The Athirapally Falls are called the Indian Niagara.
They are located in the Thrissur district of Kerala, on the Chalakudi River, which originates from the headwaters of the Western Ghats at the entrance to the Sholayar Ranges. To see them, I went down from Munnar by car for about 5 hours. During the monsoon season, the waterfall is more full-flowing, and the jets of water completely wash the horseshoe of the stone mouth. And now there are only 3 jets “in service”, but this spectacle is impressive.
The falls attract visitors from all over India, especially during the monsoon months (June-September) and are visited annually by about 7 million tourists.
Nearby are evergreen forests, which are home to many endangered species of flora and fauna. The Asian elephant, tiger, leopard, bison, sambar and lion macaque are found in the area. The unique 180 meter high riparian forest in the Athirappilli-Vazhachal region is the only place where all four South Indian hornbill bird species live.
The Rainforest Boutique Hotel is located in the middle of a national reserve, and the monkeys and deer feel at home here: they calmly walk around the territory and, like me, love breadfruit. They are in their natural form, I am in the form of curry, which I order for dinner, sitting on the terrace of the hotel restaurant and watching the slow fall of the water jets.
“We are here – on their land, not they on ours …” – the hotel manager tells me, lighting a candle on my table: twilight descends on Athirapally.
The Rainforest Hotel is a friendly space for all living creatures – from bugs to deer, and now, having found a huge bug in my room, I call the hotel worker, and he covers it with a soft towel and releases it.
I fall asleep to the sound of water and wake up to it. After breakfast, I read by the pool, and then I go to explore the hotel grounds. For those who get bored, there is a library, a games room, a small shop with souvenirs and Ayurvedic cosmetics, bicycles for guests. I walk around the hotel grounds, keeping my eyes on the sambar deer and monkeys roaming among the trees.
The Rainforest has only 9 rooms of different categories, located on three floors, and a tree house overlooking the Indian Niagara. It is even closer to the falls than the hotel building, and the manager tells me that it is often chosen by newlyweds during their honeymoon. He invites me to move in one of the nights to get another experience.
I have lived in tree houses in both Turkey and Thailand, but they were not so close to the water. Being even closer to the waterfalls, feeling their element – I like this idea, but staying in a house alone at night in the middle of a nature reserve is scary for me, and although I understand that nothing will happen to me, I still refuse – besides, I still I don’t know how much time I will spend here, but I don’t want to make unnecessary movements.
After lunch, I go for a walk with the naturalist Vishnu in the surroundings – this is also an obligatory part of the stay in the Rainforest. We take a taxi for about half an hour and then take a long walk, getting acquainted with the assortment of local plantations. In this area there are plantations of teak, bamboo, eucalyptus.
We go to a grove of cashew trees to enjoy their fragrant fruits. It turns out that the cashew nut grows on trees – on red-yellow fruits, similar in shape to bell peppers, incredibly fragrant and very tasty. To enjoy the fruit, you need to drink the juice, chew on its pulp a little, and then spit it out. The nut is easily separated from the fruit itself, but it is very difficult to split. Local elephants are also very fond of cashew. During a walk with Vishnu, I found the “footprints” of an elephant and determined from them that the elephant had eaten a lot of cashew fruits: their stomach does not digest nuts – a very hard shell. The locals then use the cashew “recycled” by the elephant to plant new trees.
I suddenly wonder: “Do elephants sleep?”
Because in Morocco, for example, I learned that camels do not sleep – they just rest.
“They are sleeping,” Vishnu answers me. – But very rarely and in a strange position – on three legs. The fourth they bend over the knee.
By the way, the Asian Conservation Fund recommended that the area be declared a sanctuary or a national park, and according to the Wildlife Fund of India, it represents the best conditions in the country for the conservation of elephants. Ecologists say that Athirapally is the same type of coastal ecosystem in Kerala, and any disturbance to this fragile ecosystem will lead to disaster. The river provides habitat for 85 species of freshwater fish. Among them are 35 endemic species.
The next day, Vishnu and I go to the river that flows at the foot of the waterfall. There we meet a family of deer, and we watch each other for a long time. And then we go on foot to one of the upper platforms and find a thousand Indians there – it turns out that quite a few locals come here to spend the day at the waterfall.
The days in the Rainforest pass slowly, even slower than the water. In the evening, I drink coffee on the terrace of a restaurant overlooking the waterfall and chat with the manager:
— You know, Kerala is very similar to Sri Lanka.
– Yes. Some say that Sri Lanka is a copy of India.
– Not true. She is different. And in the picture, and in energy, and in people.
An Indian couple sits down at the next table. The manager, noticing my glance in their direction, leans towards me and asks:
– Do you know who it is? This is a famous Malayalam actor, –
The Athirappilly Falls have always attracted filmmakers. Many Bollywood films have been filmed here.
– Great! And I also have a Bollywood experience – and I laughly tell him how one day, quite by accident, I starred in an Indian advertisement with the famous Indian actor Sani Deol – the Indian version of Al Pacino.
– Yes, what are you? he wonders
– Honestly! You can find this advertisement on Youtube.
From the next table comes the phrase: “I travel for a specific purpose and out of necessity …” – and I understand that, it seems, I was waiting for this setting.
For several days now I have been thinking about where to go next: “But should I fly to Rishikesh?” And I consulted with a friend. “Just have a cup of tea. Relax. And follow the clarity,” he answered me. There was no clarity. In addition to Rishikesh, different countries attracted me: at some point I was going to the island of Flores for dragons, then to Nepal, from where Kahendra unexpectedly wrote to me – the smallest person in the world, listed in the Guinness Book of Records, then to my beloved Sri Lanka, which always tempts me…
And, it seems, with the help of this actor, clarity comes to me! I have a goal to transfer to paper the wanderings of recent years and write a book. And for this, I just need to lock myself at home, because when traveling I am constantly distracted – there are so many temptations around …
Why don’t you want to stay longer? – I exhausted him in the morning with a change of plans. “There are so many beautiful places here. And animals.
— What? I saw deer and monkeys yesterday…
— Wild boars, elephants…
– I have repeatedly met elephants in the wild in Sri Lanka. It’s okay if I don’t see it.
I do not have time to say this, when I suddenly notice two elephants who have come to a watering place on the upper platform of the waterfall! I can even make out that one of them has tusks. Elephant and elephant!
– You have a sharp eye. How did you notice them?
– I do not know. Apparently, they could not help but greet a girl named Elephant, I laugh. Yana means elephant in Tamil Nadu.
And this seems to me a wonderful point, a cherry on the cake, to complete my Indiana. This time I spent exactly three months here.
And now the taxi takes me to the nearest airport – it is about 55 kilometers away. From there I fly to Delhi – to walk around familiar areas, feel the warm north wind and fly to Moscow at midnight.
Thanks Kerala! You, as always, gave me many miracles.