It’s often said that there are three kinds of weather in Chennai- hot, really hot and ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! As a kid from Bangalore spending the summer in this frying pan, I can safely attest the validity of that statement. It had been 5 weeks since we got here and we needed a getaway. Possibly some place where boiling hot water didn’t come out of every single tap. Since we were completely new to the area we chose to take a one day retreat to the well known Nagalapuram waterfalls around 80 km from the city, just off the Chennai-Tirupati Highway.
You’d be surprised how crowded Koyambedu Bus Stand is at 6 am but this just meant that there were plenty of locals who were each willing to point us in the right direction. Bus transport is readily available with APSRTC, TNSTC and SETC buses leaving Chennai for Nagalapuram, and other locations on the Tirupati route, at regular intervals through the day. While in the bus we caught up on some lost sleep (6 am at Koyambedu means out of bed at 4:30 am :p ) and then enjoyed some scenic views once on the highway. I learnt to read my first two words in Tamil, unsurprisingly “ஜெயலலிதா” or “Jayalalitha” and “கருணாநிதி” or “Karunanidhi.” With endless posters, statues and even towns named after each other it appears that like Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens they are destined to battle forever.
But back to the matter at hand. The waterfalls are located 16km from Nagalapuram town near the village Arai. We’d initially planned to go till Nagalapuram and then head to Arai after having breakfast, but then we found out that the bus we were on itself could take us all the way till Arai itself so that was a stroke of luck 🙂
Arai is a small village nestled amongst the Eastern Ghats in between towns Puttur and Nagalapuram in Chittoor District of Andhra Pradesh. With zero hotels and just a single bakery, the village itself is pretty much a handful of houses along the road. But the fact that motor transport is possible up to the village is a boon for all travellers. The locals are friendly and helpful, speaking both Telugu and Tamil and when they heard we had not yet had breakfast we were shown to a woman’s house where we could purchase idlis. The trek would take a whole day from the village so we stocked up on another set of idlis for lunch, along with some chips and biscuits for munching. While this turned out to be really lucky for us I’d advise future travellers to either carry food from home or pack and bring from a nearby town.
The first stage of the trek is a 2km stretch from the village to the Nagala Dam where the Arai stream forms a reservoir. The terrain is initially grassy and flat, with farmlands and grazing patches for domesticated animals, until the path meanders into a rocky and sandy stretch to the hill base. You can actually see a clear difference before and after the dam as the vegetation becomes more thick and less even, with some large cacti growing just off the path. After walking in the hot sun, the shady paths near the base of the hill come as a huge relief. The bit from the dam to the hill actually winds away from the stream itself so when you finally reach the base and hear the stream water flowing, it’s music to one’s ears. There is a small pool here and a flat clearing almost adjacent to it where you could go camping overnight.
From here on up, the climb becomes more steep and the path is less discernible. Hard rocks and large trees make it hard to navigate some parts of the climb and we even had to backtrack a couple times but each pool and waterfall is a landmark so it’s pretty easy to avoid getting lost. By late morning the temperature climbs up and sweat begins to drip. This makes jumping into each pool all the more satisfying. The tiring walk through the narrow bushes and slippery trails feels so worth it when it ends in a serene, crystal clear pool of water. There is sufficient depth (>8ft) depth to swim at even the first two pools so cooling off is a straightforward process.
The last stretch to the final pool and waterfall is the hardest with tree branches and thorny vines blocking your way but having come so far, you have the motivation to carry on and finish the job off. And wow what a reward!! At over 30ft tall, it is easily the largest of the four falls and the pool formed below is reportedly 40ft deep. Perfect for diving off overhanging ledges and swimming around after a morning well spent. Climbing all the way to the top takes around 2 hours and having lunch at the top was a surreal moment. That feeling when you jump off not knowing how deep the water is fills you with goosebumps. A truly exhilarating moment. And you can actually swim right up to the foot of the falls and sit under them as the torrent of water washes away all your cares in the world.
A side note here, like those pesky Airtel ads now tell you, cell phone coverage was available almost throughout the day, even in the remotest parts of the region. A testament to the reach of telecom networks in India these days.
A place of solitude indeed. It was easy to forget your worries while plodding along the path and watching the stream flow by. Completely at peace, I was sharply jerked back to reality by a monkey raid at the top. Luckily we had finished all our food but another party wasn’t as lucky as the monkeys dined on Maggi noodles and biryani that day 😀
The way down is easier on your legs but it is much easier to get lost as well but with an experienced trekker amongst us we managed to navigate our way back to the base in less than an hour. With tired limbs from exertion and parched throats the last leg of the trek was the most challenging and once we reached the village we emptied out the bakery’s stocks of soda. But there was still more fun in store.
Since Arai is a fairly remote village, we thought that we should leave as early as possible to the nearest town. In one of the coolest moments of my life, we hitchhiked a truck as the driver gave us a ride till the town of Pichatur on the Highway where he was headed in a different direction. Following this we found it hard to actually find a bus as we changed buses thrice, once to the TN border, then the Chennai border and finally back to Koyambedu Bus Stand. It was actually a little disheartening that the bus services were so irregular but it serves as a reminder that travel may not be as easy as our onward journey. But even that couldn’t dampen our spirits. A day well spent making new friends and memories to last a lifetime.