As children, we used to make fun of our mother, telling us that she had tasted some of the exotic fruits that Dad bought. These were expensive and imported from countries like Indonesia and Malaysia. Little did we know that some of the so-called exotic fruits like rambutan, longan, starfruit, and passion fruit were freely available in the Western Ghats of Kanyakumari. My mother, who grew up in Kadukkarai, a small village very close to the foothills of the Western Ghats forests, plucked them on her way to school. She also mentioned the beautiful waterfall in the middle of the forests, where they used to go as children to forage medicinal herbs and exotic fruits. She recalled fascinating stories about Ulakkai Aruvi, the dense forests around the waterfall, and the sounds of animals that lived there. Thanks to her, I have always dreamt of visiting the place to relive the stories. But that was not to happen until I was well into adulthood because although we visited our maternal grandparent’s home in Kadukkari every year, it was the summer season then, and there was very little water. Besides, forest fires were common during the summer and dangerous to visit.
The Ulakkai Aruvvi Experience
Mom told us how everyone carried food supplies while hiking and cooked kootan choru after soaking up the water for hours. The food was relished and immediately demolished by the hungry picnickers. We tried to recreate this experience but with a twist. Instead of kootan choru, a one-pot vegetarian meal made using vegetables, rice, and lentils, we took pre-cooked lemon rice with pickles. We started from Kadukkarai by car and stopped at Thoovachi, a small hamlet right at the foothills of the forests.
From there, it’s a foot journey through a narrow, winding, single-track road that goes uphill. This hike is not for the faint-hearted you need plenty of stamina to hike uphill while carrying food and water supplies. As I pant and puff, I wonder how my Mom and her cousins managed to carry huge vessels and firewood. From Thoovachi, you’ll have to hike for around 4 km to reach a small waterfall. This isn’t Ulakkai Aruvi, but it is clean and beautiful enough for a picnic. You can either stop there and enjoy or continue hiking for another kilometer to reach the actual Ulakkai Aruvi.
We decided to pursue it despite voices of protest from the little ones. Their complaints were drowned in the sounds of the water gushing from over 100 feet. The mesmerising view of the waterfalls falling perpendicularly from the mountains is a sight to behold. Incidentally, the waterfall gets its name from the pestle-like shape of the streaming water called ulakkai and used to pound rice. The waterfalls in a small pond-like structure with a small pathway that carries water downstream. We were told that there used to be a heavy chain made using stone, probably to prevent people from slipping away into the pathway.
The area around the waterfalls is dense and filled with trees endemic to the Western Ghats, viz., the vengai ( Malabar Kino), eeti( Rosewood), nettli, teak, and kaatu nelli or wild gooseberry trees. After a refreshing bath and some unmitigated fun, we visited the temple nearby. This temple is dedicated to Lord Murugan but also has idols of Agathiyar and other Siddhars or Tamil saints who were believed to have once lived here and spent their lives in penance. These Siddhars and Agathiyar used herbs, medicinal plants, and trees from these forests to cure a wide range of diseases, some of which are used even today.
Access to this part of the forest is denied thanks to the careless tourists who used this place as an open bar and threw around alcohol bottles and plastic bottles carelessly, harming the animals visiting the waterfalls. You must seek prior permission from the forest officials before visiting the place. Only a small group of people who own the temple I mentioned above are allowed access to Ulakkai Aruvi, and that too only for the full moon puja performed in the temple.
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