There was a palpable excitement in the air as we got ready for our trip to Thoovanam Waterfalls. Our plan was simple: drive to Alaampetty, trek through the forest, and stay the night at a log house right next to the waterfall.
Located in the Marayoor-Munnar high ranges, Thoovanam comes under the Chinnar wildlife sanctuary. Located at a distance of 8 kilometers from the Marayoor-Udumalpet state highway, the waters of this amazing natural spectacle falls from a height of 84 feet. The trekking that begins from the Alaampetty Eco Shop under the Karimutti forest station ends near the waterfall.
We make an early start to reach Munnar by dawn, our route passes through Rajamalai and Marayoor. We take in the sights and smells of Marayoor, which is famous for its sandalwood forests and jaggery. We report at Alaampetty Eco Shop by 2pm in the afternoon. We had booked our accommodation a month in advance and we are assigned a group of four watchers - Nagarajan, Maniyan, Selvan and Vijay - who will be our guides and cooks during our trek and stay.
We move into the forest from the main road, and continue travelling via a cleared pathway. In that typical forest topography, with hills and descents and huge trees, it appeared as if the leaves were complaining about the lack of rain the previous week. Chinnar, which lies in the rain-shadow region, close to Tamil Nadu border, has a climate quite distinctly different from the one experienced in Kerala. When Kerala gets drenched in monsoons, Chinnar is dry, consequently, even the plants and trees flower in different times of the year. On entering Kerala from Tamil Nadu, the vegetation follows a pattern of shrubbery, followed by rain forests, and later green lands. One also gets a visual treat of butterflies, which are unique to this topography. We are told that there are more than 45 varieties of butterflies are found here.
The watchers start talking to us. Most of the people who come for this trek are from Tamil Nadu, they tell us. And as we move into the forest, they show us the foot prints of elephants and leopards near the stream flowing around the rocks. They also kept us entertained with stories of their previous trekking experiences and the trekkers whom they had accompanied. There was once was a set of tourists who came from Sri Lanka to take photographs of the birds here. They snapped the photos of over 60 different birds of here. The watcher, Selva who told us the story, explained that he himself, who was born here was surprised that there were so many different birds in the area.
There are many like Selva who are trained to become Forest Guards and watchers. High school education for all is an issue in this remote village. The nearest high school is at Marayoor and most of the people here end their schooling at the Upper Primary level. Selvan has completed his tenth class, and after the training, has been working as a forest guard for over 12 years now. He goes on to tell us that the log house where out next halt was planned, was built with by them - Nagarajan and Vijay, among others. And then he goes to join his friends to refer a book once presented to them by a group of foreign tourists, the four forest watchers were attempting to identify the different birds that were perched in the forest around them.
The pathway narrowed as we moved deeper into the forest. Across the stream we were welcomed by the shade of numerous tress. The comment by a guard that the branch of a mango tree that extended down was a resting ground for the leopard, made us look around carefully to confirm, before proceeding further, in a relaxed and unhurried manner. Almost half way through to our destination, we could hear the rumblings of the waterfalls. Beneath us was the raging Pampaar, and around it was a bamboo forest. A slight slip and we could fall down right into the bamboo forest.
Finally, we reach a giant rocky hill, which was bordered by firangipaani trees, bearing the most fragrant flowers. The slightest whiff of a wind, the flowers fell down around us. In spite of the fatigue of walking for about an hour and a half, our legs speeded us up with the knowledge that the destination was near. The farther we walked, the more we heard the water singing to us, beckoning us.
Standing in front of the unbelievingly wild allure of Thoovanam, we eventually sensed the fulfilment of a long time dream of visiting this beauty. The trekking technically ends at the waterfalls, but the log house, where we would spend the night, was across the waterfalls. In the comfort and confidence of their experience, the forest watchers pulled out the long rope from their bags, tied it around two trees on either sides of the river, and helped us across the river. Our three-year-old traveller, Angela, who co-operated superbly by not even demanding us to carry her except when the pathway was too cluttered for her, was thrilled at the sight of frothing water. When Maniyan carried her to the rocks and made her sit on it with her feet dangling in the water, she was very happy. Arjun, our navy man, who spends 6 months at sea and six on land, was the next the follow. For the only person, who was actually afraid to cross the river, a super crossing was offered by the four watchers. They almost carried him across.
Another steep ascend and we reached the log house, where were we could clearly see the mist of the waterfalls. The three-hour-long walk was totally worth it. We dropped all our bags in front of the log house, and walked near the waterfalls to bid good-bye to the receding sunrays that pampered every drop of water until the sun finally sank.
We made a fire in front of the house with fire wood collected from the surrounding forest and sipped a glass of hot black tea. The forest watchers, meanwhile, got busy with the dinner preparation, serving us an awesome meal of rice, sambar, pappadams and pickles.
And at 9:30 PM
We lingered around the waterfall for a while more, watching the rain clouds fighting for the privilege to shadow the moon. The photographer of our group made the best of the chance and attempted some light painting photography. The industrious man had to struggle for over an hour on the slippery rocks before he got a satisfactory photograph.
Our dreams that night in the log house were of the bamboo forests bathed in moonlight. Though we tried to listen to the sounds of an elephant that might stamp its way to us, all we could hear was the rhythm of water cascading down the rocks. The morning was brief, with another glass of hot tea, a short trek and breakfast of chapathi with dal curry and fried pieces of a freshly caught fish by Maniyan.
We left the log house at 11.45 in the day, with the camera packed safely in the bag for the waterfall crossing. On our way back we saw some squirrels jumping from one tree to another. As we walked away, we could hear the sound of the waterfall becoming fainter. And soon, we were back in the village. The memories of a night spent near the the waterfalls etched deep into our minds.
You get a glimpse of the waterfalls from the road on the way to Chinar. There are also facilities to travel through the forest and watch the waterfall safely or to take bath in it. The rates of this three-hour trekking stands at Rs. 225 for locals and Rs. 600 for foreigners. Animals such as elephants, bisons, leopard, langurs, wolves and deer might also decide to pay you a visit during the trek. The waterfalls is open all around the year.