From the scorching heat of the brown plains of the textile city of Coimbatore, it was a pleasant drive to Pollachi.
We cruised past tree-lined roads, beautiful countryside with its emerald fields of paddy and coconut plantations in the backdrop of the towering Western Ghats.
Further away from the bustling trading heartland of Tamil Nadu, endless fields of ginger, groundnut and other vegetable farms loomed into view before we reached our destination, a sylvan resort dotted with aesthetically-designed cottages sprawling over seven acres of whispering palms.
Nature enthusiasts, Kollywood stars and burned out urbanites come here to de-stress themselves and savour a slice of the heart of rural Tamil Nadu.
There’s also something about the cool, refreshing air here that kindles romance in many hearts, for Pollachi is also the top choice for many starry-eyed honeymooners.
Accessible, yet untouched
Thankfully, we found Pollachi not as flashy, flamboyant, expensive or crowded as Ooty or Kodai, and not yet on the radar of mass tourism.
What strikes about Pollachi is its placid pace, rustic charm and pleasant weather due to its proximity to the Western Ghats.
It is sans high-pressure sightseeing, or hawkers peddling souvenirs to tourists.
Most tourists pass this town by.
This, in some ways, is Pollachi’s USP.
We dropped anchor at a local resort for a truly blissful quiet weekend to explore the green countryside delights of the Pollachi district and its surrounding regions like Anamalai Range and the hill station of Valparai.
Some tourists stop by this unpretentious vacation spot before heading for a pilgrimage to Palani.
In local parlance, Pollachi literally means land of natural wealth and prosperity.
As we pottered around the villages, we had a peek into their pastoral lifestyle and a fascinating glimpse of their traditional culture, Kongu cuisine and folklore.
We were bowled over by the simplicity of this agrarian village of farmers, toddy-tappers, and coir spinners.
Ensconced at the foothills of Anamalai ranges, nature is extraordinarily munificent here.
For the spiritually inclined, one of the most flocked-to-temple in Pollachi is Subramanya Swamy Temple, but there are also other offbeat ones like Masaniamman Temple and the Temple of Consciousness (Aliyar Ashram).
Pollachi takes pride in its sweet yelaneeru (tender coconut), second biggest cattle sandhai (market) in the country and Asia’s biggest market for jaggery.
If you amble around the cluster of hamlets past mud walled, thatched roof dwellings and granaries of farmers, don’t be surprised if you hear someone screaming ‘start camera’, ‘action’, or ‘rolling’.
We met V K Raja alias ‘Location Raja’, who scouts and arranges locations for shoots around Pollachi.
In Tamil filmdom, almost all top heroes have shot here.
Location Raja rattled off the names of some of the prominent movies shot here.
Explaining why Pollachi was a preferred destination for crews, Raja says, “The pleasant weather, the bucolic charm, natural landscape, greenery, perennial water sources, sprawling bungalows of zamindars, accessibility and proximity to other hill stations like Ooty and Kodai, account for the 1,500 movies shot here. Elaborate song and dance sequences and love duets have been shot here right from the days of MGR’s Malai Kallan in the early 1950s, to Rajnikanth’s Murattu Kaalai in the 1980s, Kamal Haasan’s Thevar Magan, Priyadarshan’s Virasat, Shah Rukh Khan’s Chennai Express and the recent Jilla starring Mohanlal and Vijay.”
A favourite haunt of ad commercial crews, it shot into national prominence after it was transformed into a Punjabi setting for Amir Khan’s Coco Cola Thanda Matlab Coca Cola.
The Hero Cycle commercial with three hulking Sumo wrestlers and Airtel’s ‘Coming Home’ campaign were also shot here.
Before the ascent to Valparai, a lesser-known hill station in Tamil Nadu, we tarried awhile at the Monkey Falls, a typical touristy place, where hordes of day trippers come to frolic.
It is also a preferred location for filmmakers. We enjoyed the ride along the winding road by the backwaters of the Aliyar irrigation dam.
We could peer in the distance the unpolluted waters reflecting the mountains that ring it.
Equally enthralling was the ride to Valparai, passing by a series of hairpin bends along the meandering roads and the rolling greens of manicured tea bushes.
On the wild side
Our wildlife saunters commenced in Annamalai Range comprising Top Slip in Tamil Nadu and Parambikulam Tiger Reserve in Kerala.
After a 10 km ride into the forest, we came across Kannimara, the world’s biggest, tallest and oldest teak tree, defying age and bearing the forest department’s plaque paying tributes to it.
The sanctuary flaunts the first ever scientifically managed teak plantation, apart from a bewildering variety of flora and fauna, ranges of formidable hills for trekking, and extensive lakes for boating.
It was definitely worth the bumpy van ride into the jungles as we spotted deer, peacocks, wild boar, and myriads of avian wonders.
After the safari, we sat around Pavithran’s chai kada, a favourite hangout of visitors to Parambikuam sipping tumblers of steaming tea over nibbles of hot vadas.
Listening to his tales of Parambikulam during the British days, we were transported to a world faraway and a time long ago.
Having paced the forest for more than 50 years, the septuagenarian knew every root, every turn and every mound.
He recalled the erstwhile Cochin Forest Tramway, a 65-km metre guage train, running through dense forest from Annappada near Chalakudy to Parambikulam carting valuable timber from inaccessible areas to Chalakudy, to be transported by road to other places.
With the ban on felling, the tramway came to a grinding halt in 1946.
From a 48-sq-km tract of reserve forest, Parambikulam metamorphosed to a 285-sq-km wildlife sanctuary in 1985.
It is often said that the people you travel with and meet during your sojourns can make your trip memorable.
Returning from Pollachi, the names of three persons came to my mind — Location Raja for marketing Pollachi as a filmi destination, Pavithran, a mine of information on Parambikulam, and Sethupathi, MD, GMR for his philanthropic contribution for educating the economically-backward students of Pollachi in his college, besides his recent forays into the hospitality arena.