The southern Western Ghats has a fewer large rivers than the northern part. Correspondingly, waterfalls tend to be smaller, but with a high intensity of precipitation during the monsoons, they tend to get very furious. A typical example is the Athirappilly falls, near Chalakkudy, on the river of the same name. The Chalakkudy river flows through the Vazhachal forest division before cascading down a series of falls at Vazhachal, Charpa and Athirappilly – making it a popular tourist destination.
However, Athirappilly is the most famous and the most spectacular one. Here, the water gushes down about 80 ft in a threefold fall that fills you with awe. Athirappilly is also known as the 'Niagara of India' and the 'Punnagai Mannan Falls' for people from Tamil Nadu after the movie was shot here. The entry to the falls is from 8 am till 5 pm. Tickets can be bought from the counter just outside the entrance. There are a couple of shops that sell curios and snacks here. A short trek through the forest takes you near the waterfalls. If you are feeling adventurous, there are steps that go down to the base of falls. It is easier and safer to go to the bottom of the falls in summer.
During the monsoons and the rainy season this pathway may get a bit slippery. You have to be very cautious. Standing near the falls during the rains is an awe-inspiring experience. The roar of the water and a mist of water droplets that light up in myriad colours when the suns ray strikes it paints a pretty picture.
From Athirappilly, a diversion on the road takes you to Charpa, which is about 4 km away. In the summer, Charpa thins down to a trickle, if the summer is harsh, Charpa is non-existent, just a crop of rocks by the side of the road. But during the rainy season, Charpa roars down – the flow directly proportional to the rainfall in the catchment area of the river. The waterfall is on the side of the road and if you are there during the rainy season, the spray of water may drench you. From Charpa, it is just a little over one kilometer to Vazhachal falls. During summer, it is a tame flow, yet dangerous. It is ideal to ask the forest and related authorities if it is ideal to play in the waters.
Flora and fauna
Athirappilly is about 25 kms away from Chalakkudy town. Once you are out of the city limits, the sights of village life and plantations welcome you. Rubber, coconut and other trees grow in this fertile soil. Closer to the waterfalls, the plantations give way to lush green forests on of either sides. These forests are home to some rare flora and fauna. It is the home of four endangered Hornbills among various other bird and animal species. Once you are out of the vehicle, keep an eye out for them. If you are lucky, you can spot a hornbill or even listen to its piercing trill. Monkeys are common, do not feed them if you are not ready to handle the menace. And if you are going here during the months of October and November, keep an eye out for snakes too.
In the movies
For a long long time, Athirappilly waterfalls has been one of the favourite shooting locations in Kerala. From Aishwarya Rai to Kareena Kapoor, Preity Zinta, Tamanna Bhatia and Bipasha Basu, there is perhaps no heroine in the Indian film industry who has not shaken a leg with this waterfall as the backdrop. Most often, the waterfall formed the backdrop of a romantic number. There were times when the forests around doubled up as a hideout for a villain or where the main characters came to end their lives.
In Baahubali, one of the most expensive movies shot in India, this waterfall plays an important role. The movie had a 15 day schedule in Athirappilly before the shots were digitally enhanced at the studios. If you are lucky, you may see a movie being shot in Athirappilly while you are on a visit here. Wouldn't you like that?