Athirappilly Falls is notably the largest waterfall in Kerala, in South India. Yet, it's commonly overlooked by foreign tourists who prefer to visit more familiar destinations such as the Kerala backwaters, Kochi, Varkala, Munnar, and Periyar National Park. The evocative, scenic beauty of the place hasn't escaped the attention of filmmakers and the Kerala tourism board though. Staying in a tree house facing the waterfall makes the experience of visiting it particularly special. This guide to Athirappilly Falls will help you plan your trip there.
Up until the early 1980s, Athirappilly Falls was pretty much unexplored and unheard of. However, it rose to prominence when the Kerala State Electricity Board put forward a controversial hydroelectric project that required a dam to be built upstream of the waterfall. The project was widely opposed for many reasons, including concerns that it would cause the waterfall to dry up.
In the late 1980s, Tamil movie "Punnagai Mannan" (King of Smiles) featured Athirappilly Falls as the setting for its iconic suicide scene. Kerala Tourism also started promoting the state and showed the waterfall in one of its captivating ad campaigns, further propelling the area into the limelight.
Since then, Athirappilly Falls has provided the picturesque backdrop for numerous South Indian and Bollywood films. Kidnapping, fighting, singing, dancing and romancing have all happened there. Hit movies such as "Guru," "Dil Se," "Khushi," "Yaariyan," "Raavan" and "Bahubali" made the waterfall famous and turned it into a popular attraction for Indian tourists, especially those living in Kerala.
Athirappilly Falls is located on the Chalakudy River, in the Sholayar Reserve Forest of Kerala's Thrissur district. It's about 25 miles (40 kilometers) northeast of Kochi airport, and 19 miles (30 kilometers) east of the nearest railway station at Chalakudy. The Chalakudy River originates in the Anamalai Hills of Tamil Nadu and is one of Kerala's longest rivers. It eventually joins the Kerala backwaters at Kodungallur and flows into the Arabian Sea at Azhikode, north of Kochi.
How to Visit
Athirappilly Falls can easily be reached in under two hours by taxi from Kochi airport or under an hour from Chalakudy, via State Highway 21 (the Chalakudy-Anamala Road). This highway runs through dense forest all the way to Tamil Nadu. A prepaid taxi from the airport will cost about 1,400 rupees.
Private and state buses also go to Athirappilly from Chalakudy. There are regular departures from the bus stands approximately every hour.
Alternatively, some tourists travel to Athirappilly Falls by road from the tea gardens of Munnar in Kerala (four hours southeast) or Valparai in Tamil Nadu (two and a half hours east).
Access to Athirappilly Falls is controlled by the Forest Department in conjunction with a collective of locals known as Vana Samrakshana Samithi. Entry opens at 8 a.m. and closes at 5 p.m. Tickets are required and cost 30 rupees for Indians and 100 rupees for foreigners. An additional camera fee of 20 rupees is payable as well. Parking costs 10-30 rupees, depending on vehicle type.
It's possible to see the waterfall from the roadside near the ticket counter, located just before the parking area. There are two more viewpoints inside the entrance — one at the top of the waterfall, and one at the bottom. Be prepared to walk about 10 minutes to reach each one.
The steep pathway down to the base of the waterfall through the forest requires some exertion, so it's not suitable for everyone. This trail is closed during periods of heavy rain for safety reasons. If you do go down to the base, ideally bring a change of clothes or wear a raincoat because the spray of the waterfall is really powerful and you will get wet.
There are plenty of snack stalls and small restaurants in the vicinity of the entrance to the waterfall. Don't carry food with you though or you'll risk getting robbed by menacing monkeys.
Most tourists choose to visit Athirappilly Falls during the monsoon season, from June to November in Kerala, as this is when the flow of the waterfall peaks (by August it usually covers the entire rock-face). The place gets particularly crowded and noisy during the state's Onam festival in August or September. If you're keen for a peaceful time, avoid weekends and public holidays too. Go towards the end of the monsoon season to minimize the likelihood of rain.
Want a bird's eye view of Athirappilly Falls? Splurge and stay in the tree house at the luxurious Rainforest Resort. This hotel directly fronts the waterfall, which is wonderfully visible from the guest rooms.
Budget travelers will find cheaper homestay options in the area, such as Lal Rachan and Richmond. Inexpensive hotels include Ambady Resort and Bethania Resorts. Try Clirind Resort, Willow Heights, or Casa Rio Resorts for something a bit more modern and upmarket.
What to See There
Athirappilly Falls is obviously the main attraction. It's 330 feet wide and has a vigorous vertical drop of 82 feet (about half that of Niagra Falls). The viewpoint at the top looks out over the surrounding hills and waterfall. You'll need to go down to the base of the waterfall to really feel the full force of it though.
Tickets also provide entry to Vazhachal Falls, about 3 miles (5 kilometers) away on the same river. It's a scenic spot, although this waterfall flows more like rapids instead of having a vertical drop. On the way there you'll pass the smaller Charpa waterfall next to the roadside. It really comes alive during monsoon season and plunges onto the road.
Sholayar Reserve Forest has much to offer nature lovers. It's home to a diverse variety of flora and fauna. Most importantly, it's the only place with all four South Indian hornbill species — the Great Hornbill (Kerala's state bird), Malabar Pied Hornbill, Malabar Grey Hornbill, and the Indian Grey Hornbill.
What Else to Do Nearby
Kids will enjoy Thumboormozhi, on the way to Athirappilly Falls. It has a dam, butterfly garden, children's park, and long suspension bridge to Ezhattumukham-Prakriti Gramam Nature Village. It's a good stop for lunch.
Continue on past Athirappilly Falls and you'll reach Malakkappara tea garden close to the Tamil Nadu border. Travel time is about 1 hour and 45 minutes.
Thrissur District Tourism Promotion Council, in conjunction with Athirappilly Destination Management Council, conducts a full-day "jungle safari" tour covering the above attractions plus the waterfalls.
Other offbeat attractions in the area include Kauthuka Park (an award-winning privately landscaped nature garden), and Vachumaram Lake amid the forest.