How does one feel when he doesn’t get a chance to get out of his hometown for months together? From my own experience of the past four months(Yes, 16 long weeks for a travel-freak) I can tell you that all things in your life ie work, family atmosphere, daily chores all tend to get a bit tired and mundane. The frustration was particularly acute when we couldn’t arrange a trip for the long Independence Day weekend. So when the holidays for Ramzan and Vinayakar Chaturthi arrived to coincide with our wedding anniversary, I made up my mind to fill in a two day trip to Tirunelveli and Courtallam falls, places I had in my mind for a long time. But unfortunately my nephew’s wedding arrived bang on the day of Ramzan and we had no option but to make it a single day trip to Tirunelveli, much to the disappointment of everyone.
My brother-in-law too joined us on the trip and we left Tiruppur, my hometown, by Coimbatore-Nagercoil Express, on the night of August 31 to Tirunelveli. We arrived in Tirunelveli at 6 am. Since we were to travel back the same night, I decided not to book a hotel(Also last minute enquiries revealed that all rooms around Tirunelveli town centre were heavily booked because of the peak wedding season). We freshened up at the Station itself and had an early breakfast at Hotel Janakiram(very neat and tasty restaurant). Then we booked a Tata Indica near the Railway Station and started for our first stop: Manimuthar waterfalls, 50 km from Tirunelveli. We drove through sparse early morning traffic and reached Manimuthar Dam checkpoint at around 8.30 pm. There you pay Rs.15 per head and Rs.15 for the car as forest entrance charges(Another 40 rs was collected as car parking charges one km prior to the checkpoint). From the forest check post, we drove through poorly maintained roads for the next 5 km to reach the falls.
Since it was very early in the day, there were only a few tourist vehicles at the falls. Though the water level was low, we had a wonderful time, having the bathing areas to ourselves because of the limited crowds. After the mandatory photo sessions in the vicinity of the falls and at the Dam entrance, we were off to our main destination of the day: BANANA THEERTHAM FALLS.
To reach Baanatheertham waterfalls, one has to get to Karaiyar Dam, which is 25 km from Ambasamudram, a small town on the way where you get decent eateries and where you can pack your lunch and snacks, which will come in very handy(as we found out to our misery) once you reach the dam. The route from Ambasamudram to Karaiyar dam, especially after Papanasam, from where the hills and greenery start is a really gorgeous one. Just near Papanasam is Agasthiar falls. Because the water level was almost next to nothing at Agasthiyar falls, we decided to skip the place and headed straight on to Karaiyar dam.
We reached the parking area for Karaiyar dam at around 11.30 am and paid the entrance fees at the checkpoint(fees identical to that of Manimuthar dam). From the car parking area, everyone has to walk for almost 1 km to reach the Dam boathouse area. The walkway is through a beautiful forest road and the visuals around you blow away the tiredness of the steep climb. As I got the first glance of the backwaters of the dam, I must confess I was disappointed with the water level. For this time of the year, it was pretty low and I worried what lay ahead for us at the falls. I later heard that the dam is usually full to the brim in November and December when it resembles a sea.
We collected our tickets for the boat ride(Rs 30 per head)and descended down to the water’s edge where the boats were waiting. I must add here that the weather had turned cloudy as we reached the dam and there was a slight drizzle. The weather and the greenery of the hills, more than made up for my disappointment at the water level in the dam and we enjoyed ourselves immensely in the boat ride to the falls. The motorboats take 10 to 15 minutes to reach the waterfalls and since these are small and low-level boats, we can stretch our hands and physically feel the cold waters. Everyone became children on the ride.
After some 10 minutes on the boat, came the moment we were waiting for. As the boat neared the falls, we could hear the roar of the waterfalls and everyone screamed, shrieked and gasped in delight at the sight of the milky white falls, thundering down from lofty heights. After looking at the water level in the dam, we did not anticipate such a volume of water at the falls and we were pleasantly surprised. The surrounding lush greenery provided such a contrast that the water looked really milky from a distance. Really the beauty of the falls in such lush forest surroundings is a sight to behold and no words can adequately describe it. We got down from the boat and just stood dumbstruck, letting the moment and the scenery sink in for a few minutes. We were very happy to have selected such a beautiful place to visit and also cursed ourselves for having missed it for so long.
Then the cameras took over and we took pictures to our heart’s content, although not a single one could do justice to the natural beauty, that was unfolding right in front of our eyes. From the boat landing areas, one has to trek a small hill to reach the bathing area at the middle level of the falls. The authorities have made adequate arrangements for visitors to bath at one edge of the falls. The pool in the middle of the falls is very deep and dangerous to swim in. Many lives have been lost in the pool. Many stories circulate in these areas regarding the falls and every one of them is not pleasant.
The climb up the hill had made us all very hungry. Our snacks proved to be too meagre to sustain us and thankfully some cucumber and guava fruits were available at the falls and we were very grateful for that. Time had flown by and it was 2.30 pm when we reached back to our car. From there, we headed to Sorimuthu Ayyanar temple, 4 km from Karaiyar dam. This is a temple situated in a beautiful spot, surrounded by the river Tamirabharani, which flows all around the temple premises. The location is ideally suited for one-day picnics and people were taking bath in the river and enjoying their lunches cooked right on the river bank. The sight made us even more hungry. Although we wanted to stay there longer and have a bath, our hunger eventually won and we rushed back to Ambasamudram and were lucky to find at 4 pm some Parottas, Biriyani and Chicken for lunch(Hotel Baskar, Ambasamudram).
From there we headed back to Tirunelveli. We purchased the famous Tirunelveli Halwa from the most famous Halwa shop in the town, Iruttukadai Halwa shop(right opposite to the Nellaiyappar temple entrance). Unfortunately, we could not visit the temple. We had a light dinner at Nellai Saravana Bhavan(high-class food and not too expensive either) near the Station, and boarded our train back to Tiruppur.
Though it was just a day’s trip and a very hectic one, we were very happy to have seen such a remote, wonderful waterfall.