Beyond the smoky mountains

Sheila Kumar chances upon Nelliampathy, an idyllic hill station tucked high up in a fold of the Western Ghats above Palakkad

The 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.

There 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, too.
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).
Getting there Nelliampathy is 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:; Greenland Farmhouses (04923-246266/246245); Tropical Hill Resort (04923-246238), e-mail:
When to go: Nelliampathy is perfect all the year round, barring the rainy months of June and July.  

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