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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Valparai…the unsung hill station of India

Imagine waves of green tea estates interspersed with thick evergreen forests. Imagine a town tucked in the hills of the Western Ghats that has refused to burgeon like the other hill stations of India. Imagine a place where you can get a perfect mix of pristine nature and old world charm. Such a place is Valparai!

The heavenly Valparai landscape 
Valparai is a British era hill station that is situated in the Western Ghats of Tamil Nadu. It is located on the Pollachi-Chalakudy road, being about 64 kms from Pollachi and about 33 kilometres from Chalakudy. It’s moderate altitude and heavy monsoons give its its green look and its near perfect weather.

 
The hairpin bends and its winding roads make this place a favourite with cyclists and motorcyclists. The rich wildlife and avifauna make it a hot destination for wildlife enthusiasts, birders, photographers and naturalists. The tea estates, dams, view points and umpteen nature walks make it a preferred choice for vacationers. In simple words, it is a well rounded destination with much to do for different types of tourists. 

A cloudy afternoon at Nirar Dam, Valparai 
One of the best attributes of Valparai are its people. The people of Valparai are very helpful, kind and always have a smile on their faces. The bulk of them work in the tea estates or in the surrounding forests, while the remaining find employment in the town and its markets. The people here predominantly speak Tamil, while Malayalam, the native language of the neighbouring state, Kerala is also understood by many. English is also understood well, though in smaller pockets.

Green Western Ghats, Waterfalls Galore and the Kerala side all visible from the Nallamudi Pooncholai View Point 
As is true with all hill stations in India, Valparai is also blessed with great vistas and view points. The view points are dime a dozen here, but the best ones can be seen from Nallamudi Poonjolai, about 12 kms from the town bus stand. It is here that one can see umpteen waterfalls fall into the gorge below from the neighbouring state of Kerala.

Sholayar Dam near Valparai is surrounded by tea estates making for a fantastic sight 
And since this place gets so much rain throughout the year, it has some of the biggest dams in the country. And since most of these dams are surrounded by tea gardens, they make for a very scenic sight. The Sholayar Dam (27 kilometres towards Chalakudy), Nirar Dam (7 kms from town bus stand) and Aliyar Dam (30 kilometres towards Pollachi) are the best and are a must-see. Do not miss the views of the Aliyar Dam from the top of the hairpin bends.

Lion Tailed Macaque - Mother and Baby 
Though Valparai is referred to as a hill station, it is in my mind just a forest settlement. The reason I say this is because the entire town is surrounded by the Anaimalai Tiger Reserve and forms an integral part of the wildlife migratory path. This ensures that wildlife sightings are very common here, especially in the summers when the forests are teeming with mosquitoes. Elephants, leopards and tigers are quite commonly seen in the summers. But, if one wishes to spot wild animals during all times of the year, then the place to visit is Pudhuthotam Tea Estate, about 4 kms from Valparai town. It is here that the Indian Gaur can be seen grazing in huge herds and it is here that one can spot the extremely endangered Lion Tailed Macaque playing in healthy numbers.

Feeding time for the Grey Malabar Hornbill at Valparai - 2 
Valparai is also great for birders. The Great Hornbill, the Malabar Pied Hornbill and the Grey Malabar Hornbill are regularly seen here. A lot of other birds endemic to the Western Ghats are also spotted here throughout the year. Top Slip inside Anaimalai Tiger Reserve and Parambikulam Tiger Reserve are also pretty close by for those who want an immersive jungle experience.

Waterfall that flows from Nirar Dam and into the state of Kerala 
Finally, a trip to Valparai gives you the opportunity to explore Athirampally falls (a location for a lot of popular Indian movies like Guru, Raavan, etc.) and its surrounding forests. And all these are over and above that colonial style holiday spent sipping a hot cup of fresh local tea, relaxing and exploring the lovely tea estates of Valparai.



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