I had the privilege to visit the Valparai belt again within few weeks. But this time with a larger group who demanded an entirely different ambience to stay. Two friends along with their family signed up along with my family for this trip and all of them were very clear what they really wanted. A unique memorable trip!
Travel schedule was fixed matching everyone’s vacation calendar. September 25th till 27th 2015 which was then a long weekend. Having visited Valparai just few weeks before, Parambikulam was a destination of choice but unfortunately bookings were full well in advance being a long weekend. Island package was the only available option which is not well fit for family with small kids. While thinking about other options, recollected Akkamalai and Manampalli which are serene getaways around Valparai but not open to public. During my Valparai trip, I gathered some information from the local folks as well on these destinations.
Akkamalai which is more popularly known as Grass Hills is actually a trekkers paradise but no proper accommodation possible on the hill. This location is actually connecting Anamalais with Eravikulam wildlife sanctuary and the trail involves higher amount risks due to wild animal encounters, lack of medical support etc. Ruled out for a family group with small kids. And looks like its very difficult to get permissions for trekking these days.
Manampalli is known for its thick shola forest and the rich fauna being geographically bordered to Top slip and Parambikulam. This place is actually between Sholayar and Valparai but 8KMs inside the forest. This place has some human presence (very less) in the form of Sholayar Power House where some people work and thereby lives in the government provided accommodation facility. But the only public transportation available is the bus which goes to Valparai in the morning and returns by evening. There is a guest house maintained by Tamil Nadu Forest department and not part of the power house project. Not something which we can locate on Google Maps. It shows Manamboli forest on the wrong direction near Idamalayar.
There are few blogs found on the Internet on Manampalli.
We decided to try Manampalli this time and did the possible homework to gather as much as information possible to avoid surprises while with family. Accommodation in the Forest guest house is not something similar to a resort or any well-appointed place of stay. It is in the middle of the forest with no electricity (Solar powered). Guests have to carry everything from Salt for cooking food. There is a cook-caretaker available for help. Please hold on till I complete to decide if this destination will suit you or not. It is certainly not for People who are used only to the comfy resorts and hassle free travels.
After many tries through the contacts available through the Government websites, I decided to rely on a tour operator in Pollachi who can get the permissions and accommodation bookings done on my behalf. (Contact details can be shared upon request).
I suppose this is the first thread in Team BHP to talk about Manampalli. This time being a family trip, not sure if I can do justice to the serenity of this place through the limited photographs. I shall try my best. Day 1 : Friday, 25th September 2015
Tusker(Xylo) took command this time since kids are there and comfort took precedence. We started from Kakkanad, Kochi by 8:00AM. My friend Ullas, his wife and their 2 year old on their Fiesta joined us from Kalamassery around 8:15AM. Another friend Sineesh who was coming from Palakkad, chose to join me on Tusker than taking their car. He agreed to park his car in a friend's place in Athirappally route and be ready after his breakfast. We stopped in Saravana Bhavan, Angamaly, had a lavish breakfast and proceeded to Chalakkudy. Thankfully not much of traffic in NH47 and we exited to Athirappally route from Chalakkudy by 9:30AM.
Tanked up Tusker and checked the air pressure from a fuel station in Chalakkudy so that no worry for next 600KMs roughly. We picked up Sineesh on the way. Tusker comfortably seated all four adults in its captain seats while kids decided to conquer the third row bench seats. We utilized Fiesta's large boot space for accommodating the luggage comfortably than squeezing inside the Tusker. Full house by 10:15AM and drove towards Athirappally which was crowded by then being a holiday. Proceeded to Vazhachaal just after slowing down on road itself for a quick glance of the Athirappally falls which was then in full glory.
There was a queue of about 6 vehicles by the time we reached Vazhachaal check post and had to wait for about 10-15minutes for making the entry pass to the Forest. We slowed down a bit to let the convoy loosen so that we could enjoy the empty tarmac and not many vehicles behind us. We stopped at the Poringalkuthu dam catchment for a quick break.
It was already 11ish and we were at least an hour behind schedule since plan was to have lunch from Valparai. The tour operator has agreed to meet us at Valparai and take us to Manampalli since there were some formalities in forest check post. Driving sedately through the forest, everyone were carefully peeping through the large windows for spotting wildlife.
No wildlife spotting and we reached Malakkapara check post by 12:30. After returning the forest pass, we proceeded to Sholayar dam city and then towards Valparai. We reached Green Hills, Valaparai after 1:30PM and the place was really crowded unlike our earlier visit. Had a tough time parking the cars but food was decent as it used to be, so no complaints. We sourced some groceries, vegetables, egg and chicken for cooking dinner and next day's breakfast. And anyways I was carrying many ready to eat, and heat and eat food items along with milk and juices in tetra pack etc. List was quite long but for a team of 6 adults and 4 kids.
Our tour operator Ramesh was waiting on his white Safari Dicor while we drove back from Valparai town. Manampally being between Sholayar and Valparai, we drove back till Urulickal forest checkpost (pictured below).
Not sure if travelers would have noticed this sign-board during the drive. I noticed it for the first time though noticed the checkpost earlier. Manampalli is 9KMs from main road while Sholayar is 8KMs and Valparai is 15KMs from the checkpost.
I tried incorporating Manampalli & Urulickal Checkpost in Google map of Valparai.
Ramesh cleared the formalities at the Checkpost, guards had a very quick check of the vehicles to count people and the gates were opened. Narrow but good roads greeted us with a soothing green scenery. Route was full of curves and slopes as we started. But later turned into hairpin bends with uphill and downhill. Narrow stretches along the thick green forest. We could smell fresh bamboo and elephant dung all along. Tusker literally enjoyed the ambience.
It took about 20 minutes to tackle the 9KM stretch and we reached Sholayar Power Station in Manampalli where we could find human presence. There was a temple and few private bungalow properties on the way but couldn't find anyone or vehicles on road. From the power station, we drove further inside through the small buildings including a post office, medical dispensary etc to reach another unmanned checkpost. Ramesh honked for sometime and a guy came running from nowhere to open the gates for us. After the gate, there is no road and just two concreted narrow lanes where the wheels are to be maneuvered through. Both sides were filled with tall trees and insects were breaking the silence as we drove in. Forest guest house is just about 500meters from the unmanned checkpost. It was almost 4PM.
A true wild ambience welcomed us!
The guest house is safeguarded from animals by a deep canal surrounding the place. We need to drive in over a metal bridge with sharp ridges which makes it difficult for animals to walk. But nothing a big cat can't jump to cross
Frontage is the most beautiful part of the stay, a lovely river. And its quite shallow near the guest house.
After parking our cars comfortably, Ramesh introduced us to the Cook-cum-caretaker and left as it was getting late. There were actually two buildings in about 20 feet distance and both had two large rooms with attached toilets. One room in the main old building was occupied by a group of IT guys from Bangalore.
Both rooms in the other building was for us and it has a large covered frontage for kids to play around and for doing barbeque. All rooms were large and had sufficient beds to accommodate 4 adults each. Luckily none of us were honeymooning and we decided to stay together in one building than choosing the third room. Remember those college tours, Girls in one dormitory and boys in another
Handed over the groceries and stuff to the kitchen. Gave directions for tea, dinner and breakfast. And for immediately marinating the chicken for barbeque. After keeping the luggage in our rooms and having a hot tea, we took a quick spin two of us went for the shower. Rains have stopped by then but the place overall appeared dark.
Everyone gathered in the verandah after shower. Luckily no mosquitoes even though it was dark and 6:30PM. Climate was awesome, may be around 20 degrees. Kids were active and playing around enjoying the freedom. While ladies engaged in endless talks, boys (we!) started with the barbeque. It was really fun in the cool weather. By the time everyone had the starters (barbeque chicken) and juices, dinner was served to us. Chappathi and chicken curry, homely and tasty!
We decided to get up early and drive out before the bus starts so that we could spot some animals on the way. Being frequented by elephants, we checked if someone could guide us. In fact two local guys who came to help our cook were planning to catch the morning bus to reach Valparai and travel to their native. They agreed to join us till Valparai. No phones or mediums for communicating. Infact BSNL has signal in Manampalli but none of us have BSNL connections. We asked them to be ready in the inner checkpost by 6:15AM the next day.
Our chit chat continued till about 10PM before everyone decided to retire from the day with satisfied minds. Disclaimer : Photographs of the guest house and surroundings are borrowed from next morning's clicks to keep continuity for readers. It was very dark and drizzling while we checked-in.
(to be continued...)