Written by Siddhartha Krishnan | 5 Min Read
Attappadi, a tribal taluk in Palakkad district, is that corner of the town about which everyone has a story. But folks narrating them always do so in third person, and rarely as a personal experience. It’s not that these places have dubious histories; it’s just that they are mysterious. It was the mystique that piqued my interest at first; later it was the promise of solitude.
There was, however, another selfish reason to visit Attappadi. To recce a certain location; a river stream that I had seen on the internet, for a story that I had begun to write.
We often read about pristine rivers and virgin forests in the descriptions of nature by poets. Soon after, we realize that these places have to be dreamed into life because they are the creations of an imaginative mind. If we are lucky, we may stumble upon them by accident, and rarely by will. But this place seemed real. And I couldn’t leave it to imagination. So last month, I took a cousin along with whom I had been planning a trip to Attappadi for ages, to explore its wonders.
We left home at 7am, taking the NH 966 route, that goes via Mundur to reach Mukkali in Attappadi. The journey was 2.5 hours long, but we had planned to take a minor diversion to Kanhirapuzha Dam halfway into the journey. On this route, such diversions can take one to idyllic spots that are within touching distance of rivers, waterfalls and mountain ranges.
At 8 in the morning, it was childish of us to expect the park adjoining the dam to be open. However, we were in the mood for adventure, so this little failure could not dampen our spirits. We drove on, once again, to be embraced by the sheen of tarmac and the green of the mountains. Kerala is God’s own country for a reason. Within every 100-200 kms, you get a hill station, a forest, a river and a beach, all close to each other. Nature wants to show off. So getting bored is not an option.
After crossing Mundur, we stopped for breakfast at Mannarkkad in one of the many ‘thattukadas’. These small eating joints in Kerala serve the most lip-smacking local delicacies (usually cooked on wood fire) that are unmatched in taste by the upmarket restaurants. What’s more, they don’t burn your pockets.
Egg roast, idiyappams and dosas were on offer. They were delicious.
Recharged, we drove on and reached the foothills of the Western ghats to merge with the Mannarkkad-Anakkatti road. This road thereafter meanders through many hair-pin bends to reach Attappadi. It was spring, and we were told that these forests were at their magical best during monsoons. We may have missed out on that, but nothing stopped our wild minds from imagining those bright greens covered in mist.
We reached Mukkali junction at 10 am. A left from there took us to the entrance of one of the last undisturbed tracts of the Western ghats—Silent Valley National Park. They say that the sound of the cicadas is absent here, hence the name. Our car was now on the interlocked road that took us to a police checkpoint. The place is under constant vigil by the police, and rightly so. Attappadi and its reserve forests are home to three tribal communities—Irulas, Kurumbas and Mudugas. Each of these communities has their unique culture. The forest is also home to rare species of flora and fauna that need protection.
After finishing with the formalities, we headed to the only resort in that part of Attappadi—Treetop Resort, Silent Valley.
We checked into our rooms, freshened up, and took a stroll around the property. The resort had 12 cottages of varying sizes and three 3 tree huts. They offered non-ac rooms which were fairly spacious and clean. The property was sufficiently well-maintained. The amenities included free wi-fi, a swimming pool and a kid’s play area. For an extra charge, they arrange for campfires, jeep trekking and forest safari. The resort has a multi-cuisine restaurant, but the menu has limited options. Our cottage for two was at one end of the property, but we could drive right up to it.
A quick chat with the hotel staff revealed that all the major sightseeing places were at the other end of Attappadi. This included the location that I was in search of. GPS had painted a different picture; so this came as a shock. Two different places having the same name was the problem.
Thankfully, we had an extra day at hand. So we could alter our plans. We made the expedition to the other end of town, right away, and planned to be back before sunset.
Back on the Mannarkkad-Anakkatti road, we were on our way to a viewpoint called Narassimukku. On the way, we saw the Malleswaran Temple, which was on my list of places to see. We had to get back to it later since the sun was blazing by then. Thereafter, we reached a junction where the sign board suggested a road to Ooty. The route was a scenic one; we were told. But at a distance of 95 kms, we knew that this trip had to be a standalone one.
Five minutes later, we saw a bridge. It was called the Bhavani River bridge. We parked the car by the roadside and walked towards it. It looked similar to the place I was in search of, but quickly realised it wasn’t. However, the place was breathtakingly beautiful. You couldn’t see human settlements there with the naked eye, but they are there. Hiding within a blanket of green. The place seemed quite famous, as passersby were taking the diversion to the bridge. A small crowd had gathered to savour the sight of mountains at a distance, and to take a dip in the Bhavani River that originates in the Nilgiri Hills and flows towards the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu. The river was quite shallow. In the monsoons, it is at its fiercest.
We drove on and soon reached the scenic village of Agali. A short drive uphill from there took us to Narassimukku. We saw a few tourists at a distance taking a mountain trail to various vantage points. There were hardly any trees around. It was an open flat land on the top of the hill. We got a clear, panoramic view of the valley. Some scenes from the superhit Malayalam film ‘Ayyappan Koshiyum’, were shot at this location.
Since it was lunchtime, our stomachs had begun to grumble. We headed down hill to Agali to have lunch at a small restaurant that we had spotted on our way up. In places like these, you cannot expect a lavish menu, so we took what was on offer.
Thereafter, we were back on the Anakkatti road, The forest got thicker with every passing mile. A river stream suddenly appeared to our left, which lifted my spirits. ‘Chittur River Stream’ was the place I was in search. A low bridge characterized it. And, of course, a lot more. But the bridge was easier to spot from the road, so I was on the lookout. We passed by a hanging bridge, which happened to be someone’s private property.
GPS urged us to keep going. Could it be trusted in these forests? I wondered.
We halted now and then to ask the locals. But they hadn’t heard of a river stream by that name. My hopes dwindled. Maybe the place wasn’t as idyllic as I had imagined it to be? Maybe such places were too common for the locals to boast about?
GPS, though, was still pleading for us to go further. We drove ahead at a snail’s pace until it asked us to stop. “You have arrived at your destination”, it said. We looked around. Nothing.
“All of this for nothing!” I smirked. My cousin grinned back.
A herdsman with his goats passed by us. We showed him the pictures. He listened patiently to our description of the location. A smile appeared on his face. He pointed northwards and said, “A little more. Just walk”.
100 metres ahead … finally, a glimpse of something that appeared like a bridge. We hurried down the gravel road to meet it.
A minute later, I let out a sigh of relief. The place was exactly as I had thought it to be!
No human settlements in sight. Just a clear stream; its sparkling waters were home to shoals of small fish. The low bridge invited us to sit on its edge and watch the stream flow into the abyss. The surrounding forest embraced us. And the sound of chirping birds nestled within them made us feel welcome.
A man on a scooter crossed the bridge and halted next to us. He was a farmer who grew areca nuts in the forested hills behind us. We were eager to know his story. And he was happy to tell us about the place, its people, their agricultural practices, the changes over the years and anecdotes from his personal life. We didn’t have to provoke him to give away these stories. It was as if he was waiting for someone to talk to.
We spent an hour drenching our feet in the cold, transparent water of the stream. Splashing some of it on our faces and gazing at the ethereal beauty of unspoiled nature. It had been a long day. And this was a fitting end.
We drove back to the resort, feeling contented. The air was much cooler as the sun had begun its descent. The farmers’ stories ignited our minds. We wanted to know more about the tribal communities of Attapadi. At the resort, that evening, we met a young tribal boy, who worked in the resort. He spoke of a small tribal village up in the mountains. The area was supposedly off-limit for tourists. But he assured us that in his company we would be allowed into the village.
We were thrilled at that assurance!
Before I went to sleep that night, I saw a creature that perhaps lent its name to this forested region. It was on the bathroom wall—a leech. Also called ‘Atta’ in Malayalam.
In the next chapter of the Attappadi travel diary …
- Trip to a Muduga Tribal village
- A visit to the Malleswaran temple – a place with a unique history.
- Fun drive to Kava Island Reservoir in Palakkad with family.
About the author –
Siddhartha Krishnan is the author of Two and a Half Rainbows – A Collection of Short Stories. He is also a passionate blogger, and on his website, www.whatsonsidsmind.com, you can find his travel diaries, food stories, book recommendations and movie reviews.
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