Three friends take off on their bikes to Valparai to catch a sunrise, many photographs and some adventure

This Pongal four of us decided to trade sleep for a road trip. Getting on to our bikes we headed to Valparai about 100 km south of Coimbatore. We met at Aathupalam at 4.15 a.m. and kicked off our journey much before dawn, eager to leave behind a sleeping Coimbatore, to catch the sunrise at Valparai. We made good speed with clear roads and friendly winds and even found time to stop for some much needed chai and biscuits at Pollachi.

We forged past the Aliyar Dam to reach the foot hills of Valparai just in time for sunrise. For the next 15 minutes, the only sound we heard was of the cameras clicking. Then, we began the ascent. Valparai, with its 40 steep hair-pin bends, is quite an experience, and the Coimbatore-Nilgiris Ghat Road, with 18 hairpin bends, pales in comparison.

Midway through those hair pin bends, the Loam’s View point near Attakatti, newly created by the Forest department,gave us a breath-taking bird’s eye view of Navamalai, the Sarkarpathy Hydroelectric Power Plant and the dam built on the hill as part of the Parambikulam – Aliyar Project. The plant generates hydropower from a canal coming from the dam. After feverishly clicking pictures we had to finally drag ourselves to our bikes and continue our journey to Valparai, which we rode into at 11.30 a.m. We were lucky to find a restaurant that was open on a holiday. We were grateful to the person who had sacrificed his Pongal holiday to make us dosas, vadas and several cups of coffee. Refreshed, we set off once again past tea estates. A chance meeting with a Forest Range Officer, led us to a little-known waterfall. We had hoped to spot Great Hornbills, but the officer dashed our hopes informing us that it was their roosting season.

Disappointed, we headed to Chinna Kallar, which has the reputation for being the wettest place in South India. The cameras came out once again and we got briefly excited as locals said they had spotted an elephant there earlier that day. But, our meeting with the elephant was not to be and we departed with mixed feelings, half relieved at not encountering an irate animal and half dejected that we had missed out on adventure and an excellent photo-op.

We halted for an hour at the Lower Nirar Dam, part of the Parambikulam Aliyar (Irrigation) Project where we finally got lucky. We managed to photograph a kingfisher plunging into the water to catch its prey. Next, we encountered a group of lion-tailed macaques. As we stopped to take pictures, the monkeys advanced, expecting food. When they realised we weren’t going to feed them, they turned aggressive and we had to leave the spot in a hurry. Then we spotted herds of Nilgiri Tahr, they grazed the dizzy slopes with nonchalant ease.

After the whirlwind trip we made our way back into a bustling Coimbatore, and this time too it was dark all around.