A quaint virgin hill, Nelliyampathy is located in Palghat district of Kerala. It gets its name from Nelli (gooseberry) trees that are found at its foothills and the entire range is abundant with lush green forests filled with wildlife and many important plants. The misty hills are patched with tea gardens, coffee estates, orange plantations, and cardamom gardens scent its air. Wild elephants, giant squirrels, deer, bison, butterflies, and many varieties of birds call the range home and because of its 467 meters above sea level altitude, Nelliyampathy enjoys a misty cool (often rain washed) clime. It is a perfect getaway destination for those looking for a break from Kerala’s typical tropical mugginess and in summers, Nelliyampathy is less crowded than more famous Munnar and Thekkady.
Nelliyampathy Hills were passed from the indigenous community to British planters
Nelliyampathy hills or Nellies originally belonged to Vengunad Kovilakam of Kollengode, a small principality of Malabar and it was they, who leased the virgin forested tracts to the British. The wild Nellies got domesticated by the planters who started cultivating coffee in the virgin land and earlier only the Malabari indigenous people roamed free there. Eventually, along with coffee, tea gardens started covering the face of the rolling hillocks of Nelliyampathy hills and soon spice gardens and fruit orchards planters also joined the bandwagon. Although, the credit for Nelliyampathy’s plantation history is given to the British, pages from the early planters’ diaries claim that the hills were home to others before their arrival. These early residents cohabited with the wandering tribal communities of the region and according to the early settlers journals, coffee was already growing on the slopes before the land was handed to the British. Today, the lovely green land is jointly shared by the Kerala Forest Department and the Poabs India Company. Together, they take care of the heritage plantations and the lush green forests of the hills and it is indeed a beautifully preserved natural site.
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Expect 10 hairpin bends and jaw-dropping views on the drive to Nelliyampathy
My memories of Nelliyampathy is sadly a bit vague and all I remember now is being beautifully overwhelmed by its lush greenery. I went there on a day trip from Palghat and it was a long, uphill drive. A bad lunch en route made me sick and by the time, the jump-off base town of Nenmara arrived, I was weak from excessive vomiting. The drive, however, was jaw-droppingly beautiful and twisting ribbons of silvery of the road, red-roofed houses, and tranquil rustic hamlets accompanied me all the way. All possible shades of green seemed to cram themselves in the landscape outside my window and the parrot hued paddy fields and emerald forests contrasted sharply against the smoky blueness of the Western Ghats. The clouded peaks of the Nelliyampathy hills were visible from Nenmara and from there, it was one nausea-inducing uphill drive. More than 10 hairpin bends weaved in and out of the mist-wreathed hills and I threw up all the way to Pothundy Dam.
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Enjoy the views of Tamil Nadu through the slack-jawed Palghat Gap
Cool, dense green tunnels of rainforest took over the landscape soon and I could get glimpses of the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu through the wide-jawed Palghat Gap. The weather too turned considerably cooler as we neared the summit and gushing waterfalls sprayed refreshing mist on my passing face. I started feeling better as we neared the top and the hills became more dramatic with each turn. They alternated between being densely tropical, rolling alpine with patches of shola forests to stony, grey and bare with neon green grassy clumps dangling from their rock face like fluorescent ribs. Flowers too grew abundantly and wild scents filled the air. It was a cool, wet fragrance of green sap, wild things of the forests, and moisture-laden clouds.
Colonial houses, villages, and planters’ homes
Soon, little tea gardens and orchards appeared in clusters and the lush forests gave way to fruit orchards, organic farms, and flower hothouses. Tea stalls and small shops dotted the road and tea garden workers rested with their wicker baskets of produce. The road got considerably busier at the top and flower sellers holding bunches of butterfly-shaped orchids, baby blue hydrangeas, and ruby anthurium started hawking their wares. Cooler climate vegetables like mountain squash, wild mushrooms, leeks, and strawberries were being sold in heaps and people queued up for local delicacy of tea chicken. It was a bit crowded at the top and the base village for Maampara was a chaotic traffic mess. Because of little time on my hands, I avoided the much-raved viewpoints and “must visit spots” and happily drove around the waterfalls and English cottage dotted tea gardens.
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Nelliyampathy is a beautiful alternative to Munnar and Wayanad
The slow drive amidst the fragrant plantations was very soothing and it was the perfect way to end my Nelliyampathy day. I left the Nellies soon and a violent thunderstorm chased my car downhill. Blinding rain and hairpin bends are a scary combination and I reached Palghat feeling, exhausted, road weary and very very sick. Despite the nagging aches and sores, my heart was filled with contentment and my dreams that night were of the blue-green forests, scented plantations, and gorgeous beauty of Nelliyampathy hills.
Nelliyampathy Travel Facts
How to Reach
Road – To reach Nelliyampathy, one has to take the road starting from Nenmara which is the base of the hill on which Nelliampathy sits. The nearest KSRTC bus stand is at Palakkad and the National highway NH7 and NH47 from Bangalore via Hosur, then via the Coimbatore bypass onto Palakkad leads to Nenmara.
Airport – Coimbatore is the nearest airport and it is 101 km from Nelliampathy and 55 km from Palakkad which is connected to all major cities in south India, including Chennai, Bangalore, and Hyderabad.
Train Station – The nearest railhead is at Palakkad and from here one can hire a taxi or jeep to Nelliampathy.
Best Time to Visit
The best time to visit is from September to January and monsoons bring very heavy rainfalls from June to September. Post monsoons and post winters usher in the flowering season in the hills and the waterfalls are their prettiest during the rains.
What to See in Nelliyampathy
- The Nelliyampathy range has 3 distinctive landscapes – the plantation part with orange farms, tea and coffee plantations, and spice gardens, the rocks, and hill-tops which are trekker’s delights and the densely forested regions, which has some very rare varieties of fauna and flora.
- The Pothundy Reservoir enroute is a great place for a picnic, fishing and boat rides and the area is famous for animal and bird watching. Look out for the Malabar Hornbill and the chubby Malabar Squirrel and the famous Parambikulam Reserve is not too far either.
- On the way up, those interested in bio farming can take a close look at the privately managed farms and also vast expanses of tea estates managed by different plantation companies. The hills of Nelliyampathy are also well known for its orange cultivation. Privately owned hotels and resorts are scattered on hills of Nelliyampathy.
- The bio-farms located here are a major landmark as one proceeds up before reaching the topmost point at Palagapandi estate. The estate has a quaint British era bungalow, which is now a privately owned resort.
- Not far away from Palagapandy is Seetharkundu where one can have a fantastic views of the valley and a gorgeous 100 m high waterfall. From Palagapandy, one can trek or go by jeep to reach Mampara; another breathtaking vantage point at Nelliyampathy.
- The area in and around Palagapandy estate has tea, cardamom and coffee plantations with adjoining hills and wildlife like Indian gaur, elephants, leopards, giant squirrel etc are rampant there. It is also a paradise for birdwatchers.
- Other attractions of Nelliyampathy are Kesavan Para, the Victoria Church and the Sitargundu Viewpoint. The myth goes that Sita came this way, probably on her return from the Lanka sojourn, sat by a deep well that seemed carved out of the side of the Western Ghats, and rested awhile.
- There is a small Devi temple atop an adjacent hill, Kollengode down below. You can shop for bottles of the very sweet locally made fruit squash along with coffee, tea, guava preserve and plant cuttings (the hydrangeas are especially fine specimen) at Nelliyampathy.
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