Saturday, April 11, 2009

Valparai

Valparai is a beautiful town about 100 kms away from Coimbatore. Yes, it's a weekend away! You cannot call it a hill station because, in terms of infrastructure, it is not yet an invitation to tourists. But other than that, it has all the goodies to look forward to. It has sprawling waterfalls (though you need to really burrow into the mountain to find them), exotic landscapes, pleasant weather.

I read recently that Valparai is all set to become the next hub for tourists, but I doubt it is going to happen any time soon. Main reasons are that Valparai is lacking in

- Good hotels (there are a couple of them, but there is absolutely no parking space. About 100 cars can actually jam the town!)
- Food (only 1 decent restaurant we found. There are several messes {food joints, not referring to mess :)}, but barring one, others were veg-non veg combos. I think vegetarians will find it hard!
- No internet, not that it matters on a weekend vacation. But hey, you need internet!

The drive
The drive to Valparai from Coimbatore happens this way: Coimbatore -> Pollachi ->  Azhiyar -> Monkey Falls (foothills fo the ghats) -> Attakatti -> Rottikadai -> Valparai.

Attakatti is a place I learnt from "pirivOm santhippOm" (பிரிவோம் சந்திப்போம்). If Valparai cannot be a hill station yet, think about Attakatti! We only got to pass by it.

But just the drive to Valparai is exotic! Absolutely exotic! For some one who likes to drive the car fast, I deliberately slowed down to about 15kmph all through the journey. Yeah, I irritated the drivers behind me a lot, but blame the place, not me! Radha was also bickering to stop at every silly attraction. I stopped only when the bickering got too much. There were about 40 HPB's (hair pin bends - innovatively called கோண்டை ஊசி வளைவு in தமிழ்). Of these, hpb 9/40 is called Loam's view. It has a thrilling view of the Azhiyar lake below. It should have been called Azhiyar view. We did boating in the Azhiyar lake prior to the drive up to Valparai, but just how massive the lake is can be grasped only from this view. Again hpb 12/40, which we stopped at when returning back is another spectacular area. Without exaggerating, I can say that just the drive up and down is worth the trip!

I had been earlier to Monkey falls, but this time, more to Radha's disappointment, it was closed for forest fires. From Velliangiri (Isha ashram), I had a long-shot glimpse of more than one forest fire, and it was scary! So I presume it was reasonable to close down Monkey falls. Monkey falls is right inside the base of the mountain forest. We came to know later that top slip was closed as well.

"The place"
After we reached  Valparai, due to earlier stated reasons, I was a little disappointed, but hey, the place made up for all that. One surprise was that, while I expected buses to ply from Coimbatore and Pollachi to Valparai, I wasn't expecting a bus network within Valparai. Valparai is like the hub town of several smaller towns surrounding it. Examples, Chinnakalar (home to the beautiful Chinnakalar falls), Balaji Temple, Periyakalar, Chinkona, Mudees - much more! It is a small world out there!

Our trip was a lazy one - so we reached Valparai only by Saturday late evening. We had only Sunday to spend in Valparai. Proper planning could have taken us to Valparai by Saturday morning - we would have had lots to do there. On Sunday morning, we visited Balaji temple. Again, I was driving around lazily, so we reached the foot hill of the temple by 11:50 am, where we got to know that the temple closes by 12PM and stays so until 3PM. And it was a 1km trek up the mountain (no cars) to reach the temple. We barely made it. I had been here earlier once, so it was more for Radha's benefit. The temple was beautiful (you don't get to say that about many temples now) and maintained very well. Though we doubt that it was created as competition for several churches that are not so uncommon in Valparai. I am not clear about the history, though you can make some inferences.

Pebble rock river- the sad story
Earlier on Saturday night, we got a list of places to visit from the hotel management. Our next stop was Chinnakalar falls. But the drive to the place was quite long. After the temple visit, we went back, to the hotel for a few mins and started again. On the way, we had to pass by Kuzhangal Aaru (pebble rock river, கூழாங்கல் ஆறு). It is an innocent looking river, but has a deadly spot in the middle which is supposed to be marshy. It doesn't look that way! It has apparently sucked in more than one unsuspecting tourist. Unfortunately, that very time we passed by, we had another tourist who had just gone down that spot. His companians were desperately trying to enlist help. So Radha stopped an auto and asked them to dial 108 (EMRI). In about 10-15 mins both fire service and ambulance arrived. Meanwhile, a steady crowd was gathering there and people started scolding the tourists. I feel it was bad timing. For people in distress having lost a friend, I am not sure it was time to scold them. I felt very sorry. Besides, the fire service folks tried going into that spot, but no luck for twenty minutes. Many people had written that boy off. They were actually looking for a localite who has apparently done this rescue act before, but couldn't locate him that time. We stayed for an hour there before we left the place. There apparently was a warning sign there, which we couldn't locate. Some one was saying that the boards are stolen and sold for a good price. We later came to know that the boy had passed away. I was wondering about the group's vacation. They had come to Valparai to enjoy the weekend and they had to leave a friend and go back! It was too sober for pictures. We were mulling about whether we should return back to the hotel or proceed as per plan. We finally decided to reach the falls.

Chinnakalar falls
The drive to the falls was as-always pretty. But we lost our way and we took two hours (nearly) to get to the falls. I, however, don't think you get to lose anything when you drive around Valparai. For one, there are no vehicles or people (contrast with Ooty or Kodaikkanal). The scenery is spectacular. Eventually, enroute to the falls, we also got to see Nirar dam. No one around - just us and a boy selling guavas plucked from his home trees. We bought the guavas, did our shUnyA there, played with the touch-me-not's and then left for the falls.

Unfortunately, because of all the unplanned delays, we got to spend exactly five minutes at the falls, because we had to drive down back to Coimbatore. The falls were located deep inside the mountains, so you will have to walk about 1.5 kms to reach there. Just before the falls, a creaky wooden bridge invites you to cross over. I think that is the scariest part before the falls! We stood in the middle of the bridge, took some pics and started back.

We couldn't make it to any of the other places - mudees {not sure what is there}, bison bend {view point} and a couple of other places I don't remember. It didn't matter much to me!

Oh yes, and the drive down!
The real hero of the trip? See the pictures below. Click the notes link for notes about that picture.

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10 comments:

Radha said...

You call them silly attractions??!! The lavender colour small flowers splattered on the inclined mountain besides the road is a silly attraction to you? The spectacular views while driving up the mountain at dusk are silly attractions?? Next time when we go for a trip together, I AM driving!!!

Frank said...

Wonderful article Deepak. I'm a frequent traveler to Valparai. In another 5 years' time I reckon Valparai would be an excellent hillstation for the tourists as the government has taken a lot of steps to improve its infrastructure. Really sad to know about the pebble river incident. Pics are great..

Deepak said...

Thanks Frank!
Given your expertise about the area, your experiences would be a good value add. Please post pointers if you have!

Anupama said...

Aah, if I had seen this blog earlier, I wouldn't have been surprised with marital status and forced to say untruths like you look young :-)

Valparai is soo beautiful. Went there in december with college friends and we went to the falls and spent a good 2 hrs there. Got some group pics here http://picasaweb.google.co.in/anupama.s3/ValparaiTrip#
Your pics are nice!

Sad to know about the death. I came so close to witnessing the bungee death and that has left me so shaken...

Deepak said...

That's why they say - be careful about what you speak! Anyway, you said what you saw right?

Yes akka, I too read about Bhargav - not sure what to say! Easy to blame, but he's not coming back! :(

Frank said...

Valparai is promoted as the Seventh Heaven from May 2007 onwards. Kodai Vizha a three-day festival has been started after a gap of nearly five years and the festival is to showcase Valparai to attract more tourists. A foundation stone was laid for a tourist home by the collector for a 50 bed tourist home. They are also taking efforts to renovate the unused PWD quarters for tourists visiting Valparai. A new boating site is going to be developed just outside Valparai town area itself. A botanical garden has been planned in the area just 100 to 200 meters before the fire station. I heard some of these from the locals, and some articles are seen on the internet too.. hope they broaden the roads for traffic inside the town, and also no good restraunts are available for the tourists to eat, hope these are taken care of too..

vineshkumar said...

Your blog is very nice... i like your blog ....
Madurai Hotels, Pollachi hotels

ashok said...

deepak sir , we ve been a visitor to valparai before two weeks .. me and 7 other frenz enjoyed the trip .. still the place is as u said .. no improvement :( it s a place wer we can enjoy as said in the movie pirivom sandhipom .. let it be the same .. let the valparai people live a undisturbed life .. and the animals too :)

Deepak said...

Ashok,
Thanks for the comment - but then why the sad smile if you want to leave it undisturbed?

Frank said...

Wonderful article Deepak. I'm a frequent traveler to Valparai. In another 5 years' time I reckon Valparai would be an excellent hillstation for the tourists as the government has taken a lot of steps to improve its infrastructure. Really sad to know about the pebble river incident. Pics are great..

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