If chanting the word Amirthi a thousand times entitles one to immortality, I’d be immortal — twice over — by now. Everyone seems to know Amirthi forest lies in Vellore district, but no one is able to tell us how to get there from Chennai. There are hardly any signboards or milestones, and the road forks every 100 m or so. Thankfully, little boys are always around to provide directions with utmost confidence. “Are you sure?” we ask many a time, and they nod.

We drive past Kaniyambadi to reach Kannamangalam, where we turn right, drive on a river bed, up a slope and on to surprisingly good roads. The view on either side is stunning. There are corn fields, rows of banana plantations, scarecrows with pots for heads, and quaint little cottages in the middle of nowhere. Hazy, purple mountains form the backdrop of a landscape that seems like a painting shimmering under a bright afternoon sun.

We reach Keezh Arasampatti (a little ahead of Vellore) in about four hours and look for signboards. Finally, hidden behind a statue of Anna, we spot one that announces the way to Amirthi forest. After driving for about 28 km from Vellore, we reach Amirthi forest, located on the fringes of the Javadi hills.

At the toll gate, we’re met by a rather hungry monkey. Monkeys, by the way, are abundant in these parts. And, evidently rather used to human presence — this one effortlessly opens our car door and makes away with a packet of biscuits. “They do this all the time,” says the officer there, “you just have to be careful.” He also dampens our hopes of getting a good view of the falls, since the river is almost dry.

Just before we enter the mini zoo, we spot the Amirthi river trickling noiselessly. In fact, along the course, it’s just a small stream rushing past us in great hurry, sliding over boulders and dipping into the crevices.

The Amirthi Mini Zoo is a little ahead, with just a groggy crocodile, parakeets, deer, kites and rabbits, among other small animals. A couple of pythons are curled up in their enclosure and seem fast asleep. The zoo is empty but for a few picnicking families. We walk further into the forest, but we’re stopped and asked to return — the reserve forest is off limits and the falls is not open to the public.

But what one can do is take in the sights and sounds around. The entire area in enveloped in silence, interrupted only by the sounds of your shoes crunching on gravel, monkeys fighting for territory, birds calling and leaves rustling with the passing wind. And in the distance, catch the view that’s worth the long journey — tall palms, green grass and aubergine hills...

Soon, it’s time to leave, and the drive back is as confusing as it was. We’re back to tracing our way by those quaint pink cottages and tea shops, but as always, we find those little boys in muddy shorts at every corner.

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