Valparai (3400ft), a hill station approximately 100 km from Coimbatore, is a lesser-known destination in the Western Ghats for nature enthusiasts in South India. It is a beautiful tea plantation town flanked by the Annamalai National Park and the Parambikkumam Tiger Reserve. Popular travel platform Pally Planet has organized expeditions to this region and highly recommends it for explorers.
What Kinds of Forests are there in Valparai?
Predominantly dense evergreen and moist deciduous forests blanket Valparai. To fully appreciate the diverse forest types in this region, we recommend starting your journey from Pollachi and ascending the hairpin road to Valparai. Along the way, you will witness a remarkable transformation in the landscape, transitioning from dry lowlands to lush, dense forests.”
What is the History and Natural History of Valparai?
The modern story of Valparai began with Ramaswami Mudayalr establishing a coffee plantation in 1864. However, the business did not succeed as expected. Later, the British introduced tea to the hills, leading to extensive deforestation. Today, Valparai is a hotspot for tea cultivation and eco-tourism. It is common to spot elephants and Indian bison roaming freely in the tea gardens, as these gardens have become an integral part of the local ecology.
Reaching Valparai is relatively easy. The best option is to reach Pollachi and then take the breathtaking “hairpin” road to travel up to Valparai. Pollachi also has a railway station. The nearest airport is Coimbatore, located 105 kilometres away. You can hire a taxi or take a bus to reach Valparai from these points. The journey is filled with scenic vistas and winding roads, making it a memorable experience.
If you are an adventurous and observant traveller, we recommend visiting Athirappilly in Kerala, which is only 32 kilometres from the airport. From there, you can take the forest road to Valparai, covering a distance of approximately 85 kilometres. During this journey, you will traverse the lush Western Ghats forests, and if luck is on your side, you may spot some wild animals along the way. The nearest airport for this route is Coimbatore International Airport, approximately 104 kilometres away.
Please remember that you need permission from the forest department to enter forest areas. It’s advisable to hire a local guide, such as Dhanish Trogon or someone similar, to organize your expedition, especially if you’re interested in birdwatching. Local guides are well-informed about the recent presence of leopards and elephants, saving you valuable time that would otherwise be spent searching in vain. The road connecting to Athirappally is highly popular among birdwatchers. During our recent expedition to Valparai, we were fortunate to encounter elephants, Indian Gaur, Wild Dogs, and numerous bird species. Valparai is renowned for its leopard and Great Indian Hornbill population. The nesting season for these majestic hornbills occurs from April to June, attracting many photographers with long lenses to the area during that period. If you manage to go on a nighttime safari, search the canopies with powerful torches for the Giant Indian Flying Squirrel, one of two nocturnal flying squirrels found in the Western Ghats
If you are taking the hairpin road from Pollachi to reach Valparai on the Tamil Nadu side, be on the lookout for the endemic Nilgiri Tahr, a goat-like animal
Parambikulam Tiger Reserve: This Tiger Reserve is shared by the Kerala and Tamil Nadu states. Although the reserve boasts a healthy tiger population, spotting a tiger here can be challenging. Please get in touch with the forest department for permissions and safaris.
Anamalai Tiger Reserve: Known for its diverse flora and fauna, including the endangered lion-tailed macaque. However, you won’t miss these endangered monkeys in Valparai. Visit between November and June for the best experience.
Sholayar Dam: This location offers panoramic views of the surrounding forests and a chance to spot elephants, leopards, and gaur. The ideal time to visit is during the dry season, from February to April.
Monkey Falls is A popular spot for birdwatching and photography near Sholayar Dam. We have seen Malabar grey hornbill and Malabar Trogon here. You can visit year-round, but the monsoon season (June to September) is especially captivating.
Grass Hills National Park: Known for its rolling grasslands and Nilgiri tahr. It is a part of Anamalai and connected with Parambikulam. Plan your trip between November and April for a memorable encounter with these endemic mammals.
Valparai and the surrounding forests are excellent for observing many Western Ghat’s endemics. Lower areas, such as the Aliyar dam area, are ideal for winter migrants and low-altitude birds.
Kadalar: You can regularly spot Nilgiri wood pigeons and great hornbills here. Visit during winter (November to February) for optimal birdwatching conditions.
Aliyar Dam: This location offers sightings of the white-bellied shortwing and the Malabar parakeet. The winter months are great for spotting migrants like the Indian paradise flycatcher.
Puthuthottam Estate: The lower part of the estate and the road leading to the main gate are good for observing Malabar trogons and heart-spotted woodpeckers.
Balaji Temple Area: This sacred site is surrounded by lush forests and is a great place to spot the Malabar whistling thrush. You can visit year-round, but early-morning sightings are more likely.
Athirappally-Vazhachal Road: Both sides of the road are excellent for birdwatching. Ask any tea vendors on the roadside for information about hornbill nesting sites; they will be happy to help you.
Loam’s View Point Trail: A short, easy trail with breathtaking views of the Anamalai range. Ideal for beginners and can be done year-round.
Koozhangal River Trek: A moderate trek along the river, offering a glimpse of the local culture and biodiversity. Best during the post-monsoon season.
Chinnakallar Falls Trek: A challenging hike through dense forests leading to a stunning waterfall. Recommended for experienced trekkers during the dry season.
Manampalli Forest Trek: A moderate trek that takes you through bamboo forests and offers a chance to spot wildlife. Suitable year-round.
Nallamudi Poonjolai Trek: An exhilarating trek with steep slopes and panoramic views of the tea estates. Best during the post-monsoon season.
Nirar Dam: A serene reservoir surrounded by lush greenery.
Nallamudi Poonjolai Viewpoint: Offers panoramic views of the Anamalai range.
Aliyar Dam: A picturesque spot with a garden and boating facilities.
Chinnakallar Falls: A magnificent waterfall hidden in the forests.
Monkey Falls A natural cascade surrounded by thick vegetation.
You can enjoy activities like jeep safaris, fishing, and camping besides trekking. Exploring the tea estates and interacting with local communities are also enriching experiences.
If you are travelling from Athirappally, ensure that the forest roads are motorable. Avoid travelling to Valparai at night. December to April are ideal for nature and wildlife; the exception can be the Great Indian Hornbill. We suggest working with a local guide or a tour company to get optimum results.