Thekkady is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Kerala. Tourists flocking to this picturesque spot in Idukki district usually wind up their visit after staying in a hotel and a boating spree. But if you have moderate deep pockets, then Thekkady can provide you with unbelievable resort experiences. Coffee and cardamom plantations, plantation walk, swimming pool, indoor and outdoor games and some delectable cuisines, among others, can make your stay memorable in every possible way. And to top it all off, a trek through the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary and a sojourn in the wilderness. If you have some time in hand, drive past the Kumily check post and manoeuvre the hair pin curves to reach a mesmerizing place called Meghamalai.
As you come down, you can see hamlets of Tamil Nadu in the distance and the majestic mountain ranges of the Western Ghats. It is worth noting that Tamil Nadu has a different charm altogether. Though Kerala is alluring, it can’t provide the mesmerizing vistas that one can enjoy while on a road trip in Tamil Nadu. The lush green farmlands, expansive water bodies and awesome mountains, among others, give Tamil Nadu an ethereal charm.
The villages and agriculture land on both sides will greet you as you reach the plains after maneuvering a number of hair pin curves. It is noteworthy that Tamil Nadu is doing what Kerala can’t. Tamil Nadu is into farming in a big way and producing paddy and coconuts, more than what Kerala churns out, apart from papaya, drum sticks, cabbage, mangoes, sapota, sugar-apples and onions.
After driving for another 10 to 15 km, a sea of gold on both sides of the road will bring warmth your heart. The sea of gold is nothing but the shining yellow marigold glowers (jamanthi). Gundlupet in Karnataka is also famous for the bright marigold flowers. But here you could see Tamil women workers picking not only yellow but also white and red marigold flowers. It takes three months for the marigold plants to bloom and a kilogram of marigold flowers comes with a price tag of Rs 150.
As you drive ahead past the marigold fields, vast vineyards will welcome you and it should be mentioned that many workers sweat it out to make grape cultivation a fruitful venture. Spare some time at the vineyard as there is a restaurant attached to it and the unique grape tea and grape juice can bowl you over with taste. You could also walk through the vineyards with bunches of grapes tickling your head.
A display board on the way would announce the presence of Suruli waterfalls in the vicinity. Take a right turn from the Theni road and drive for another 18km. Both sides of this 18km stretch are dotted with vineyards and it is indeed a sight to behold. You would find not only vineyards but also cultivation of papaya, cabbage and drum sticks. You have to stop your vehicle on the road and walk for close to 1km to reach the Suruli waterfall.
After travelling on the highway for 10 to 15km, turn right from Chinnamanur. One again a plethora of wonderful sights awaits you at every corner of the stretch. Mountains could be seen at the distance with a winding road hugging it like a wiggling earthworm. You have to log the registration number of your vehicle at the check post and make sure to make the return journey before 5.30pm. The watchman at the check post would advise you not to disembark from the vehicle if you see wild animals in the vicinity. The fascinating Meghamalai hill is 43km away from Chinnamanur.
You have to drive through a moderately broad road with 18 hairpin curves to reach Meghamalai. You could find dry elephant dung on the way giving the signal that elephants and tigers roam around the road at night. In the initial part of the journey, you could find deep cliffs on both sides of the road. The iron railing on the sides of the road will definitely give a sense of protection to the travellers. The bird’s eye view of Tamil Nadu villages is simply breathtaking.
After maneuvering 18 hair pins, the spellbinding tea plantations – the Woodbriar tea estates – will greet you with all glory. You will have to travel for a few kilometres through the tea plantations and later you will reach a beautiful lake tucked away in the mountains. It is worth noting that the tea plantations of Meghamalai are greener and brighter than the tea estates of Munnar for the simple reason that there are no big resorts or hotels in Meghamalai. If you want to stay in Meghamalai, either choose the lodging facility provided by the panchayat or opt for the tea bungalows of Woodbriar tea estate. The Woodbriar group has three bungalows – Cloud Mountain Bungalow, Manalar Cottage and Sand River Cottage. Apart from these, there are only estate buildings in the area.
After a long drive, you will reach Manalar. From here it is off-road, which stretches to 13 km, and touches Upper Manalar, Venniyar, Maharaja Mettu and Iravangalar on the way. It is better to hail a jeep for the off-road travel for a rent of around Rs 1,200.
The pristine hills of Meghamalai come under the panchayat that was earlier known as ‘Pachai Komachi’. Later, the town panchayat got an anglicized appellation in Highwavys. The Highwavys town panchayat, which is spread across 47 sq km, came into being in 1996 and is situated in the Uthama Palayam taluk in Theni district of Tamil Nadu. The Meghamalai hill, which is part of the Western Ghats, is also known as Highwavy Mountains. The region is replete with tea and cardamom plantations and verdant evergreen forest.
The tea plantations are spread across Highwavys, Cloud Land and Manalar estates. Meghamalai is 1,500 m above sea level and the main attraction is a 7 sq km artificial lake. The Vellimalai hill, which has an elevation of 1,650 m, is the heart of Meghamalai. The silver-lined clouds delicately touch Vellimalai, which is near the Periyar Tiger Reserve and the Vaigai River also originates from this region.
Undoubtedly, you will get enamoured of the beauty of Meghamalai as it is one of nature’s beautiful gifts to mankind.