Barely 35 km south of Thrissur town, a serpentine road shoots up and ribbons through dense foliage to the grassy-green Anaimalai mountain range of Tamil Nadu. On a few occasions, it offers a glimpse of a flat, elevated landmass spilling out milky-white water from a height of about 100 feet, making up the most scenic waterfall of South India – the Athirapally falls, affectionately called the “Niagara of India”.
It was the sixth day of my uncharted wander on two wheels into the heartland of India’s most literate state and the suggestion came from Sharanya, my friend and host at Thrissur –“ You cannot miss Athirappilly Falls in this monsoon season, its simply stunning!”. After twisting and twirling underneath the compact canopies on the Anaimalai road and reaching the point offering the first glimpse of the falls, I knew she was right.
Athirapally falls has practically no settlements around it; the buzzing junction where you need to alight for the trek to the falls is dotted with shops selling tender coconuts and vernacular plastic gifts for a holiday crowd.
After parking my bike on a lot carved out of the teak forests, I started walking to the falls. It was the time of Onam (Kerala’s biggest festival) and the holiday crowd enjoyed themselves on the rocky bed of the Chalakudy River. The water swiftly gurgled through the rocks and on the edge of the bed, took a 100 feet plunge, creating a jaw-dropping panorama.
I cautiously took the slippery trail leading to where the falls hit the surface. The impact of the water plummeting down was so intense that it created a smoky ambience with showers jetting in from all directions. Within minutes, I was all wet and had to take refuge under a local guide’s umbrella. My camera’s lens was flooded and had to shut it off to prevent permanent damage, but not before sneaking in a few shots.
On my trek back, I stopped to watch the flooding point from a distance. I could spot a few couples getting wet and cozy – recreating a movie scene. No wonder, Athirapally has always been a favorite with many Indian film directors. Without any chance for me to create a similar scene, I walked up in search of a romantic encounter with nature instead and sat on a stationary rock at the riverbed.
The balmy air and the refreshing drizzle infused a sense of peace and calmness as I watched a herd of elephants emerging out from the dense forest on the opposite side of the river. They entered the water and made merry, oblivious to the humans on the other side. In the next moment, a yellow beaked avian flew over the top of my head and got lost in the green forests. Was that the Great Indian Hornbill? Oh yes, it was! It was the best moment of my trip to Athirapally- spotting Kerala’s state bird in the most unrealized way.