Soon after crossing Aliyar catchment, the bus began its ascent on the winding roads with 40 hair-pin bends leading to Valparai, a hill town. En route, I noticed a signboard with ‘Monkey falls’ written on it and decided to see it on my way back. After wandering for a few days at Valparai, I boarded a Valparai-Aliyar route bus and reached monkey falls in the afternoon.
Owing to my luck and incessant rains, entrance to the falls was closed. Two men who looked like rangers and a police officer at the entrance were busy convincing people that none would be allowed to trek up to the falls, that it would be closed the entire day and that they will have to leave. Understanding fully that monkey falls will have to be visited some other time, a bit disappointed, I began to walk. I made a mental calculation and assumed it to be around 4 km from the falls to Aliyar.
A teenage boy in Khaki clothes—who was so far sitting on the other side of the road—asked me, “Where are you going?”
I answered, “Aliyar.”
“Don’t go by walk. It is prohibited,” he said. Something about his tone made me believe him. I recollected the map; this area is part of Aliyar reserve forest! Although the only animal I had seen till then was Macaque, it felt wise to listen to the boy who seemed to know the area. I walked back and stood below one of the mammoth trees lining the road. With all cars gone and me being the only tourist and woman standing there, one of the rangers with a serious face asked me, “Why are you here?”
I told him, “I came to see the falls; since it is closed and I am not supposed to walk to Aliyar, I shall wait for sometime and board the next bus.” He nodded in agreement. Minutes passed…the rangers, the boy, the police officer, all got chatting…I found a place next to the police officer and sat.
The ranger asked me, where I had stayed. After thinking for a split second, I told him where. He was pleasantly surprised. Apparently this ranger knows the home stay owner. He narrated a story—a boy from a tribal community living in the forest had been bitten by a snake and the home stay owner (also a snake rescuer well-known in Valparai) had identified which snake and provided assistance. The ranger also enthusiastically explained about “tree bridges” built in Attakatti for Lion tailed Macaques, so it can cross the road without actually having to get down—this is for real. I had my eyes fixed on tree tops just to spot these special bridges and I did!
In the meantime two more police officers on a bike reached the spot. The sight of me sitting by myself, looking up at trees (not counting stars but enjoying monkeys’ acrobatic show) must have made them wonder. One of them asked who and why I was there. I explained my story. He nodded, said the next bus will come in sometime and joined others in a chat. Minutes passed…Every now and then, just like me, they too looked up to see if the occasional honking vehicle was a bus.
After 25 mins the bus did come. Before I could pick up my shoulder bag, three of them were already up and running. Each one taking positions at different corners tried to stop the speeding bus (because not many crack heads like me get down at monkey falls-stop, I suppose.) Meanwhile, I heard one of the police officers yell from behind, “hey, don’t scare the driver!” I deliberately remained expressionless. The bus halted, I boarded and took the window seat. I might have waved to all of them, but thought better of it, and mouthed a thank you to one of them before the bus started off.
When I narrated the above incident, most of them who heard it expressed concern. Considering the recent gruesome incidents in Valparai involving women and children, I understand their apprehension. The fear of what could have gone wrong in those few minutes overpowered their understanding of what actually happened. Being a solo traveler, I plan my itinerary to avoid situations where I get stuck at unearthly hours or without transport. In spite of it, the one that panned out unexpected happened to be a rather delightful thirty minutes.