July 2022 - Be On The Road | Live your Travel Dream!

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

14 Top Things to Experience in and around Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh

Winding Himalayan roads surrounded by snow

India’s true Shangri-La, the 10,000 feet high hill station of Tawang in Western Arunachal Pradesh is home to ancient and rich Buddhist culture, unparalleled beauty, kind people and lots of hidden treasures. It’s spectacular landscape is made up of snow capped peaks, high altitude lakes, lush forests, smiling valleys, gurgling streams, picture perfect tribal villages and rich monasteries. It is here that one can see the heady mixture of breath taking vistas of Himalayan uplands, Monpa villages and the rich monasteries. If you are looking for a gorgeous Himalayan hill station with rich culture and beautiful vistas, then you should definitely visit Tawang in Western Arunachal Pradesh.

Below are the top 14 things to experience in and around Tawang. These experiences should definitely be a part of your dream Tawang holiday itinerary.

The pride of Tawang - Tawang Gompa

1) Tawang Gompa

This serene and majestic Buddhist monastery is the pride of Tawang. Located on a hilltop at an altitude of 10,000 feet and facing the Tawang town, Tawang Gompa is one of the older Buddhist monasteries in the world and the largest Buddhist monastery in India. A lot of Tawang’s culture and tradition stems from this very gompa. Founded by Merak Lama Lodre Gyamtso, the Tawang Gompa is an epitome of Buddhist architecture and belongs to the Gelukpa sect. One of the main attractions of Tawang monastery is its huge gilded statue of Lord Buddha.

Tongpen La View Point, Arunachal Pradesh

2) Tongpen La View Point

Tongpen La view point is a gorgeous Himalayan vista located at an altitude of 15,150 feet above MSL. It is situated at Tongpen La, a high altitude mountain pass that connects the army base of Y junction with Bumla pass on the India-China army highway. This view includes the high altitude Tongpen lake and the snow covered Eastern Himalayas.

Penga Teng Tso Lake - a fantastic white setting

3) Penga Teng Tso Lake

Penga Teng Tso Lake or PT Tso lake is a serene looking high altitude lake located at around 12,000 feet in the Eastern Himalayas of Arunachal Pradesh. At about 23 kilometres from Tawang, PT Tso is located amidst sensational natural beauty with snow capped mountains surrounding it on all sides. This lake holds spiritual importance to the Buddhist community.

T Gompa near Sangetsar Lake

4) Tak Tsang Gompa

Tak Tsang Gompa or T Gompa is one of my favourite Buddhist monasteries in India. This remote and peaceful destination is so quiet that the only sound that you can hear is that of the wind blowing and your heart beating. Tak Tsang, which means ‘tiger’s den’ is a 12, 500 feet high Buddhist monastery located on the edge of a cliff in the Eastern Himalayas of Western Arunachal Pradesh. It is about 40 kilometres or 2 hours from Tawang. If self introspection or meditation is on your mind, this remote Buddhist monastery would be the ideal destination.

Sangetsar Lake from a distance

5) Sangetsar Lake

Sangetsar lake or Madhuri jheel is a high altitude lake in the Eastern Himalayas of Arunachal Pradesh that is considered holy by the Buddhists of India and Tibet. This remote lake, located at an altitude of 12000 feet, offers a heady mix of spirituality, awe inspiring mighty Himalayas surrounding it and eerie looking tree trunks jutting out of the lake. Sangetsar lake is located at about 30 kms north east of Tawang and it was where a few scenes of the movie Koyla (featuring Shahrukh Khan and Madhuri Dixit) was shot.

High Altitude and religious Sela Lake at 13,700 feet above MSL

6) Sela Pass and Sela Lake

Sela pass is a 13,700 feet high altitude Himalayan wonderland that connects the Buddhist district of Tawang with the rest of Arunachal Pradesh and India and it is known to be home to more than 101 lakes. Each of these lakes is considered very religious by the Buddhist community. One of these 101 lakes is the large Sela lake located on top of the Sela pass. Winding Himalayan roads of Western Arunachal Pradesh are an added thrill of this destination and one gets to experience such roads both while ascending and while descending Sela pass. Sela pass, which is covered in snow most months of the year is also a paradise for birdwatchers and wildlife enthusiasts.

Sela pass is more than just a pit stop that falls on the Bomdila – Tawang mountain highway. Its unparalleled rugged beauty, pristine mountain nature, exotic mountain birds, rich Buddhist connection and winding mountain roads make it a hot favorite in Arunachal Pradesh.

Jang Falls, Arunachal Pradesh, North East India

7) Jung Falls

Ranked as one the best waterfalls of Arunachal Pradesh, Jung Falls, lies in the valley between Sela and Tawang near the town of Jung. Fed by alpine lakes and snow streams, it tumbles in multiple steep steps into the river below from an appreciable height. The waterfall, which swells with water during the monsoons is a sight to behold. The waterfall, the hill stream below it, the surrounding greenery and the Himalayan mountains make it a top destination in the Tawang circuit.

Ugyenling Temple - Birth place of the 6th Dalai Lama

8) Ugyenling Monastery

The Ugyenling monastery, which is famous as the birth place of the 6th Dalai Lama, was built in the 15th century by Ugyen Zangpo, the youngest brother of Terton Pemalinga, the great treasure traveler. It is situated about 5 kilometres from Tawang and close to Tawang’s war memorial.

Inside the Ani Gompa along with the young Ani (nun)

9) Thukje Chueling Ani Gompa
Western Arunachal Pradesh is famous for its monasteries that are run by nuns. These Ani Gompas or nunneries are managed by sparkle-eyed nuns with clean-shaven heads. No male monks can be seen near these ani gompas. One such monastery is the Thukje Chueling Ani Gompa, that is located on top of a hill that faces the Tawang valley. This place is about 10 kilometres from the city of Tawang. Though this Ani Gompa is small in size, it makes up with its vibrant colours and unique surroundings.

War memorial stupa against the blue Himalayan sky

10) Tawang War Memorial

The Tawang war memorial, a pride of Tawang, is a 40 foot high memorial dedicated to the martyrs of the 1962 Sino-Indian war. This memorial, locally referred to as the ‘Namgya; Chorten’ has names of 2420 dead soldiers etched in gold on 32 black granite plaques. This war memorial, blessed by the Dalai Lama is nestled among picturesque snow-capped peaks overlooking the imposing Tawang-Chu valley. This scenic location ensures that the tourists get a chance to soak in pristine nature, while admiring the deeds of the Indian soldiers.

Western Arunachal Attire

11) Handicraft Emporium

If shopping is your thing, then you should definitely head to the Handicraft Emporium run by the Arunachal Pradesh government (open from 9 AM through 4 PM and situated close to the District Commissioner’s office). This is where you will find authentic goods from the wool weaving industry of Tawang. Shawls, carpets, chadars (wrap skirts worn by Monpa women), handcrafted bags and local tribal dresses are some of the more popular items to shop in Tawang. The other places to shop for in Tawang would be the Old market and the Tibetan settlement areas. Religious Buddhist goods (prayer wheels, flags, Buddha statues, wall hangings, good luck charms and other gift items), delicate chinese crockery, locally carved wooden utensils, traditional jewellery and yak cheese are some of the other things to shop for in Tawang.

Nagula Lake, Arunachal Pradesh

12) Nagula Lake

Nagula lake is a high altitude lake located at an altitude of 4,300 metres above MSL. This scenic lake is a delight for nature lovers and one can spot a number of Brahminy ducks around the lake. These ducks are considered lucky according to Buddhism. Located on the Tawang – Bumla road, the Nagula lake mesmerizes everyone with the beautiful reflection of the snow capped mountain peaks on its pristine waters.

At Y Junction

13) Y Junction

Y junction is a key military outpost on the Tawang-Bumla mountain highway towards the India-China border. It is here that the road forks into two. One heads towards T Gompa and Sangetsar lake while the other heads towards Bumla pass. This is a fabulous location to interact with the soldiers, have a cup of tea at the army canteen and enjoy the bleak and cold landscape.

Enroute to Bumla Pass

14) Bumla Pass

Bumla pass is one of the remotest mountain passes in the world. Located at an elevation of 15,200 feet, Bumla pass is a border pass between China’s Cona county in Tibet and India’s Tawang district in Arunachal Pradesh. It is 37 kms from Tawang and is the old trading route between India and Tibet. It is here at Bumla pass that the fierce 1962 India-China war took place.

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Thursday, July 21, 2022

Pristine Vazhachal Rainforest Highway: A special road trip hot spot

The dense Vazhachal forest between Athirampally Waterfalls and Valparai

It is one of India’s most pristine rainforests. It is a fresh lease of oxygen in Kerala. It is one of the top tropical motorcycle routes in India. I am talking about Vazhachal forest that connects Valparai, the unsung hill station of India with Athirapally Falls, the Niagara falls of Kerala.

This forest highway, a plastic free zone, offers a beautiful mix of cloud rainforests, tropical rainforests, waterfalls, many reservoirs, mountain streams, tea estates, coffee estates, curvy ghat roads and oodles of greenery. It is also an important wildlife corridor as it connects the Anaimalai tiger reserve and Parambikulam tiger reserve with the Sholayar reserve forest, Vazhachal forest and Chimmony wildlife sanctuary. This highway is an integral part of the elephant migration corridor and that is why vehicles are not allowed to ply here between 8 pm and 6 am to prevent any elephant – human conflict. While you might spot wild elephants and wild gaurs on this route from time to time, you will almost always spot lion tailed macaques, bonnet macaques, malabar giant squirrels, nilgiri langurs and tropical birds of paradise if you drive slowly and keep a keen eye out for any movement amidst the dense forest cover.

For most people, the Vazhachal rainforest highway is just a means to connect to Athirapally falls, Vazhachal falls, Poringalkuthu reservoir, Sholayar dam, the vast tea estates and hill station of Valparai and/or the other tourist attractions in and around Valparai. But, for me, this rainforest highway is a destination in itself.

The Vazhachal forest highway between Valparai and Athirampally Waterfalls

For a few years during and prior to covid, this forest highway was open only to four wheelers. However, now, it is open for all vehicles. Four wheelers can ply between 6 am and 8 pm while two wheelers can ply between 6 am and 6 pm. Be prepared for forest checks at either ends of the Vazhachal forest highway. Plastics of any kind is banned inside the forest and loud silencers are also banned.

Monsoons are the best time to visit this rainforest highway, though you need to ensure that your vehicle tyres and brakes are in top condition and that you are fresh and confident enough to negate poor visibility, heavy downpours and slippery roads. Landslides are quite common on this highway during the monsoons and this might cause a few delays.

I highly recommend this route to all motorcycling and road trip enthusiasts. However, do ensure to carry all your trash back with you. This rainforest is a nature and wildlife hot spot and it is our responsibility to ensure that it thrives in the years to come. Do visit on your next trip to Valparai or Athirapally falls and let me know what you think of this absolutely gorgeous and dense jungle.

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Monday, July 18, 2022

6 Things to Know Before You Visit Palm Beach, Florida

Palm Beach, Florida

Palm Beach, Florida, is one of the world’s best travel destinations. The island of Palm Beach is known as being a glitzy paradise for the rich and famous. Palm Beach has historical landmarks, stunning mansions, and scenic water views. The town is on a barrier island in Palm Beach County, separated from nearby cities like West Palm Beach.

There are dozens of billionaires that are residents of Palm Beach, and throughout history, it’s been home to U.S. Presidents and politicians, moguls, and celebrities.

If you’re thinking about planning a visit, following are six things to know before you go.

1. Driving in Palm Beach

If you’re flying into the Palm Beach area, you may want to rent a car to get around town. Public transportation is limited. If you are going to drive in Palm Beach, there’s a lot of scenery to take in. Just be mindful of the many other drivers on the roadways. Most are likely to be tourists, so they’re not familiar with the area as well, increasing the risk of accidents occurring.

Palm Beach is only 16 miles long, and to the west, it’s bordered by the Intracoastal waterway. To the east is the Atlantic Ocean.

2. Bike the Lake Trail

Lake Bike Trail, Palm Beach, Florida

One of the popular things to do in Palm Beach is biking the Lake Trail, which is 5.5 miles, running parallel to the Intracoastal Waterway.

There are views of Palm Beach estates to the east and then the skyline of West Palm to the west.

There’s a massive kapok tree along the way and coral towers on both sides of the passage where North Lake Trail comes together with Country Club Road.

3. Shopping Worth Avenue

Worth Avenue, Palm Beach, Florida

Worth Avenue is one of the must-sees of Palm Beach.

Worth Avenue is known around the world as a beautiful area for shopping and dining. The Mediterranean architecture is a draw on its own, even if your budget only allows for window shopping.

Worth Avenue was one of the first places on Palm Beach Island that was developed. It was established in 1913, and it was originally a residential street until the 1940s. Along with shopping and dining, you can take a historic walking tour, enjoy the art galleries, or stop in and have a cocktail at the many eateries and lounges.

4. When To Visit

The summer months can be swelteringly hot in Palm Beach, which is why the high season tends to start at the end of fall when the crowds are still small. It goes through the winter, but if you wait until the holiday season to go, there will be crowds, and you’ll pay a premium.

Hurricane season for Florida is in the fall, so this is something to be mindful of as you plan your trip as well.

5. Where to Stay

One of the most well-known and luxurious hotels in Palm Beach is the Breakers. The historic hotel is designed in the Renaissance Revival style. Henry Flagler originally opened the hotel in 1896 as a way to accommodate travelers on the Florida East Coast Railway.

In 1973, the hotel was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The Breakers is currently an AAA five-diamond rated resort and has been since 1996.

The Colony is another historic hotel that also happens to be incredibly colorful. The Colony Palm Beach has just 89 rooms, and you’re within steps of Worth Avenue and the Atlantic Ocean.

The Chesterfield is a more moderately priced option that’s still elegant. This hotel is also historic, and it’s surrounded by palm-lined streets, near Worth Avenue.

6. Other Things to Do

Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse, Palm Beach, Florida

Some of the many other can’t miss options in Palm Beach include:

a) Have breakfast at Green’s pharmacy. The lunch county is where President John F. Kennedy would have breakfast when he was in town, and the menu and overall atmosphere remain pretty much the same.

b) The polo season runs from January through the end of April, so consider going to the International Polo Club Palm Beach. There’s a champagne brunch every da Sunday during the season.

c) If you want to grab a sandwich to take to the beach, head to the family-owned Amici Market.

d) You can take a boat or water taxi to Peanut Island, where there’s an 80-acre county park. This is where you’ll find the Palm Beach Maritime Museum. It was at one point a Coast Guard station and the presidential bunker for President Kennedy.

Finally, if you love animals, go to the Loggerhead Marinelife Center, which is a non-profit that helps rescue endangered sea turtles.

Photo Courtesy: Each photograph in this article has been borrowed from wikipedia.org under the creative commons license. Each photograph has been linked to its host page on wikipedia.org.

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Monday, July 04, 2022

Puthuthottam Estate: The Hidden Gem of Anaimalai Tiger Reserve

Lion Tailed Macaque in its favourite habitat at Puduthotham Estate, Valparai

It is a 3000 acre estate comprising of tea gardens, coffee plants and native trees that is located just a few kilometres before Valparai, the unsung hill station of India. It is surrounded by the forests of the Anaimalai tiger reserve on all sides and it itself falls in the buffer zone of the Anaimalai Tiger Reserve. It is a great destination to spot diverse wildlife and birdlife and this specifically holds true for the lion tailed macaque, a primate species endemic to this part of the Western Ghats. I am talking about Puthuthottam Estate, the hidden gem of Anaimalai Tiger Reserve.

A Wild Indian Gaur stares just 50 feet from me at Puduthotham Estate, Valparai

Puthuthottam wakes up to its usual jungle music every morning. The Malabar whistling thrush whistles in all its glory. The black rumped flameback woodpecker’s drilling sound reverberates in the woods. And some times, you can even hear the gruff guttural calls of the Great hornbill and may be hear its iconic wing beat and see it as its flies overhead. As you excitedly wake up to these gorgeous sounds and step out of your wildlife bungalow, you can catch sight of the greater racket tailed drongo dancing from tree to tree with its long tail and head crest shining in the golden morning light. Bulbuls, quails and babblers can be seen amongst the coffee plant thicket. And you can spot grey hornbills, barbets, myna, oriental magpie robin and flycatchers if you look a bit higher into the trees.

Black Rumped Flameback woodpecker at Puduthotham Estate, Valparai

As you get ready and go on your morning walk, you can spot even more birds like the beautiful scarlet minivet or the regal crested serpent eagle. As you continue walking amidst the mesmerizing sounds of the jungle, your tea garden trail opens into a panoramic view with mountains in the yonder and dense jungle below. If you opt for the narrow jungle trails, you can come across the wild Indian gaurs grazing in front of you or the Lion tailed macaque, Bonnet macaque or Nilgiri langur dancing from tree to tree, socializing or digging into their favourite food. I did not get to see any wild elephants on any of my wildlife walks, but my forest guide told me that wild elephant sightings are very common between the months of October to December as Puthuthottam falls on their annual migratory route.

As you finish your breakfast, the lion tailed macaques (the special citizens of Puthuthottam) make their appearance. They have just made their way from the forest to Puthuthottam. They will forage for food, socialize and rest in and around Puthuthottam before returning to the forest somewhere between 3 and 4 pm. Puthuthottam is one of the few places in the Western Ghats where the lion tailed macaques have left their pure arboreal existence and can be seen quite frequently on the ground. This is because of the trust that they have built with the people of Puthuthottam. This human-macaque happy co-existence ensures that you see the lion tailed macaque at very close quarters at Puthuthottam. This also means that it is one of the best places to photograph the lion tailed macaque in the wild.

The Alpha Lion Tailed Macaque keeping a keen eye out for threats

When I was staying at Puthuthottam Annexe, I saw lion tailed macaques right in front of my bungalow. I saw them at Woodhouse Mansion, during one of my wildlife walks in the forest and next to the Puthuthottam tea factory as these primates were making their way back to the lion tailed macaque bridge to cross into the forest for the night. Me and my friends tracked a group of 30 plus macaques on multiple occasions and on multiple days. It was a great experience to see their behaviour at such close quarters.

As with other wildlife destinations, the wildlife of Puthuthottam start getting active as the sun starts setting. This is the best time to spot wild Indian gaurs, sambar deer and barking deer. We were extremely lucky to spot a large herd of wild Indian gaurs (about 50 plus gaurs including an alpha male, young males, females and calves). Not only did we see them at a distance of about 50 to 100 feet from us, we were also able to move with them for close to a kilometre before we gave up due to the lack of natural light.

Crested Serpent Eagle at Anaimalai Tiger Reserve, Valparai, Tamil Nadu

We even spotted a slow loris in the tree while returning from our dinner at Woodhouse Mansion. It was our powerful flashlight that reflected its eyes from the dark and upon a closer look, we noticed its revolving head and slow movements.

It doesn’t matter whether you are sitting at your wildlife bungalow, going on a wildlife walk, having breakfast or returning to your bungalow post dinner, you are never too far away from wildlife at Puthuthottam.

Wildlife and Birding Sightings - Puduthotham Estate, Valparai - Page 1

Most visitors go to Puthuthottam to photograph the lion tailed macaque or to see the gaurs and elephants at close quarters. But, there is so much more to Puthuthottam than sighting these three animals. Staying amidst pristine plantations and forests, waking up to the call of the Malabar whistling thrush, feeling super excited at the helicopter rotor whirring sound of the Great Hornbill flapping its wings, experiencing the behaviour of the lion tailed macaque at close quarters, walking along some surreal views, feeling the raw thrill upon seeing a 2500 kilogram gaur at no more than 50 feet from you and when you are on foot and having the entire forest to yourself are some of the reasons why I love Puthuthottam estate, located in the buffer zone of Anaimalai tiger reserve. This hidden gem of Anaimalai holds many surprises. I have visited it three times and each time, I have absolutely loved my time there. And I can’t wait to return in November to see more hornbills and track wild elephants on foot.

Wildlife and Birding Sightings - Puduthotham Estate, Valparai - Page 2

Key things to remember while you are visiting Puthuthottam Estate:

1) Wear sturdy shoes as you will be required to walk long distances

2) Carry sunglasses and a cap/hat to protect you from the mountain sun

3) Carry rain wear or an umbrella with you in case you are visiting during the wet season

4) Leeches are quite common during the wet season. So be prepared for them accordingly

5) Most of the time, it is safe to be with children on these trails. However, do exercise caution for self and others, if there happens to be wild gaurs or elephants in the vicinity

6) Try to stay quiet to get best sightings in wild habitat. If you make a lot of sound, the animals might go to some other place or at worst case, they can chase you

7) Carry some trail mix, energy bars and water with you when going on these trails

8) Carry a flashlight with you if you like early morning or late evening walks

Best season to visit:

Puthuthottam estate is open all year round and each season will allow you to see the forest and its wildlife in a new light.

October to December is excellent for spotting wild elephants and for great hornbills.

Puduthotham's lion tailed macaques stare into my camera lens

How to reach there:

The nearest airport would be Coimbatore international airport. It is located about 111 kms from Puthuthottam estate and it should take you close to 3 and a half hours to reach here.

The nearest railway station would be Pollachi Junction. It is located about 63 kms or 2 hours away.

The nearest bus station would be Valparai. If your bus happens to be coming from Pollachi or Coimbatore, you can get down at Puthuthottam Estate located just before Valparai. If you are traveling from Kerala, you can get down at Valparai and take a cab or bus to reach Puthuthottam, about 5 kms away.

Where to stay:

Only the guests of Briar tea bungalows are allowed into Puthuthottam Estate as it happens to be a private property owned by the Woodbriar Group.

If you want the best wildlife experience, I would recommend that you stay at the 100 year old Puthuthottam Annexe bungalow that is located right in the middle of the Puthuthottam estate and is regularly visited by birds and wild citizens.

If Puthuthottam Annexe is not your kind of property, you can stay at any of the other properties belonging to Briar Tea Bungalows and plan morning walks here.

An early morning walk through the lush green Puduthotham Estate near Valparai

Where to eat:

If you are staying at Puthuthottam Annexe, your meals would be at the Woodhouse Mansion. The menu and meal times would be mutually agreed upon in advance based on the timings of your wildlife walks and your food preferences.

If you are staying at any of the other properties of Briar Tea Bungalows, you might have hot or cold beverages at Woodhouse Mansion, but your meals would be at your place of stay.

Attractions in Puthuthottam Estate:

1) Tea Estates: The main attraction of Puthuthottam is its sprawling tea gardens, its plantation walks and its many panoramic view points.

2) Coffee Estates: In addition to tea garden, Puthuthottam is also home to coffee estates, though it is on a much smaller scale when compared to the tea gardens.

3) Forest Stretches: In between its tea and coffee estates, Puthuthottam has many stretches of native forest that attract the wild visitors.

4) Birdwatching: Great hornbill, grey hornbill, black rumped flameback woodpecker, crested serpent eagle, malabar whistling thrush, scarlet minivet, jungle babbler, hill myna, bulbul, barbet and many other species of birds can be spotted here.

5) Wildlife: Lion tailed macaques, elephants, gaurs, Malabar giant squirrels, sambar deer, barking deer, Nilgiri langurs, Bonnet macaques and many other wildlife can be seen here.

6) 184 year old Woodhouse Mansion: One of the earliest bungalows in Valparai, time stands still at Woodhouse Mansion. Lion Tailed Macaques also drop in here every day.

7) 100 year old Puthuthottam Annexe: It used to be the tea manager’s bungalows in its hey days. Today, it is the only place to stay at Puthuthottam Estate for tourists. It is home to 2 bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen and a balcony. And it is located right in the middle of tea gardens, coffee estates and tropical forests.

A Large herd of Wild Indian gaur just a few 100 feet away from Puduthotham Annexe property, Valparai

Other nearby tourist attractions:

1) Nallamudi Poonjolai: A fabulous view point tucked within the Valparai hills and inside the Anaimalai Tiger Reserve

2) Sholayar Dam: Asia’s 2nd deepest dam nestled in the pristine Anaimalai hills of Tamil Nadu

3) Athirapally Falls: The Niagara falls of Kerala

4) Vazhachal Falls: A tropical forest waterfall located near Athirapally falls

5) Vazhachal Forest: A fresh lease of oxygen in Kerala

6) Hike to Nadumalai River: A pristine picnic spot surrounded by tea estates and nature

7) Tea Estates of Valparai: For a rich tea estate and factory experience along with surreal views

8) Poringalkuthu Reservoir: A remote water body nestled in the tropical rainforests of Vazhachal, Kerala

9) Aliyar Dam: A large dam just before the climb to Valparai begins from Pollachi

10) Monkey Falls: A beautiful waterfall located on the ghat road from Pollachi to Valparai

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