Standing atop the Athirappilly Falls and watching the Chalakudy river explode into a frenzied downpour and plunge down a precipice, seething with passionate fury and boundless energy into the chasm below was an enthralling experience. It is so stunning that I could stand there the whole day and watch the falls tumble down the hard granite rocks with a resounding crash and the pall of mist and spray of water that shrouds and envelops the chasm.
There was something magical about the striking beauty of this cascade as the only sounds that filled my ears were the thunderous roar of gushing water leaping down the rocky gorge, the chirping of birds, the rustling sound of the howling wind, all in the midst of sylvan surroundings. I could also get an eyeful of the lush green of the Sholayar range and the undulating hilly regions which stood sentinel to the falls. It was Kerala Tourism’s captivating visual of this magnificent falls in the late 80s which beckoned me here.
After a trek along a winding path covered by a canopy of verdant foliage, I reached the base of the falls where I had unbeatable views of the falls and got drenched by the invigorating sting of its spray. The reverberating fall of water hurtling down the mountains and the gurgling sounds of the gushing rivulet evoked memories of the opening scene of the Tamil movie Punnagai Mannan, starring Kamal Haasan.
The recurring theme of the falls and the super hit song ‘Enna Satha Intha Neram’ in the movie still lingers in my mind. A predominant character in the movie, Athirappilly Falls came to be christened as ‘Punnagai Mannan Falls’, which catapulted its fame as a tourist destination.
The waterfalls, often described as ‘Kerala’s Niagara’, have inspired many filmmakers to shoot their films in the pristine environs of Athirappilly. I recalled many fighting sequences, romantic interludes and song sequences in some hits like Mudalvan, Guru, Dil Se, Ravana and Bahubali, all filmed in this picturesque location.
Emerging from the high altitudes of Annamalai range in Tamil Nadu, the west-flowing Chalakudy river winds its way through a dense forest teeming with wildlife, hills and gorges overhung with trees down the slopes of the Western Ghats. Located on Chalakudy river near the Vazhachal Forest Division in the heart of verdant Sholayar ranges, Athirappilly Falls traverses through the Vazhachal Falls just past the Peringalkuthu Dam, and plummets 80 ft down a yawning chasm before creating the glorious spectacle of cascading water and flying spray.
The 140 hectares of prime forestland shelters 402 rare plants, 99 fish species and diverse species of fauna, including the rare Cochin forest cane turtle, lion-tailed macaques, tiger, leopard, and the Nilgiri langurs. This is the only place in the Western Ghats where four endangered hornbill species can be sighted. Even Prince Charles was overwhelmed by the bewildering biodiversity when he visited the Vazhachal Forest Division to interact with the Kadar tribes and understand the issues and challenges of conservation in the Western Ghats.
To the east of Athirappilly is the lesser-known Charpa Falls, which plunges down to the road during the torrential rains. The road is so close to the falls that the mist from the falls was refreshing as I stood gazing at the multi-layered flow. Our guide explained how during the film shoot of Mani Ratnam’s Ravana, an elephant killed a mahout at this spot. Horrified by the gory sight, Ash and Abhi fled the spot scurrying for their lives, and Mani Ratnam packed up his unit and left for Ooty.
Just past the Peringalkuthu Dam, five km ahead is the Vazhachal Falls. Its close proximity to the dense green forestland and a medicinal herb garden lends a special charm to the falls. Though not as awesome as the Athirappilly Falls, the flow of water increases during the monsoon. It bore a semblance of a waterfall as the river hurtled over myriads of rocks down a slope at this spot creating a profusion of foam. Further east from Vazhachal on SH 21 is the Anakkayam Falls.
Once unexplored, Athirappilly shot into the limelight as a fatal attraction when some tourists lost their lives and a few college students took a plunge from the clifftop swirling down the slippery rocks in a drunken fit. From a suicide spot, Athirappilly has traversed a long way before it attained tinsel fame. Currently, it is a popular destination where multitudes of tourists make a dash to witness and capture timeless selfie moments of nature’s headlong tumble into the depths below.