When we started off from Kottayam on one rainy day, we had no clue that we would end up satisfying our long standing dream. That of visiting the Idukki Dam. Our goal was simple. We would drive up to Hill View Park, take in the sights and sounds. Drive around. Check off famous destinations from our bucket list and get back home. But, fate, we realised had other plans. And we are not cribbing about the twists and turns that changed our plans. Here's what happened.
To Nadukani, in the rain
At Nadukani, the constant drizzle that had followed us since we started the journey from Kottayam had cleared up a bit. It was misty at the view point. And I prayed fervently for a ray of sunshine to brighten up the view. After all, it is not everyday that one travels to Idukki, right? As if it had sensed my distress, the sun slowly came out of the clouds. The spectacular scene of Moolamattom town, Malankara reservoir and Thodupuzha River unfolded before us.
From here on, our luck changed. We were under the impression that Idukki Dam will be open to public only during Onam and Christmas. But when we spoke to people at Nadukani, we were told that it was open on weekends and other holidays too. And that, changed everything. We put the checklist away and headed straight for the dam.
Dams. Three of them
There are three dams under Idukki hydroelectric project. Kulamavu, Cheruthoni and Idukki. To reach Idukki dam, you have to travel over Kulamavu dam. But here, the mist ruled and we had to be satisfied with a hazy view of the premises.
You will see the sign boards that point toward the famous Vaishali viewpoint, as you drive by. The cave facing the reservoir was rechristened Vaishali caves after the movie of the same name directed by Bharathan hit the screens in the late 1980s. We kept it for another day.
Idukki dam, constructed with the purpose of holding Periyar River that ran between Kuruvan and Kurathi mountains, is the prominent and bigger than the Cheruthoni dam. Cheruthoni dam was built to prevent the water stored in Idukki dam from spilling out through Cheruthoni River.
Idukki dam, which is India’s first arch dam, is made of concrete. It has no shutters. When the water level in Idukki dam rises above the stipulated level, the excess water is spilled out through Cheruthoni dam. This dam has five shutters. Cheruthoni dam, ranked among the hundred tallest dams in the world, is a gravity dam. The construction cost of Idukki dam, completed in 1974, was Rs11 crores. For Cheruthoni dam, it was Rs 25 crores. Kulamavu dam is the smallest of the three. This dam carries the water collected in Idukki dam to Moolamattam Power Station through various tunnels.
We have to go through stringent checking to enter the dam. Cameras and mobile phones are banned inside. You can entrust them at the ticket counter of keep them in your vehicle. If you are a travel bug, you can stroll around. Otherwise, you can hire a battery charged buggy car at Rs 40. The buggy cars travel 2.5 kilometre distance from Cheruthoni to Idukki at a relaxed pace. The car will go beyond the tunnel built out of Kurathi mala. Those who are interested to watch Vaishali Cave situated in Kuravan mala can alight there. But, the car won’t wait for you. If you can find space in some other car that starts from Kuravan mala, you can show the ticket and get in. If you can’t find one, there is no option than to take a walk!
During Onam and Christmas seasons, the dam will be open for a month. And you can go boating in the reservoir for Rs 650.
Hill View Park
From Hill View Park, you can enjoy the spectacular view of Idukki and Cheruthoni dams from the height of 350 feet. There is a Park for children to play and a lake with boating facility as well. No camera ban here. So you can capture the beauty of Idukki as much as you like. The entry fee for adults is Rs 20.
Our next destination is the valley of Idukki dam. As we travel from Cheruthoni to Idukki, we can see an indicative board showing Idukki dam. You pass through a narrow way to reach the gate of KSEB. Show the entry ticket at the gate and you can go look at the huge dam from its base. It is indeed a scary sight to look up at the massive dam standing over you like a colossus.
On our way back we decided to visit Calvary Mount. Calvary Mount is not just a tourist destination. Thousands throng this hill to worship too. The drizzle caught up with us. We were told that on a clear day we could see enchanting visuals of Idukki from here. Visiting time is between 8 am to 6.30 pm. Entry fee is Rs. 20.
Ten kilometers from Kattapana, you are in Anchuruli. The highlights here are Idukki reservoir and a four kilometer long tunnel that carries water from Irattyaar dam to Idukki dam. It is a chilling experience to look down, on a rainy day, at the heavy waterfall from the massive tunnel. Despite many factors that attract tourist, one cannot fail to notice the lack of security measures here. It is really dangerous venturing to capture a snap of the waterfall from the tunnel. Equally unsafe is the narrow way leading to the face of the tunnel. A slip of feet could be fatal. I sincerely feel that some safety measures must be taken to avoid mishaps - either a fence or a couple of guards to guide and help the tourists.
Similarly, it is unsafe entering the tunnel during summer, as there is a chance for suffocation. When the rains are heavy at Irattayaar, water will gush forth through the tunnel. Tourists, often unaware of this, might get into the torrent and fall into the abyss. It is really puzzling why the authorities are reluctant to take safety measures at places like this where the tourism options are very high.
Hanging bridge at AyyappanKovil
Remember the charming hanging bridge captured in the Jeethu Joseph film ‘Life of Josutty’, for the visuals of the song ‘mele mele…’ We were heading that way. When you start from Anchuruli, there is a place called Mattukatta on Kanchiyaar route. Take a right turn from there, and you end up on the banks of the river that connects Ayyappankovil – Kanchiyaar panchayats.
When the water level in Idukki reservoir rises, these areas become submerged. On such occasions, people at both ends will have to recourse to a country boat or a raft or a ferry. The hanging bridge is actually the not-so-happy result of the people’s outcry for a bridge that carries vehicles to and fro. Only a hanging bridge was permissible as it fell inside the territory of Idukki dam. The 200 metre long hanging bridge which cost Rs 2 crores was completed in 2013.
Night fell when we reached Kottayam, taking the route via Kuttikanam. It was 9 pm. However, I have to admit that the journey offered me some real reason to cheer, chiefly because it was not a pre-planned one.
Idukki is enticing, thrilling and leaves a lasting impression in your mind. Once you have known her, you would definitely share my opinion!