Cascade country

HE HOMES in on me purposefully. He guesses right: I am not a regular pilgrim, more of a tourist or travel writer. I try to waive him off, but Mr. Karthikeyan, dressed in a spotless white safari suit, cannot be brushed off easily. He becomes my guide and, as we negotiate the slippery rocks and the bramble, he waxes eloquent about Suruli and its surroundings.

I am briefed about the benefits of having a refreshing spa bath and the religious antiquity of the place. We are at the base of the Suruli waterfall, where a chorus of birds can be barely heard over the crash of water as it cascades over the rocks.

The water falls twice, the first column from an impressive height of 150 feet. After gathering in a pool and flowing for a short distance, it leaps off another cliff to a depth of 40 feet. This tiered dance, set against a backdrop of rich forest, is an arresting sight.

Cave temples

As we are stalked by inquisitive monkeys which seem to be on a mission to find out whether we are carrying food, my friendly volunteer tells me about the Kailasanathar Temple cave, situated 800 metres above the falls. There are 18 caves at those heights, each of them, the story goes, hiding water springs with curative powers. Near the main Kailasanathar Cave, there is also a dargah where the body of a Muslim mystic from the 17th Century, Abubacker Masthan, is interred.

The water flows perennially at Suruli, but it is only in these months of the South-West monsoon that it dances in sheer effusion.

The fall attracts its share of pilgrims and picnickers, but the dense surrounding forests are a delight, keen and fresh as you would expect from raw Nature.

Entry to the area is restricted after 5.30 p.m., which is when the movement of wildlife, particularly bison, begins.

As I discover to my delight, the journey is as beautiful as the destination.

Suruli is approached via Cumbum on the Madurai-Theni road. Soon after I reach the narrow semi-pucca road to the fall, after a two-hour drive through small towns and villages, I find myself enmeshed in an expanse of green.

It has myriad hues; the light lime green of paddy, the darker and more sombre green of the mango orchards and the shifting chromacity of the hills of the Western Ghats, where green-ness is not merely determined by the blanket of trees but by time of day and angle of the sunlight.

The fall may rank as the star attraction, but it is more than once that I find myself stopping to drink in the landscape on the journey.

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