Escaping into the wilderness of Thommankuthu

Escaping into the wilderness of the legendary Thommankuthu
Escaping into the wilderness of the legendary Thommankuthu. Photo: Seena Joy

Once upon a time, a tribal huntsman named Thomman (transliteration of Thomban), was passing through the dense, dark forests of his forefathers. He slipped and fell into a waterfall in the river that he was trying to cross, and was drowned. The waterfalls, after this mishap, came to be known as Thommankuthu - literally meaning 'Thomman's Waterfall' where kuthu means waterfall. There is another story too. Some say that another man, also named Thomman died here, while crossing over the river to pluck fruits on the other side. This was much later, they add. Myths say that nymphs used to bathe in this waterfall, and the herbs growing here have healing abilities. Whatever be the story of Thommankuthu, this place in the wilderness steeped in legends and myths is an abode of tribal life and culture. Thommankuthu is a seven step cascading waterfall, with deep pools and gushing rapids, located inside the Kaliyar Forest Range of the Kerala Forestry Department. Situated a few miles from Thodupuzha town in the Idukki District of Kerala, it is a part of the Kannadiyaar river in the Thodupuzha Reserve Forest under Kothamangalam Division. This less explored tourist spot, in the middle of a pristine forest with its mesmerizing waterfalls, meandering mystical rivers gracefully winding across the overwhelming dark woods, and the mysterious spectral caves, will enthrall anyone coming here. Deeper inside the forests, there are a number of tribal settlements. A hike of about a kilometer along the banks of Kannadiyaar river, is all it takes for you to reach the biggest and most beautiful of the falls of Thommankuthu - the Ezhunilakuthu (also called as the Thommankuthu falls). If you trek up the rocky terrain for another 14 kms, you reach the other waterfalls and the caves in the series. The other cascades of Thommankuthu - Thenkuzhikuth, Chekuthankuth, Palungankuthu, Kudachiyarkuthu, Thekkanthonikuthu, Koovamalakuthu, etc. are all equally enchanting. Normally, a tourist can go only till Ezhunilakuthu. You need prior sanctions and permissions of the forest warden in advance to go beyond this point, and a guide will accompany you on the tough uphill trek. Falling from a height of 1500 meters, the picturesque Ezhunilakuthu, forms a pool at the bottom of each step. Few interesting caves - Plapothu Cave, Palunkan Cave, Maakkal Cave, Narakan Cave, etc. are scattered around the different waterfalls. Monsoons are a special treat to the visitors of Thommankuthu. The ceaselessly flowing river with its own symphonies, the magnificent roars of the majestic waterfalls, and the distant cuckoos of the 'I-don't-know-its-name' birds, creates an orchestra in the nature's opera. Sometimes, during unexpected downpours, the music is taken to a whole new level. During those times, taking refuge in the rustic huts built all over the place, and silently watching the performance - the stillness as well as the fieriness in it, resonates with the purest and still part of one's heart. Hiking along the river banks through the deep woods and the rocky boulders on the way to the Thommankuthu falls, is an intriguing journey. Many rare kinds of foliage can be found in Thommankuthu, of which some of them are marked and named. Amusingly shaped trees and branches are a major attraction here. People try to climb the trees and of course, take a lot of selfies at various scenic places. The tree houses, the rural huts scattered around, the wooden bridges across the streams, the perpetual river flowing through every crack and crevices, the lush verdant greens- these fine strokes, simply turns Thommankuthu into a masterpiece painting. This eco-tourism area has many guides around, both men and women. If you take a moment to talk with them, they tell about the fiery nature of this seemingly calm but dangerous waterfall. You get their version of the many deaths that had happened here. Interestingly, one can find boards all around, which records the number of deaths that had happened at each view point. Though it's oddly amusing, the truth to be told, the numerous 'caution' boards or the fences set up, or the instructions of the guides, never seems to bother the reckless tourist. For every visitor coming to Thommankuthu, the friendly and helpful guides accurately and responsibly make sure that the ones who went uphill, comes down too. The Thommankuthu can be quite tricky at times, so please check with the guides before entering the water. Visitors are advised to pay caution and follow the instructions of the guides, at all times. Best time to visit Thommankuthu is just after the monsoons, when the falls are at its best, though trekking into the deep insides of the forest wouldn't start until December. During the rainy season, trekking into the forest will be completely stopped. Although ideally the best times to visit Thommankuthu is from September to March, if you love the rains and wouldn't mind the dirt and rubbles around, Thommankuthu is great to visit in monsoons too, with a starkly different beauty then.

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