Kerela is one of the most beautiful states in India and the range of things to do and see here are umpteen. Starting from the backwaters, to wildlife sanctuaries, to houseboats and Portuguese architecture, Kerela is a complete tourism package, where you can visit hill stations (Munnar), beaches(Allepey, Cochin), National parks(Thekkady) and dams (Mattupetty, Malampuzah). It is rich in history, architecture, traditional dance and martial arts, spices, spas and therapy. Hence, a lot can be discovered and written about this state, however, let me introduce to you in detail one of the tourist spots in Kerela, which in many ways is an amalgamation of everything Kerela is.
I visited the Malampuzah Dam recently, located near Palakkad. The dam area has been made into an attractive tourist or holiday spot with a variety of things to do, such as, the ropeway ride, walk over the dam, boating, train rides and so on.
I happened to visit the place from Coimbatore and it was a different sort of experience since we crossed over from Tamil Nadu into Kerela.
Now, Kerela is one of those states that you know you are approaching as soon the scenic landscape begins to change. Towering coconut trees with hillocks in the background are the sure shot sights that embrace you a welcome while nearing the state border. It is funny how the adjoining terrain and culture seamlessly just passes from one on to another and before you know, you are already in another state.
Coimbatore is a quiet textile hub of South India and there are quite a few interesting things you can do around the city. Malampuzah Dam is one such attraction, about 36km away from the city. On a normal day, with reasonable traffic, you slowly glide out of the city, and hit the NH948 and then NH544, follow your maps and reach the dam in about 2 hours’ time.
Reaching the dam is as much fun as actually visiting it. In fact, if you are a big group, as we were, it was enjoyable to watch the scenery outside and at the same time munch on snacks and gossip. A road trip with family in India is highlighted by large bundles of carry bags, which essentially only hold food items. In spite of all the street food and dhabbas that dot the roads on either side, we still refuse to indulge and insist on carrying our very own food.
And so here goes the story of road travel with family. We scream at our kids out in excitement hoping that their eyes would pop out in wonder while watching the rolling Western Ghats emerge on either side, but to your horror they are pretty much glued to the small screen TV in the van that is showing Sultan with very bad sound techniques. A bag of chips or drinks are passed around and just like the game of passing the parcel no one really wants to end up with the last of these. The person in front in conversation with the driver and the one sitting on the back seat the most uncomfortable, while the dreamers, like me, are tuned out, with our heads turned towards the window, taking all of it in.
The driver stops near a coconut stall, and suddenly vanishes, and since there is nothing much to do we all order coconut water irrespective of whether we really want to drink or not. Later on, we all whisper and realize that this was a master marketing skill and collaboration of the coconut stall owner and our driver. Anyway, once the coconut water is drunk, the coconut skull needs to be broken to scoop out the ‘malai’ or the white solid and that too is passed around dearly.
With chatter and music we ride along, till we finally arrive at our destination.
Malampuzha Dam is the largest reservoir in Kerela and one has to admit that considerable effort has been made to create an attractive tourist spot out of it. The ticket counter lists all the things you can do inside and the entry fee is a reasonable Rs. 25 for adults and Rs. 10 for children.
However, I wish they had increased the amount a bit, if that were the reason for lack of maintenance. You see the place is well planned and well intentioned, only if it were well kept it would be a much more pleasant and fulfilling experience. A sad story for most tourist spots in India, something really needs to be done about this. People tend to pollute and litter the place and the authorities too slack down when it comes to keep the area spick and span. You can see litter in the corners of the boating area, and the ropeway provides views in certain places of a horrendous lot of rubbish stacked in piles. The cool sitting area near the supposedly built rapids is honestly not very well maintained and doesn’t create a soothing ambiance to relax.
But if you already know all of this, which is very natural to know if you are an Indian, and you subconsciously just accept the low maintenance because essentially that is how things work here, then besides this there is nothing much to complain.
The garden is extremely well built and planned and there are various sections, such as, the Maze, Japanese Garden and the Rock Garden, each of which merit a closer look. I would suggest taking the ropeway first, to get a bird eyes view of the entire complex and then take a call depending on the time you have to visit the sections you like. The ropeway ride is slow, peace full and not an adrenaline rushing experience, though there is a warning sign that people with heart dieses should avoid taking this ride.
One of the things I enjoyed was to cross over the narrow bridges that connect one side of the lawns across the channel to the other side where the Yakshi sculpture is situated. It is across this channel that boating is done, and though boating is a monotonous affair, as you move away from the banks you are pleasantly surprised with the lush green vegetation on either side. For a stretch it does seem you are somewhere in the Sunderbands (except for the mangroves as such), and secretly you do wish for the boat to linger for a longer while before heading back.
What makes the Malampuza Dam different from other dams or parks is the surrounding scenery. There are the Ghats that stand out in the background and you get amazing views of these from the boat ride. As with any mountain or Ghats, the same hill looks different from different angles, each side revealing a surprise or a secret. And then of course, you have the clouds and the sky working their magic that give them a heavenly look and aura.
You can also walk over the Dam and see the reservoir on one side and the Malampuzah River on the other. Private vehicles are not allowed, however, there is an option of taking a Safari on the Dam. If you are up to it, a walk along the Dam is a great experience, with sloping giant walls on one side and the still reservoir on the other.
The Malampuzah Dam is a good picnic to have for a single day, if you are in Coimbatore, or making a trip towards the more interiors of Kerela. At night the place lights up, the fountains swing and the trees shimmer. Unfortunately, when we visited during the day, the dam gates where not open. I wonder how mighty and different the place would look when the gates are open, and the water gushing down along the strong masonry and earthen walls. Well, I shall leave that for another time.