Valparai is a small tea plantation town tucked away among the green hills of the Western Ghats. With its cool winter weather, colonial heritage and many animal visitors, it’s a great alternative to the usual winter tourist traps. Here are six reasons why it should be your winter holiday destination this year.
Also read: In the shadow of elephants in Valparai
1. There aren’t too many visitors around
Valparai is one of those beautiful, off-beat places that doesn’t get a whole lot of visitors. Unlike Munnar just across the border into Kerala, Valparai isn’t swarming with tourists. This, despite the fact that it’s a three-hour drive from Coimbatore airport.
Also unlike Munnar, Valparai isn’t commercial, which means you’ll still have some authentic experiences. If that means having to do without swank places to eat and without lots of tourist infrastructure, then I think that’s a worthwhile trade-off.
2. Winter is actually the best time to visit
Though it does get a little cool during the winter season, this is actually the best time to visit Valparai. That’s because it tends to be a little rainy during the rest of the year. Also, hardly anyone thinks of heading up into the hills during the winter months, so you won’t see many fellow visitors. So pull on your jackets, slap on your monkey caps and enjoy the cool breeze and warm sunshine.
3. The views of the tea plantations and the jungle-covered hills are spectacular
Located as it is in the Western Ghats, Valparai and its surrounding villages boast some spectacular views. The rolling tea plantations and the hills that surround them make for a magical setting, whatever the time of day. Everywhere you look is lush green (except maybe in town, which has a big, unsightly garbage dump). And the drives along the hill roads are lovely! Perfect for a winter holiday destination, I would say.
4. There’s lots of wildlife to be seen
The hills surrounding Valparai are home to lots of wildlife sanctuaries and reserve forests. That means you’ll be sure to see something impressive during your visit. Lots of elephants use the plantations to pass between sanctuaries, and you’ll probably see gaur (also called Indian bison) browsing in the marshes. You’ll also have a few Malabar giant squirrel peeping at you through the trees. And if you’re lucky, you might spot a leopard, a threatened great hornbill, or an endangered lion-tailed macaque.
Unfortunately, because of increasing encroachment into the surrounding forest, there are frequent cases of people coming into conflict with animals—especially elephants. So if you’re there, please be very careful, and don’t go out alone at night. And please don’t feed the monkeys. It changes their natural behaviour and makes them aggressive.
5. Old-world hospitality at colonial-era estate houses still exists
Lots of the tea estates around Valparai are more than a century old, and some of them have converted their estate houses into guesthouses. These exclusive estate houses—like the wonderful Sinna Dorai’s Bungalow or the impressive-sounding Briar Tea Bungalows—offer old-world luxury and hospitality. There’s something magical about having a traditional meal in a warmly-lit colonial-style dining room, while you admire the endless tea plantations through the window.
Of course, all this comes at a price. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any pocket-friendly places to stay around Valparai. There’s accommodation options to suit every budget here, though not as many as you might be used to.
6. Conservation teams are hard at work here
Conflict between people and animals happens everywhere human habitation expands into wildlife habitats, and this area is no exception. The Nature Conservation Foundation, a non-profit conservation organization, has a permanent team in the area. They work on issues like man-animal conflict, rainforest replenishment and awareness creation.
So if you’re concerned about environmental and conservation issues, this a great place to learn more. Especially if you visit their Ecoquest nature experience centre in nearby Iyerpadi. This little cottage has walls covered with incredible murals depicting the ecosystems and species of the Western Ghats. It’s quite a revelation, and I strongly recommend it. A stop here will give you an appreciation of the delicate ecosystems surrounding Valparai. And an insight into how to travel responsibly among them.
Also read: Easy ways to be a more responsible traveller
So that’s why I think quiet, green Valparai makes for a great alternative to the usual winter holiday destinations. Need more convincing? Take a look at our experience in Valparai.