When the four of us set out at 6:30 a.m. on a chilly, cloudy Sunday, we had no solid plans.
We contacted the Forest officers at the Palghat forest department the previous day and had been informed that until the 31st of May it was the ‘fire’ season and the trek was closed.
Our journey date? 29th May. Bummer.
Also, an enquiry about the timings, brought out a strict reply, “After 11:00 a.m. only”.
And our ETA? 9:00 a.m. Double bummer.
We decided to make plans on-the-go.
The journey was pleasant. There was a slight drizzle when we hit the road from our very dear Ukkadam.
To me, Ukkadam is like the place where all the adventures start, you know. Any Coimbatorean would agree that waving goodbye to Ukkadam is just as exciting as exclaiming, “Hey! Ukkadam vandhachu. Home, sweet Home” after the trip is over.
Geetha drove while I called shotgun. The two guys were having a blast from the backseat. I switched off my mobile and then took a deep breath of the freedom from technology. It was electrifying, ironically.
Since it was quite early in the morning, there was no traffic and the road was in good condition. As we drove on the Palakkad road we crossed the Siva Siva temple and within a few minutes we were getting some serious chaaya cravings. So we stopped at a roadside chaaya kada and had piping hot tea in the quintessential glasses.
As we drove towards the mountains, we could see storm clouds swirling atop the hills. Prashanth got excited when he saw the mountains. He took out his DSLR and started clicking away.
The mountain-view in those wee morning hours, was priceless. I remember telling Geetha that I haven’t been appreciating these mountains enough. They are the primary reason we have enjoyed this cool climate and have been putting off buying A.C’s, until this fateful, hateful summer of 2016.
Conversations about the five landscape categories of the ancient Tamils paved way to more serious stuff. Thankfully, (!) we stopped at a Sri Saravana Bhavan for our breakfast. After loading up on ghee roasts and idlis, we came out feeling frisky and adventurous.
It would be a shame if the falls was closed, we thought. Yet, our collective intuition kept us moving.
Kerala was a beauty of it’s own. The moment you cross the TN border, you can notice the change in the atmosphere – the architecture, the men in lungis, the small shops, and the lush greenery contribute to the charm.
After taking a right from Palakkad, the entire scene changed. We were suddenly cut off from traffic and the rush. The route was sprinkled with two-storey houses, small shops and farmlands. No commercial stores or hoardings. Just us and nature. We stopped at a place to buy water bottles and candy (poppins, anyone?) 😀
As it turned out, our collective guts was right. Would you believe it if I told you that when we reached there by 9:00 a.m., they were just opening the trek point after the long summer? Yep, they had rescinded their ‘fire’ season statement and their strict timings.
I should mention our special ‘host’. He was a tiny, tawny puppy with a fox-ish face. He welcomed us from the minute we got down from the car and lead us to the office and escorted us a little ways up the trek.
When I think of him now, I’d like to give him the name Major Tawny because he took care of us so well and commanded respect.
Dhoni Hills has a nice, winding pathway all the way to the top. The path is cleared of mud and big rocks and trees and is roughly laid with stones. It is an easy path for anybody who wants to climb. I don’t think any special gear is required if you want to take this path.In fact, we saw ladies who were dressed in sarees and wearing regular slippers walking on this path.
Thus started our trek. A slight drizzle was gently tippy-tapping on our skins. It felt like the forest and the skies were giving us tiny welcoming kisses. Both sides of the pathway were lined with tall trees. You can hardly find any short shrubs or dense foliage here. Dhoni (curious question: Does this falls have anything to do with our CSK Captain?) was all about the high trees topped with green leaves. Greens and browns are about the extent of the colors you can find here. Rarely, would you find a red streak among the branches and even that would duly turn out to be the young leaves, or a bug that is an absolute eye-candy!
There we were, walking up the designated path, and what did we do?
That’s right, we cut across and took the path that was less-trodden, Robert-Frost-style.
We spotted a small stream to the left and we climbed down to this tinkling stream. The guys went ahead of us and climbed down really fast. I was just about to step into a huge stone and use it as a step-down, when I head rustles.
And then to our right, we saw an animal run past us and over to the other side of the stream. At first I thought it was a deer, because it was nearly 3 feet high was really light on its legs. Then, I crouched to have a better look.
A dozen foxes raced past us.
I saw their burnt-brick colored fur and those white-capped brushes ( fun fact: The tail of a fox is called a ‘Brush’) and my, was I thrilled! There were nearly 12 to 15 of them of all sizes. I’m guessing the older ones were leading the group (another fun fact: a group of foxes is called a ‘skulk’) and bringing up the rear were the younger ones. They were so tiny…awwwww ❤
When the skulk of foxes were beyond our range of vision and smell, we unfroze. Geetha and I joined the guys at the stream and just stood there absorbing the morning sun and the fresh air of the forest. The stream that we had hit upon was only a dead end. So we turned back and joined the pathway.
Once again, after walking up the boring pathway (we needed some rough and challenging terrain) we found one uphill track that seemed to cut the long route and take us further on the pathway. This climb would let us bypass one or two bends.
We set about and easily trekked this first climb. Easy-peasy. Then came the second one which was neither easy nor peasy. I was heaving and huffing when I was on the last leg of the climb. Prashanth was really nimble – he was carrying his backpack and had his DSLR slung around his neck – and he was the first to reach the pathway. Geetha moved up in her own pace and joined us soon.
While climbing, I instinctively went down on all fours. That was how I made my journey uphill – like a big cat on her paws. It felt awesome climbing the hills on my limbs. It felt like the most natural way for me to move. I would put my front limbs out and grab trees or latch on to stones. And then when I had a firm grip, I’d move my hind limbs. Feeling the constant drizzle on my head kinda boosted my senses. I was able to smell the mouldy odor of the leaves and plants and my hearing also became sharper. From time to time, I’d pause and take in the jungle, the stormy skies and the adjacent mountains.
The jungle felt more like home and Coimbatore felt less like home.
We continued on and took a few breaks from climbing. We’d catch our breath while we walked a few meters on the pathway before starting off on the next trek.
The third trek, according to me, was the most difficult of the lot. I could climb up most part of the hill – nearly 80% – but the remaining 20% was challenging.
The drizzle had become heavier and there were only a sprinkling of trees. This combination meant that there was loose mud.
Prashanth was already ahead of me and he was standing there taking photos of us from above.
That’s when I slipped.
I’m fine, don’t worry. I happened to claw my way through the mud and hang on to the rock. I lost my footing for a minute but everything was fine in the end. It was only after I climbed up that I noticed that I’d scraped my hands and they were covered in dirt.
Getting my hands muddy has never been so much fun!!!
I walked, trekked, skipped, ran and reached the top of the hill. From there it was a beautiful walk to the falls. When we reached near the falls, we heard a bark. Guess who?
Yep. Major Tawny was there to welcome us once again.
After this I can’t really tell you much because it seems like the water has washed away so many things inside of me. And now, when I think back to that time, it feels dream-like.
It is almost as if my brain’s got a motto – ‘See water. Forget everything.’
We played in the stream (one can hardly call it falls) for nearly an hour before deciding to go back to civilization. For the first day of the monsoon there was a good amount of running water, but I really hope that this year’s rains show some mercy upon us and shower us graciously.
There’s nothing much to say about our downhill journey. We moved more silently and notably more easily. Geetha wanted to experience the silence in solitude. So, she went ahead on the pathway, whereas the three of us climbed down the hill.
I joked that coming downhill was like landing on the 48th square on ‘Snakes & Ladders’. You just slide down so fast, you’d reach the 2nd square in minutes.
I was close. We found an untrodden path that lead us straight down, skipping past many, many bends.
We reached the foot of the hill by noon. We changed clothes comfortably in the rest rooms that were available at the office. Then it was time to say bye-bye.
Our most gentle host, Major Tawny, was back again at the office at the base of the hill. This didn’t surprise us anymore. He escorted us to our car and bid us adieu.
Needless to say, we were ravenous. Geetha was talking about Pazhampori and had Pazhampori-shaped eyeballs.
We stopped by at Indian Coffee House, at Olavakode. But they didn’t have any Pazhampori. My craving for bread omelette and Geetha’s desire for Pazhampori were still at their peaks. So, we drove to the Mazhampuzha dam in hopes of finding some street food.
Sadly, we forgot the most important aspect of our trip – it was a Sunday. So no shops were open along the route to the Dam. However, we struck gold when we reached the food court at the Dam. We had our fill and then started back to Coimbatore.
Dhoni hills is a serene place to trek, specially in the mornings. It is a very easy trek if you take the laid-down path, but can get a little difficult towards the top if you decide to take the jungle route. It was a boon to have such a pleasant climate while we were trekking, and to me, the whole experience was exciting, enjoyable and fun!
Destination: Dhoni Falls
Location: 10.4km North of Palakkad
Distance from Coimbatore: 60 kms from Ukkadam
Difficulty level: Easy
Timings: 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Entry fee: Rs.20 per person
Uphill trek: 1 hour
Downhill trek: 30 minutes
Amenities: Changing rooms and Toilets at the base of the hill.
Trip Cost: Rs.340 per person
chaaya – (Chai) Tea
chaaya kada – Tea shop
Ukkadam vandhachu – We have arrived at Ukkadam
Pazhampori – Banana fritters
Landscape categories of ancient Tamil – Kurinji, Mullai, Marutham, Neidhal, Palai