The origins of this hill station, and the flourishing state of much of it’s tea estates are due in no small part, to pioneering gentlemen from the days of the British Raj. It comes as a bit of a surprise therefore, that history books are noticeably devoid of any mention of the beginnings of this place. Indeed, precious little is known about Carver Marsh, the man who introduced tea plantations to the Annamalai ranges. Without any further ado however, let us concentrate our attentions on the beauty of this place – Valparai.
As one nears Pollachi, the early riser is greeted with views of wide open fields, coconut trees and towering wind turbines. From the looks of it, there is precious little to do in Pollachi itself, unless you are on a pilgrimage. Our cab driver is early to pick us up. After re-fueling and a quick halt for some south Indian breakfast, we speed along the road to Valparai.
“2 hours .. Valparai“, our driver quips in faltering English, as we start.
“Ghat section, more time.“, he adds for extra measure, to explain the inordinate time taken for a 60 km stretch. I nod in understanding and partially lower the windows to take in the fresh air. Instantly, the smells of jasmine, incense and cow dung all come together in unison through the windows. Pretty soon however, craggy hills shrouded in mist make their appearance on the horizon. Our driver points to the top and exclaims. “Valparai !”
We pass by Aliyar dam and “Monkey falls”. The latter looks like a typical tourist trap with the weekend crowd queuing up at the entrance and hence, we pass it by without stopping. Ghat roads welcome us soon and after negotiating a few hairpins, a stunning bird’s eye view of Aliyar dam comes up. Here, our cab driver pulls over and we sleepily tumble out, only to be presented with a glorious view. Aliyar reservoir gleams in the morning sun but the rest of the hills are covered in a hazy, misty veil. The serpentine roads remind me in some idiotic way, of pinball. We’re not alone at this hour, though. There is a foreigner trying to photograph something that our eyes are slow to spot in the mist. Soon enough however, realization dawns.
The road ahead consists of 33 more hairpins and musters grunts and squeaks from the cab. Soon enough, a thick fog envelops everything and the environs resemble a fairyland. These are the peaks of the hills and the fog obscures much of the tea estates. After descending a little though, the fog parts to give us the first glimpse of Valparai. It becomes clear in an instant that Valparai is home to some of the biggest tea estates in South India. Entire hills have been deforested and are covered in swathes of tea plantations. As the cab descends, seemingly bald (and tea-green colored) hills appear, one after the other, and their mere presence leaves you enchanted. There are still patches of forests left on these hills; but not for long, counters the mind. And we press ahead.
Our resort is located somewhere near the Sholayar reservoir and cellphone signal reception has already deserted us long ago. A few helpful locals guide us to a nondescript gate leading to the resort and restless after the long ride, we check in, and settle down for lunch. Lunch, prepared by the caretakers consists of simple sambar, rice and okra subzi. What stands out though, is the freshness and quality of the ingredients. It seems like even the vegetables are produced locally, lending a very homely feel to everything on the menu. We rest for some time, and set out for some sight-seeing late in the afternoon.
The sun goes down over the Sholayar reservoir after smearing the skies with a purple tinge. The next day reveals even more tea estates than the previous day. Every hill or mound, of every conceivable shape has been draped with a tea estate. We spot charming little bridges over small streams and rivulets of water running between the estates. The mist plays quite the character in Valparai, always hanging around in the background over the not so distant hills. And sometimes, reminding us of the place we have to go back to.
Pretty soon, it is time to bid good bye to this beautiful little place. But not without the promise of another visit. For we have heard, that the monsoons are when Valparai and its inhabitants come into their own. Some day, soon. We will.
For a few more pictures of Valparai, visit this blog post.
Note: We visited Valparai in the month of December. Cabs from Pollachi to Valparai can be expensive. It is best if you have your own vehicle. We stayed at Deepika’s garden resort near the Sholayar dam. Cellphone signals were near to non existent except for Aircel. Warm clothes are not really necessary since it never got that cold even at night. However, monsoons are when Valparai really weaves its magic and going by the reviews, it is a sight to behold. Valparai rarely witnesses the crowds that throng the more popular hill stations of south India, and hence, it is a place that you must experience now. Before word spreads.