Beyond the smoky mountains
Sheila Kumar chances upon Nelliampathy,
an idyllic hill station tucked high up in a fold of the Western Ghats above
whole area is jaw-droppingly beautiful, even for a typical Kerala landscape.
Navy ribbons of road, red-tiled houses, topography in all possible shades of
green, the emerald of the trees complementing the parrot-wing hue of the paddy
fields. Skies that seem to have lent some of its smoky blueness to the looming
wall of the Western Ghats. Here and there spurt needle-thin waterfalls, the road
signs are all clearly marked in English and Malayalam and at some stage, you
become convinced the journey is more fun than the destination.
This impression is underlined when you come to the
Pothundy Reservoir just outside Nenmara. There is a landscaped garden which is a
riot of colour in season. You climb up two flights of steep concrete steps and
once you step on the tarmac up there, it’s like a still water landscape has come
alive just for your delectation. The waters lie still and calm, ringed by blue
hills with thin wreaths of mist weaving in and out of them. The Pothundy
Reservoir is fed by the Manchady, Kalchandy and Challa rivers; in turn, the
reservoir feeds the Gayathri river at the dam site.|
However, Nelliampathy awaits, at 1,400m/3,500 ft
above sea level, nice hairpin curves up the Sahya ranges, via the hill that lies
to the right of the reservoir. The forest is dense and verdant and packed with
elephant, bison, cats, langur and deer; we surprised a huge sambar deer as we
drove up. The hills up on top range from 467 mts to 1,572 and is packed at
ground level with coffee, tea and orange plantations, and yes, swamps of the
Nelli (gooseberry) trees that supposedly gives the place its name.
are two ways to ’do’ Nelliampathy. Once you park yourself in one of the resorts,
you can hire a four-wheel drive, experienced driver at the wheel and loquacious
guide with you, and hit the road. Or else, you can pull on your trekking boots,
pack your backpack with biscuits, banana chips and water, and hit the road.
Either way, it turns out to be an adventure. The road descends into rutty tracks
that put one forcibly in mind of the ’road’ hewn out of the mountains ahead of
Srinagar in J&K. At some stage of the journey, the inclines you will
traverse in the jeep are almost vertical and call for extreme pragmatism and a
serene frame of mind. The trekking paths are rough-hewn, too, and for their
part, call for dexterity...and of course, you need to look out for all the
slithering, whirring and flying denizens of the jungle.
So what do you do in Nelliampathy? Well, you drive
down for a picnic by the Pothundy Reservoir. You indulge in a spot of animal and
bird watching; the Nelliampathy hills are known for the Malabar Hornbill as well
as the chubby Malabar Squirrel, amongst other wildlife. You go fishing or take a
boat ride on the river. You trek to Seethargundu, Palakapandy, Karapara, even
the famous Parambikulam Reserve which is not too far away. Then again, maybe you
just chill. In fact, I suspect the last could well end up as the main attraction
of this hill station.
While there are a few peaks affording some truly
awesome rivers, the Raja’s Cliff at Maampara is not to be missed. A glassless
knoll at almost 1,600 mts above sea level, Maampara is accessed by a jungle path
that makes a mockery of more conventional roads, bone-jarringly rocky and very
steep. The view is amazing, though we weren’t able to stick around for long, our
guide having caught the scent of a lone (and therefore dangerous) tusker.
On a clear day (which is pretty much most of the
time, if you wait for the mist that rises up from the valley bottom to disperse)
you can see the Chaliyar, Meenkara and Aliyar dams sparkling down below,
Pollachi and Coimbatore can be glimpsed to one side, Palakkad to another, and
directly down below lies the pastoral hamlet of Kollengode. The summit of the
peak lies directly in the Palghat Gap so there is a perpetual gale blowing up
there, very exhilarating but with full potential to carry you away,
Other attractions are Kesavan Para, the Victoria
Church and the Sitargundu Viewpoint. The myth goes that Sita came this way,
probably on her return from the Lanka sojourn, sat by a deep well that seemed
carved out of the side of the Western Ghats, and rested awhile. There is a small
Devi temple atop an adjacent hill, Kollengode down below. The government, as do
one or two of the local plantations, grows oranges, so you can pick up some
bottles of the very sweet squash, if you are so inclined, along with the other
Nelliampathy attractions like coffee, tea, guava preserve and plant cuttings
(the hydrangeas are especially fine specimen).
about 60 km to the south of Palakkad town and approximately 38 km from Nenmara
in the foothills. A very pleasant drive since the roads (NH-7 from Bangalore and
then, NH-47) are of international standard most of the way. The nearest airport
is Coimbatore, 105 km away.
Accommodation: Nelliampathy has just a handful of
resorts/hotels, the best among them being ITL Resorts (04923-246464/246357),
e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Greenland Farmhouses (04923-246266/246245);
Tropical Hill Resort (04923-246238), e-mail: email@example.com|
When to go: Nelliampathy is perfect all the year
round, barring the rainy months of June and July.