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Chennai to Courtallam: Chasing waterfalls

LiveMint logoLiveMint 28-09-2017 Kamala Thiagarajan

After braving bumper-to-bumper traffic on busy highways on a 7-hour drive from Chennai to Courtallam, the sudden burst of green after passing Madurai can take one by surprise. One emerald clearing leads to another, with palmyra and tender coconut vendors on every bend, wooing travellers with their wares piled high. The last 3-hour stretch to Courtallam is incredibly scenic.

There is much to explore in this small town in the Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu, but waterfalls are the highlight. Nestled in the Western Ghats at an elevation of 160m, Courtallam has nine of them, each a 5-20 minute drive away from the heart of the town. These cascades are the tributaries of the perennial rivers that originate in the region—the Chittar, Manimuthar and the Pachaiyar. From July-November, which is the peak season, the waterfalls double in size, fed by the monsoon. Gusts of cold air and a light drizzle embrace the visitors during these months.

Head 3km from the Courtallam bus stand to Peraruvi, also called the Main Falls. It is the largest waterfall here, fed by the Chittar. The first glimpse of the waterfall is enchanting. It seems as though someone has poured a treasure chest full of sparkling white gems that come hurtling down craggy boulders. The thunderous gush of water makes for constant background music to the sight.

Graphic by Ahmed Raza Khan/Mint.

Bathing in Courtallam is an experience unlike any other. A blast of icy cold water pounds away at the body. It’s like being massaged by a million rounded pebbles. The force compels one to hold on for dear life to the metallic railings that line the bathing area, which teems with people in the peak season. Even swelling crowds can’t take away from the beauty and novelty of the experience. Adjoining the Peraruvi is the Chitraruvi (Small Falls), which, as its name suggests, is considerably gentler, and an ideal option for children.

A 3km trek uphill from the Peraruvi leads to the Shenbagadevi Falls, so called because of its proximity to the temple dedicated to goddess Shenbagadevi. Set amid the verdant greenery of the hills, the waterfall is breathtaking in its beauty, but isn’t as big as the Main Falls. A natural shallow pool flows around it, making it ideal for bathing. During full moon nights, large crowds throng the temple. Here, the landscape abounds with the fragrant white shenbagam (champak) flowers for which Courtallam is renowned.

About 5km east from the Peraruvi Falls is a rather desolate and peaceful countryside. In the midst of this wild seclusion, between a dense growth of champak trees, the swirling waters of the Thenaruvi (Honey Falls) hold sway. The calm waters, which can look deceptive, flow in spliced rivulets between two large boulders, making the current so strong that bathing is not allowed. It is an ideal location for picnicking. In case of heavy rainfall during the monsoon, the waterfalls may be closed temporarily as a safety precaution. Check on weather conditions before you plan your trip. Also, the landscape tends to become slippery after the rains, so navigate with care.

The other scenic waterfalls are the Inthuaruvi, Five Falls (with its finger-like cascades), the Tiger Falls (rumoured to be the haunt and watering hole of tigers), and the Pazhathotta (fruit) Falls, set amid fruit groves. A weekend offers ample time to explore all of them.

After a fill of the waterfalls, a stroll through the town is recommended to sample the region’s wealth of tropical fruits like rhambutan and mangosteen. Keep an umbrella handy. The rain often intermingles with bouts of sunshine, creating a very special kind of monsoon magic.

Weekend Vacations offers suggestions on getaways that allow for short breaks from metros. The author tweets from @Kamala_t .

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