Valparai Series – Part 1: An Introduction

This series is a compilation from several visits to our favourite place – Valparai,  a pretty little ‘tea town’ in the Anamalai range of the Western Ghats, some 100km south of Coimbatore.

Valparai - A Pretty Little Tea Town In Tamil Nadu

The Anai-malais [literally Elephant Mountains] rise after the Palghat Gap, touching both Tamil Nadu and Kerala.   Valparai to Munnar is a mere 30km as the crow flies. However the inconvenient High Range mountains in the middle make the conventional road route at least 5 times longer!

 

Now if only we were crows ……… On second thoughts who wants to be a crow?  Nothing against crows per se, they are highly intelligent birds but they are birds at the end of the day.  

The Valparai Plateau comprises gently rolling mounds covered with tea plantation, interspersed with patches of dense shola forest against a backdrop of high mountains. Add to that some azure blue lakes to complete the canvas.

Valparai is a biodiversity region in the outer buffer zone of the Anamalai Tiger Reserve. Most plantation companies now actively cooperate to maintain the wildlife corridor and to increase the rainforest cover in their respective estates.

Valparai

 

Getting to Valparai:

For us, the most convenient way to get there is via Coimbatore which is well connected to Mumbai by train and air. Our faithful Coimbatore taxi driver Mr Jagdeesan picks us up and ferries us across to Valparai. We have known him for seven years now ever since our first trip to the Nilgiris.   He is a Nilgiris native, we clicked very well on the first trip itself, and he has since taken us to places we would never have known about from any tour guide. But that is for a separate post and now back to Valparai.

A drop to Valparai by taxi from Coimbatore costs around INR2000 depending on the vehicle.     Infrequent direct buses ply from Coimbatore to Valparai.  Buses are available frequently from Coimbatore to Pollachi.  Pollachi to Valparai is a frequent service.

From the Kerala side no matter what your starting point be, the route is via Chalakudy.  Buses ply at regular intervals from Chalakudy to Pollachi with several stopping at Valparai town.  Those taking the C-P bus should check that the bus goes via Valparai as some take the bypass route to Rottikadai.

 

From Coimbatore, the road goes via Pollachi and Aliyar (Azhiyar) which boasts of a pretty reservoir.  Those who watch south Indian movies will find the locale familiar.

X2Aliyar

Shortly after Aliyar come the Monkey Falls.  No prizes for guessing how they got this name!  During the pendency of the Supreme Court stay on entry into tiger reserves, the Monkey Falls were off limits for a short period.  They are open to visitors now but there is hardly any water at the moment due to the poor monsoons of 2012.  In a normal monsoon, they are magnificent.

X3Monkey Falls

X3AMonkey

Soon thereafter follow a series of picturesque hairpin bends all the way upto Attakatty
X4hAIRPIN BENDS

Nilgiri Tahr are often seen by the roadside near Loams View Point (9th Bend).  Nilgiri Tahr are classified as highly endangered though healthy populations exist locally.  In Valparai they are seen at relatively low altitudes whereas in the Nilgiris they inhabit peaks above 2000m.
X4nILGIRI TAHR

Attakatty has a forest check post and rest house.
X4AWILDBOAR

The first of the sprawling tea estates appear soon after Attakatty.
Here is the aptly named Waterfall Tea Estate.  Note: Do not drink the tea at their fancy estate stall, it is really awful.  The tea at the roadside stall around the corner is far superior and cheaper to boot.  The Waterfall Estate has the cheapest tea bungalows with per night stays starting at INR1700.  However, this is 20km from Valparai so if you do not have your own vehicle and you want to stay here, do consider how you would like to move around.
X5wATERFALL ESTATE

Accommodation:

Green Hills is the only proper hotel in Valparai. It is decent and well appointed as well as reasonable,  but being the only place with a licenced bar it tends to attract a certain clientele.   For families, it is better to choose from the many decent home stays and lodges or if the budget permits and you have your own vehicle, then the higher priced tea bungalows are ideal.   I have compiled a list with contact details of most of the available accommodation in Valparai, not sure if I may post that link here but those who are interested are welcome to ask and I will share the link.

On our first visit we tried a home stay run by the Green Hills hotel in a quiet part of the town overlooking a tea estate and the majestic Grass Hills. We stayed then for a week and liked it so much that we have never needed to look elsewhere since. Now we are treated like family!

Food:

Green Hills has a restaurant that is dingy and uninviting but their food is delicious.  Some of the home stays provide meals, some do not have this facility.  There are several restaurants, food stalls and messes along the one and only main road where you can enjoy a cheap and delicious meal.  Besides this there are umpteen bakeries serving hot snacks, cakes and locally grown tea.  The problem arises for strict vegetarians who will not eat vegetarian food in a non veg establishment, and as we all know there are many such good folk not just in Tamil Nadu but all over India.   I have seen only one place near the Gandhi Bus Stand – the Sabari Mess – which proclaims itself to be “Veg Only“.   No personal experience but you can not go too wrong with the local food.  We dined at the Plaza on the main road opposite the Police Station.  It was consistently good with excellent service and spotlessly clean.     For us, once we are on to a good thing, we are reluctant to experiment with something new so as with the home stay, the staff at Plaza now also treat us as long lost friends.  I did notice a Mary Matha Mess in the adjoining building on the first floor which seemed to be popular.  Mess in these parts  means restaurant or a place where meals are served.

 

Getting Around:

Valparai is perfect for walking and that is what we do there – walk, walk and walk. Autos and taxis are also easily available at negotiable rates, and public buses conveniently ply to every corner of the region at regular intervals from the Gandhi Bus Stand on the main road.   Locals are very helpful.  Signboards on buses are in Tamil only so for those who cannot read the script, do not hesitate to ask.

 

 

The weather is pleasantly cool in winter, wet and misty in the rains and comfortably warm in the summer.

Though nowhere near as popular as Munnar and Ooty, Valparai does get its fair share of tourists from the southern states in holiday periods and on weekends. As in the rest of India, places of worship crown the ‘must see’ list. The Balaji Ko-il and the Annai Velankanni Church attract a large number of pilgrims from nearby areas on auspicious days.  That with the tea estates, the view points,the dams and the waterfalls are enough to ensure a perfect holiday with wildlife sighting an added bonus.

That is sufficient verbiage for an introductory post. Further chapters coming up soon ………

30 Comments

  • Very nice post about Valparai. One day I will go there, actually I want to walk from Valparai to Munnar – as crow flies but so far I an unable to obtain any information. Local people may provide some once I am there.

    • Gita AM says:

      Thanks Praveen. Valparai is indeed a great place for those who enjoy walking, that is why we try and go at least once every year. You can walk through to Munnar but some of that route passes restricted forest area so you will need a permit from the Manombolly Range Office. Also, this is elephant terrain so some caution is necessary.

  • A place beautifully narrated with stunning pictures.
    Tx for this sharing this post with us.

    Can you also re-look at the captions of your pictures in your future posts…the font size is slightly larger and instead of writing the same on the picture, you can simply write the captions as a text in the bottom of the picture place holder. This is just a suggestion, so please don’t mind.

    • Gita AM says:

      Thanks Amitava and I certainly do not mind. You are absolutely right, the captions look odd in the body of the image. I have done as you suggested in subsequent entries.

  • SilentSoul says:

    Gita ji, tks for sharing this log about a place unknown to me. through your camera and pen, I have enjoyed the trip. The foto of tea gardens is very beautiful

    waiting for next part and hope to see more bigger fotos

    • Gita AM says:

      Thanks Silent Soul.

      Valparai is relatively unknown outside south India.

      About bigger pics, I thought these were too big and planned to use a smaller size in subsequent posts!

  • D.L.Narayan says:

    When I first glanced at the title, I mistook it for a travelogue of Valparaiso, the Chilean port. The names are so similar. Did not know that the Annamalai meant Elephant Hill and that the correct spelling is Anamalai.

    You seemed to be unusually well-informed about the Nilgiris, going by your comments on other posts. This article reinforces that impression. You have described with rare felicity and elegance about this largely unknown place. Great pics too.

    The delightful hors d’oeuvre has whetted the appetite. Hope that you wont be making us wait too long for the main course.

  • Gita AM says:

    Thank you DL Narayan.

    It is actually pronounced Aanai – elephant Malai – hill/mountain. Even I used to pronounce it earlier as Annaa – brother, rather than Aanai!

    Spelling is subjective so I have adopted the spelling that the TN Forest Dept uses which is Anamalais. I have been very often to remoter areas of the Nilgiris, we try and go at least once a year so yes I could say that for an outsider, I am reasonably well informed about the places we have stayed at in various parts of the Western Ghats.

    I believe that Chap.2 is due to be published on 29/1. I have been busy of late but will try and at least complete Chap.3 sometime today.

  • Sahil Sethi says:

    Gita Mam, Beautiful pics as usual, specially the Hair pin bends and the floral pics.
    Great to see on Ghumakkar as well.

  • Abheeruchi says:

    Hi,

    Nice post and pics. I really liked the hairpin bend pic. Never knew about this place. Thanks for Introduction to place. As for us , Ooty and Kodai kanal is still due for us, Valaparai is also now in our list.Thanks for sharing.

  • Gita Jee

    Your post was just a treat to watch . I was just lost as if in heaven . Such beautiful scenes i think can be seen only in Himalayas I suppose. But finally I got little bit disappointed on this because I am pure veggie and don’t eat food in non veg restaurant. Also please try to put pictures of smaller size so that the size can be accommodated in the computer screen. Some of them were larger .

    And yaa Your post on Jaipur did help me . So I thank you from bottom of my heart for sharing that one again.

    • Gita AM says:

      Thank you Vishal.

      The Western Ghats are beautiful in their own right, substantially richer in flora and fauna than the Himalayas. All that is missing is the snow.

      Pure veggies in Valparai can eat at Sabari Mess.

      Im getting confused about big and small pics. I will be using smaller sizes from now on but according to Silent Soul, these pics are too small!

      Looking forward to your RJ blog.

  • Nandan Jha says:

    @ Gita – I now read this post, officially :-). The first pic is a puller. Here is my take on sizes. I guess a few photos who are more like collage have smaller individual pics so may be folks want to look at each of them individually. Now the ones which are individual are a little taller. Usually a 640X 480 is a great compromise.

    You mention that you have the contact details of home-stays, hotels etc. You can post it, by all means. May be in one of the future posts on Valparai.

    Now coming to log, I also took note of Anai-Malai. Annamalai is a famous phrase, may be because of the Annamalai University, so it was very educating to know about the real meaning. You write in a fluid way and I remember that someone commented in one of your pervious stories that your style of writing demonstrates the authority you have on a given subject :), which is so true when one read this.

    I look fwd to read more and know more on Nilgiri and Valparai. Thank you again.

    @ Sahil – Long time. Look fwd to read some of your recent travels.

    • Gita AM says:

      Thanks Nandan for your appreciation and support.

      I hope I have got the sizes right in subsequent posts where the longer length is about 640.

      Annamalai Univ. may well be pronounced as Annaa, I am not sure. Someone who can read Tamil script can let us know. I can speak but not read – semi illiterate you know! Or should that be semi literate?

    • Sahil Sethi says:

      Hi Nandan Ji,

      Yup long long time.
      I think now its time to share large no. of travel tales again.

  • AUROJIT says:

    Hi Gita,

    Really nice pics with a lucid narration.
    Tea-bungalow sounds like an enticing option (agree with mobility issue, though).
    Despite the narration and pics being complementary and fulsome, a map of the area would have helped, specially to people like us with limited knowledge of that sector.
    Thanks again for sharing info on such precious jewels that Indian tourism has on offer…
    Auro.

    • Gita AM says:

      Thanks Aurojit.

      I will certainly be posting a map in a subsequent post. I was trying to figure out if I could embed an interactive Google map but if not, then certainly a snapshot courtesy dear old Google.

      The tea bungalows are good but apart from mobility, for longer stays like ours would work out to be very, very expensive!

  • rakesh bawa says:

    GitA ji,

    Very good post especially the exotic pictures . Being a North India the names sound to me as alienesque but refreshing. Hope to visit South India sometime.

  • Hi Gita,

    What a gifted writer and photo-artist you are! Just unbelievable! The portrait of monkey reminded me of a political leader whose name I wouldn’t like to disclose here! :D The best thing about your posts is the fact that these can be read and re-read again and again with pleasure increasing instead of diminishing. My unfulfilled desire to visit Southern part of my country knows no bounds and I don’t know when I would get a call from Mother Nature from Kerala! :D

    Which photographic equipment do you patronize, by the way? I know that it is the woman behind the camera that matters more than the camera itself. Still, I am curious to know.

    • Gita AM says:

      Thanks so much Sushant. I hope you can visit the south soon.

      It is Tamil Nadu, not Kerala by the way!

      Cameras are mostly P&S with a very few landscapes with a NEX5 but in P&S mode!

      • Hehehe. Before TN, I would go to God’s Own Country! These days, I am daydreaming about Munnar, Alleppey, Thekkady and what not!

        • Gita AM says:

          You can easily combine both states in one visit, there is a lot to see in the southern states, for that matter in most states but I guess most of us have limited time at hand. And budgets!

  • Amit Singh says:

    Brilliant article and breathtaking pics. In fact the best travel writing and pics that i have read on the net. Wonderful. Do keep the writing and photography up.
    Can you please share the link for accomadation places in Valparai.
    Thanks

  • Lydia says:

    Actually lived in Valparai 11 years…nostalgic. I was 18 days old when we moved there, and left when I was 6. Happily, dad moved back in 2006 and my son was brought up by the children of the household help we had when I was a baby. We even had the same driver at Uralikal. Gorgeous green heaven…

  • Jayashankar says:

    Hey, nice article :)
    I’m on the way to valparai now and I’m planning to stay there overnight. I was wondering if you could share with me the contact details of the homestays run by Green hills that you talked about in the article.
    Thanks in advance :)

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