When you see a waterfall nestled among a vast expanse of forest – covered by blue and green hills, you know you just have to get up close and personal with it. Deep inside the Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary, the Thoovanam waterfalls comes alive (and how!) during the monsoons.
Formed by the Pambar river, it is about 60 km away from the town of Munnar, Kerala. Pravin and I were at the Alampetty check post, the starting point of the 3-km trek through the forest to the waterfall. A set of bamboo rods formed an aerial bridge from tree to tree across the road, forming a safe crossing for animals that are otherwise frequently run over. We were assigned a guide at the check post, a lithe tribal man from the area. Just a few steps into the forest trail, he started to shushh us. “Yana!” he whispered, pointing vaguely to the right. We stopped for a while, and waited.
In the silence, we heard a slow crackling noise, the sound of a elephant’s big foot trampling the leaves and dry branches underfoot. A herd of elephants was just a few metres away from us! I instinctively hid behind a tree(like it would be of any use). We watched big blobs of grey and parts of trunks move between the leaves. “They won’t follow us. They like to stay in this clump of trees,” the guide says confidently. I kept looking behind though, half expecting to find myself face-to-face with a tusker.
A little ahead, something green moved among the trees – a Malabar parakeet! It sat prettily, almost camouflaged. Our guide, belonging to the caste Hill Pulayar, knew most of the English names of the birds – and some of the scientific names as well! As we walked on, a black eagle swooped down right in front of us, clearly on the lookout for its prey. Later we stopped at a clearing in the forest, when we spotted something bright and shiny fly past. “Orange Minivet!” Pravin hissed. The minivet disappeared into the trees, only to appear again, this time with its female yellow partner! Though quite far away, we can spot them with the naked eye – flitting in and out of the dark green leaves like bits of shiny glazed paper.
As we got closer to the waterfall, the faint sound of the water grew into a roar. There are few things that get me more excited than the sight and sound of great gushing amounts of white water, and I picked up pace in anticipation. There’s something about it that makes me feel as liberated as the water itself. The waterfall was nothing like what it looked from the Marayoor road. It was much larger than I expected it to be, spewing white mist that soaked us as we go closer. Nobody was around – only pristine green surrounded the waterfall.
No better time to take a dip!
We stepped in gingerly – the water was cold. I lowered myself into the water and I felt like my chest was caged in ice! We held on to a rock, staying close to the shore, teeth chattering and grinning stupidly at each other. We tried to wade to the other side – but the current was surprisingly very strong. There was the familiar feeling underfoot of slippery, moss-covered rock. I dug my feet into a crevice and stayed put. Any attempt to get closer and right under the waterfall was thwarted by the enormous, almost threatening force of the water. The river, however, made its way rather peacefully and on a gradual incline the rest of the way, so it was relatively safe.
Being in a waterfall brings some sort of cathartic release. I felt cleansed, purged and ready to take on whatever was to follow next. The roar of the water drowned out the accumulated noise of cities and traffic and human conversations. I felt a oneness with the universe, something I haven’t felt elsewhere. Here, in the middle of the wilderness, I was suddenly disinclined to get back to civilization and a life we consider sensible. I let my thoughts gradually silence themselves as I watched the water.
We spent some time in awe as the water swirled around us. The water was so loud that we had to yell to make ourselves heard. The cold got colder after a while and we decided it was time to leave. Despite the heaviness of wet clothes, my body and mind felt light. We changed into dry clothes behind rocks (I look furtively about for lurking creatures) and started our journey uphill.
Suddenly, a blue bird appeared on the ground, hopping nonchalantly along, and the sweet song of the Malabar Thrush whistling, filled the air. We walked among trees whose barks were covered with giant mushrooms. A couple of tribal men greeted us along the way, and we stopped to say hello. They told us the latest news from the forest – they had spotted some Manjampatti (Albino) bison a day ago! “We don’t have cameras”, they said, “But what spectacular things we get to see in the forest! Rare animal sightings, wild dogs hunting, kills, new born babies – the stuff of both dreams and nightmares!”
The rest of the walk was spent in meditative silence.
I think about how much the forest has to offer – how many sights and sounds that we ‘settled’ humans never get to see or hear. I look up and find that thick grey clouds have gathered above us . And yes, it’s the promise of an even greater waterfall!
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