Dense greenery, a fast flowing river, numerous river crossings, a stiff climb and a mind blowing waterfall at the end. These are the 5 ingredients which make up the Kolli hills trek. The vegetation and terrain are very different from that on other Western Ghats treks. The river valley adds an additional charm right from the beginning. The envelope of greenery is overwhelming at times and the clearings overlooking the settlements below throw in sudden surprises on the trail. The trek ends as you reach the top but the best part is yet to come. Wading through neck deep water and standing directly under the 300ft waterfall are the few things that make you think that this was a weekend well spent.
The Kolli hills trek starts at a tiny called as Puliancholai. 4-5 houses, an equal number of eateries, a dilapidated park, a temple and a river are what dot the Puliancholai landscape. Walk past the temple and head towards the river. The water is shallow but will wet your feet. Cross the river and take the tiny trail that goes left upstream. This is the start of the Kolli hills trek.
Puliancholai is at the base of Kolli hills. Cultivated flat fields end at Puliancholai and a green forest cover clads the land beyond. The river bed is rocky, flat and wide and the trail goes right next to it.
Walk on the along the river and in the next half an hour you will need to cross the river a couple of more times. The trail leads you to the river crossing points. The crossings at this stage are rather straight forward and you just leap across from one stone to another. Notice that you are in a river valley with hills surrounding you in three directions and listen to the sound of the cool breeze and of flowing water as you head upstream.
The first one hour of the trek is beside the river and crossing it 3-4 times in that period. The slope is very gentle and hardly noticeable. Move along the river and after an hour, the trail forks right leaving the river. Take the trail going right.
The vegetation becomes thicker and you enter tall shrubs and trees. The trail is gradually ascending now for another half an hour.
In the next half an hour’s climb the trail starts ascending and you notice that you are gaining height. In the next half an hour, notice a small trail going left. Stop there for a view of the river valley below. Tall rocky cliffs hang on the left and the river glistens through like a small streak in between the greenery below.
Get back to the main trail and carry on with the climb. In the next half an hour you come to a clearing from where you can see the Raasipuram town below. You know know you are mid way into the climb. From the clearing the trail veers right and the ridge line which is your destination is seen. Go right following the trail and you are at another view point within 20 minutes. Three fourths of the climb is over. The last stretch lasts for about thirty minutes and you find yourself on the ridge. The view from the ridge is quite contrary to expectations. The other side is only a gentle slope and is inhabited. The side you came up from is deserted and forested while the other side has a few houses and fields. Walk down the trail through the paddy fields. Cross a few houses and take the foot trail which descends into another stream. Cross the stream and in 10 minutes you spot the temple at Kolli Malai. The temple marks the end of the trek.
The trek ends but the dessert is still to come. Break for lunch and then head to the Agasa Gangai waterfall which is 1070 steps below. There is an entry fee of Rs.10 per head and the last entry time is 3 p.m. The steps are steep but you go down quickly. The first sight of the waterfall is refreshing. At the base is a 10 ft wide pool which has a variable depth of 3ft to 6 ft. Wade/swim through the water holding on to the fixed ropes and get to the base of the water fall. The experience is exhilarating. A few minutes under the lashing water, and all the fatigue of the trek is forgotten. The climb up the 1070 stairs becomes easier than expected after the refreshing shower under the water fall.
Your vehicle can come till Kolli Malai top. The drive back to Salem is over 32 hair pin bends and takes about 2.5 hours. Salem is 110 kms away from Kolli Malai.