magical spray that shoots up in a steady continuum. The foamy falls as its crashes on the rocks, sends up jets of water that rise to meet the swirling mist and then merge with the hanging clouds. The sight has us mesmerised and we are forced to tear our gaze off this sensuous drama of nature as we realise we have been drenched by the deluge. Our attires firmly hug our skin and the humidity does nothing to ease the shivers we experience.
No wonder then, Athirapally has been a favourite with India’s <g data-gr-id="130">tinseltown</g>. If <g data-gr-id="131">Airshwarya</g> Rai has cooed Barso Re Megha from the flick Guru, waltzing atop a rock a couple of hundred metres off the drop zone, other heroines have sizzled beneath the enchanting deluge.
Athirapally, which catapulted to fame with Punnagai Mannan, the Tamil blockbuster, has since been a much sought after locale for film shootings that include Dil Se and Sarfarosh.
Our visual senses lust for more watery experiences and we head off to Chapra and Vazhachal Falls, 2 km and 5 km away from Athirapally. Though less known to most visitors outside Kerala, Chapra is just as captivating, tumbling right onto the road. The brooding sky yet again sends down endless deluges of rain and we are forced to stash away our cameras in the safe confines of the car. Well, though we are disappointed at not being able to capture the wondrous sights unraveling before us, we are happy to drink in the delights, uninterrupted by the need to have testimonies of our visit!
We wind up our Athirapally visit on the second day by taking leisurely strolls on the promenade, overlooking the Chinese Fishing Nets. We are greeted here by sprightly young school kids out on a picnic, posing for a photoshoot!
Air: Cochin Airport is the nearest airport to Athirapally which is 40 km away.
Rail: Kochi and Thrissur are two major railways junctions nearby. The nearest railway station is Chalakudy Railway Station, 32 km from Athirapally.
Road: Buses ply at regular intervals between all points in Kerala.
Cherai Beach Resort in Kochi is 85 km from Athirapally. Anekotta is 88km from Athirapally and 2 km from the temple town of Guruvayoor.
However, there are plenty of <g data-gr-id="365">budget</g>, average and star properties (Hotels & Resorts) to suit all pockets at both Kochi, and Thrissur, which serve as a base to visit Athirapalli and the surrounds.