ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY go on a waterfall trail across India to chronicle the Legends of the Falls
With the advent of the monsoon, India’s many waterfalls revive into gushing torrents. Many are named after the closest village – like Jog (Gersoppa) in Karnataka or Amboli and Vihigaon in Maharashtra. Some are named after their appearance – Dhuandhar in Madhya Pradesh or Hogenakkal after hogey nakkal (smoke stones) on account of the rising mist. There are still others that are labeled after the creatures that frequent them – Bear Shola Falls in Kodaikanal, Hirni (Doe Falls) in Jharkhand, Chitrakot in Chhattisgarh (after chital or spotted deer) or Puliaruvi (Tiger Falls) in Courtallam. However, in a country where mountains and rivers are steeped in fables, can waterfalls be far behind? Here, we showcase some unique falls whose waters hide legends of kings, sages, gods, mortals and maidens…
Legends recount the tale of the princess who used to bathe in a scenic nook of the Khandepar River, a tributary of the Mandovi. After her bath, she would sit with her attendants, and drink a tumbler of sweetened milk. Once, on hearing voices in the woods, a prince stumbled upon the waterfall. To protect her modesty, the princess upturned the tumbler of milk and the water became milky and fell down as Dudhsagar (Ocean of Milk). The waterfall – India’s fifth highest – plummets 310 m off a lofty ridge bisected by a railway track and a scenic bridge!
Access: Trek from Braganza Ghat near Castle Rock while staying at Off the Grid Camp at Poppalwadi or Dudhsagar Resort at Mollem, 14km away
Jet Airways flies to Dabolim
One of the most beautiful waterfalls in the Khasi Hills of Meghalaya, Nohkalikai drops from misty cliffs into an aquamarine pool. However, its natural beauty hides a sinister tale. In the village of Rangjirteh, from where the stream passes, there once lived a poor lady called Ka Likai. When she gave birth to a child, her husband passed away. In due course, she got married again. However, her new husband did not love the child and often got angry with Ka Likai for not taking proper care of him. One day when she was away to carry iron ore, he killed the child, cut the body into pieces and prepared a curry. He tossed the head and bones away but forgot to dispose the fingers he had hidden in the betelnut basket. When the lady returned and enquired about the child, the man said he had gone out to play and excused himself. She relished the rice and curry, thinking it to be meat from a sacrifice in the village. However when she reached for some betelnut, she stumbled upon the fingers. Letting out a terrible shriek, she grabbed her dao (machete), ran out and threw herself off the precipice. From that time, the waterfall was known as Noh Ka Likai or the Fall of Ka Likai.
Access: At Cherrapunjee, 60 km from Shillong; track the monsoon while staying at Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort
Jet Airways flies to Guwahati
It is believed that in their conquest to Lanka, the brothers Rama and Lakshmana were crossing over the Brahmagiri Hills from Kodagu to Kerala. In a rare display of disobedience, Lakshmana felt a sudden surge of anger, returned his bow and arrows to his elder brother and stormed off. Oddly, the moment he stepped into Kodava land, his anger dissipated. Rama, walked up to Lakshmana, carrying a lump of earth from Kerala and explained that Kerala’s earth was Parashuram Kshetra, reclaimed by the sage after several bloody carnages against kshatriyas, and thus incited passions. Overcome by remorse, Lakshmana shot an arrow into the Brahmagiri mountain and threatened to fling himself into the flames that shot forth. Rama created the Lakshmana Teertha, extinguished the fire and blessed its waters with the power to absolve a person of his sins. Some believe it was Lakshmana’s tears of remorse that became the Lakshmana Teertha. Oddly, irpu in Sanskrit means ‘enemy’ – a place that made enemies even out of brothers. Even now, in Coorg when brothers fight, they ascribe it to this legend.
Access: A 5 min walk from the Irpu Rameshwara temple at the base of the Brahmagiri mountains in Coorg, stay at Ramcad Estate or other homestays
Jet Airways flies to Bangalore and Mangalore
Bheem nadi (Uttarakhand)
After the Mahabharata war, the Pandavas renounced their kingdom and headed to the Himalayas to atone for all the bloodshed. At Dharali, the Pandavas took a bath in the river to remove the sin of hatya (murder) and thus the stream was called Hatyaharini. While going to Manasarovar, Bhima’s horse allegedly left its hoofmarks on a rock, which can be seen even today at Mukhwa. Locals believe that Bhima created a waterfall (Bhim nadi or Bhim Ganga) by shooting an arrow into the mountain to quench the thirst of the Pandavas. The niche where he supposedly rested a knee to take aim, still exists besides the image of a sleeping horse. Even today, cows and mules step into the same hoof prints while walking up the mountain. Village boys from Mukhwa often lead you to the jharna, where quartz stones, called moti patthar by the villagers due to their pearl colour, can be found around the waterfall.
Access: Stay at Leisure Hotels’ Char Dham Camp at Dharali and cross the bridge on the Ganga to Mukhwa, from where the waterfall is a short hike away.
Jet Airways flies to Delhi and Dehradun
Courtallam/Kutralam (Tamil Nadu)
It is believed that after separating from his wife Kaveri, Sage Agastya headed further south and climbed the loftiest mountain to meditate. Named Agasthiyar Malai, it is from the hill’s lofty heights that the Chittar River dashes down through roots and herbs as Kutralam Falls. Tagged as the Natural Spa of the South, (or Kuttralam Courtallam) Falls is the collective name for a diverse cluster of nine waterfalls. Peraruvi (Main Falls) plummets from a height of 120ft with people of all ages jostling for a good shower. In what appears like a mega community bathroom, fully clothed women cluster to the right, the elderly and children stay to the left and oiled men of all shapes and sizes brave the full force of the central torrent. The gentler Chittaruvi Falls is close by. Spreading like the hood of a five-headed serpent is Aintharuvi (Five Falls) 5km from the Main Falls with a shrine dedicated to Ayyanar Shastha. Around 6.5km from the Main Falls is Pazhaya Courtallam (Old Falls) with the ancient Thirukoortalanatheeshwara (Lord of the Peaks) shrine at the foothills. The conch-shaped temple has a stunning Chitra Sabha (one of the famous Pancha Sabhas) with beautiful mural paintings and wood carvings housing a Nataraja deity. A mile-long trek from Main Falls up the mountain leads to Shenbaga Devi Falls, after a temple nearby. Puckle’s Path, named after the District Collector who laid it in the 1860s, leads to Thenaruvi (Honey Falls), alluding to the honeycombs garlanding the overhanging rocks. Puliaruvi (Tiger Falls), once the watering hole of the big cats, has bathing ghats for pilgrims visiting the Pashupathi Shashta Temple. Pazhathota Aruvi (Fruit Garden Falls) near the Govt Horticulture Park above Five Falls is off-limits to the public. An hour’s drive from Courtallam past Shenkottai, Palaruvi (Milk Falls) plunges from the forests of Ariyankavu and offers a panoramic valley view. The best season is June to September and between November and January during north-eastern monsoons.
Access: Located 5km from Tenkasi, it’s 167km south-west of Madurai via NH-208 on the Tenkasi–Shenkottai Road in Tirunelveli District.
Jet Airways flies to Madurai
As the high road plows deep into the folds of the mountain on the drive to Mechuka, a stunning waterfall makes every traveler stop and marvel. The wispy Yapik descends like a fairy. However, after a brief pit stop, our co-passengers urged us to hurry up. We wondered why. The oldest in the group explained, ‘Yapik is beautiful, but you must not overstay your welcome. After some time, red egg-shaped stones fall from above. And bad things happen!’ We did not stay long enough to find out…
Access: On the drive from Along to Mechuka while basing yourself at Nehnang Hotel (Private IB)
Jet Airways flies to Itanagar
During the course of their exile, Rama and Lakshmana are supposed to have drifted down from Nashik and Mumbai down the Sahyadris. As they came to Saputara or the region of seven hills, like Banganga, they shot an arrow and created a spring. The twin streams of the Thoseghar Falls are known as Ram and Lakshman, though locals also refer to them as Mota Dhabdaba (big fall), which plummets 250 m in wide tiers and Chhota Dhabdaba (small fall), the three-ribboned stream to the right. However, it is water collected from the surrounding range of mountains Mahabaleshwar, Yavateshwar, Kas and Panchgani that forms this cataract and the origin of the Tarlee River. Access to the waterfall in monsoons is tricky due to slippery rocks and force of the water. A board with a list of lives lost in drowning accidents serves as ample warning.
Access: Drive 26km from Satara on the Sajjangadh road; stay at Nivant Hill Resort, on Kas Plateau Road
Jet Airways flies to Mumbai and Pune
As per local legend of the gaddis (shepherds), nearly 5000 years ago Vasuki, the King of Serpents, stole Lord Shiva’s miraculous bowl holding the water of immortality. Having incurred the Lord’s wrath, the snake god fled with the bowl, which turned upside down while escaping. Its contents were released and formed the waterfall while the spot itself was name after the serpent’s (nag) attempt to flee (bhaag) – as Bhagsunag. While the story may be more fable than fact, the naga connection is apparent. According to another lore, once the region of Alwar in Rajasthan was facing a severe drought. For the benefit of his people, the mystic king Bhagsu left his kingdom and wandered everywhere for a solution. On reaching the slopes of the Dhauladhar mountains, he chanced upon a magical spring owned by Nag devta. Seeing the serpent god away, the king stole a little water in his kamandala (water pot) and left. On returning to his abode, the Naga instantly sensed his water had been pilfered and knew who was the culprit. He chased the king and in the ensuing scuffle, the water spilled and created the waterfall. Bhagsu was shattered. On learning of his noble quest, the serpent blessed his kingdom with rain. He also decreed that the place would become a spot of pilgrimage and be named after the king…
Access: Just 2km from the Himalayan retreat of McLeodganj lies the temple of Bhagsu nag and a short 20 min walk leads to the scenic 30 ft cascade.
Jet Airways flies to Chandigarh and Amritsar
Perhaps no waterfall in India has been depicted in films as much as Athirapally. Kerala’s biggest fall has served as a backdrop for several songs in Tamil, Malayalam and Hindi cinema. A major portion of 1986 Tamil movie Punnagai Mannan, starring Kamal Hassan and Revathi was based and shot near the falls, leading to its popular nickname as Punnagai Mannan Falls. But the waterfall might as well have been named Mani Ratnam Falls, whose love for the location made him cast it not once, but again and again. It featured in his 1997 film Iruvar starring Mohanlal and Aishwarya Rai, the 1998 film Dil Se with Shahrukh Khan and Manisha Koirala, the 2007 Guru with Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai and then again in 2010 in Raavan (Raavanan in Tamil). Such is Athirapally’s popularity that nearly 7 million tourists visit the falls and nearby Vazhachal annually.
Access: 30 km from Chalakudi, 55km from Kochi Airport and 58km from Thrissur. Stay at Rainforest Athirapally with waterfall views from every room.
Jet Airways flies to Cochin, Kozhikode and Coimbatore
Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article was the cover story for the July 2014 issue of JetWings International magazine.