The car took a turn from the tarred road on to a muddy path. A cloud of red earth enveloped us– giving a brief inlking of how the rest of the distance is going to be. The vehicle crawled ahead in the muddy channel that may loosely be called a path.
Displaced stones and dust rose up. Winding through tea plantations and down a steep road, we reached a small plain. This is as far as any vehicle will take you. The remaining kilometer and a half needs to be covered on foot. The responsibility of conducting the trek rests with a popular committee called Meenmutty Forest Protection Committee chaired by the DFO. An official from the Forest Department is made Secretary and a local person the President. Entry fee for a ten member group is Rs 300. The income is utilized for forest protection activities and tribal protection. There are three waterfalls in Meenmutty, two large and one small.
The mud path to the waterfall starts from beneath the ticket counter. Watcher John leads the way. Two tiny shops selling bottled water and buttermilk can be found where the path begins. Tea plants line one side of the path, beyond the hibiscus fence. On the other side is coffee. Neelimala Viewpoint, Chembra and Chooralmala ranges and parts of Soochipara in the distance are visible from atop the cliff. As we gently latched on to ropes tied to English laburnum stubs, we encountered a team bearing the grim expression of mountaineers.
Bamboo has been fastened on the wayside where the rope ends. A small stream runs below to the left. Gigantic root masses block the way at places. A side of the path which allowed barely a foot to traverse seemed like a wall. A slip could be fatal. Speckles of sunshine dot the path full of steep ups and downs. On the tiny plains in between are benches shaped out of bamboo fragments. Must be the effect of the cool wild breeze, the kilometer long trek did not tire me.
Some people have occupied a bamboo bench beside the path winding down around a giant Terminalia tree to pause for breath. A few spirited youth lean against a large rock behind them and take pictures. Datura plants line the path beside which wild coconut trees have borne fruit. The roar of water can be heard now. The path cutting through creepers like a tunnel screeches to a halt before a steep downhill. Look straight ahead and you see the top edge of the waterfall. The foaming water falls and scatters on the rock structures below. The coolness of fresh air suffuses the lung.
The climb down is by stepping on narrow rock crevices. Ropes are fastened for support. Descending strenuously one is greeted by a magnificent waterway- water that foams down in two streams from above 85 feet. Water droplets splatter in the air. The wind soothes even as the sun above scorches. The massive rock structure is blackened from gathering moss. In the recesses of rocks between leaping water is a creeper abundant with violet flowers. Large stone pellets rest in a tiny pong where the water falls over. Spectators make merry on the rock boulders below. Some young men engage in revelries in the pond.
It is a gang from Bangalore, informs John. People who choose the wilderness and the river to wash away the tedium of the big city. River Chaliyar has its origin below the waterfall. The Nilambur forests are on the other shore. The Nilambur forest range starts from atop the rock structure. The route to the waterfall will be closed on June 1st. It will reopen by mid August. Entry into the water will be permitted only by November.
The way to the second waterfall is a bit more jagged, said John. Not all of the visitors venture there. A right from the way to the first waterfall takes you there. Only when we started trekking up, nay trudging is a better word, did we realize the import of what John said. The path is single lane. The eye strayed to the depths below. The way ahead was by trampling over tree roots and rock pieces. Legs slightly shivered. Ahead, a blackberry tree blocks the way. One has to squeeze your way through the rocks to reach the other side. A bamboo railing fences the Swire. A massive flock of bamboo awaits us where it ends.
The path winds down encircling a bent tree. The feet are slippery on the dry leaves. John cautions to climb down carefully, bamboo fence and the rope for railing notwithstanding. The forest stream crossing the path bore the chilliness of ice water. Next was a slight uphill climb by the side of the huge rock wall past a flock of bamboos. A centuries old gigantic mango tree stands tall adjoining the one track way and digging roots deep somewhere. The path now enters a bamboo forest. An unknown forest bird flew away, shocked by the rustling sound of dried bamboo leaves. Before a rock structure, a green painted tin board hung on an ancient tree makes the path The way to the left leads outside. The way going straight hides inside the rock cluster.
When you step on the rock incline which has space enough for just one foot and reach the other side you hear the roar of gushing water on the left. John pointed his arm through the tree creepers. There was a tumultuous surge of water- water glowing in the sun like molten silver. Downstream the water crashes on the rocks and froths down. Walking down a steep path made by digging up earth, one reaches a fence of yellow bamboo. The waterfall can be seen up close from there. A tree close to the bamboo fence towers above the waterfall like a bridge. Sunlight shines on its light green leaves. Above the bamboo flock is a lone tree full of red flowers. This is a sight beautiful enough to melt away the bitterness of the jungle road. The cold wind penetrates the body. You will certainly fall in love with nature here. And it will make you wonder if there is any more prettier than mother nature.