This is about a time when a colleague and I decided to visit the Puliyancholai falls, which is around 76 km from Trichy. Armed with a camera and lots of water, Gautham, my colleague and I were ready. We wore comfortable walking shoes. The beautiful trail and the leisurely treks on hills with luscious green around you and red soil beneath your feet was good for the soul of a traveller.
I was pumped up to catch the sound of water noisily hitting the surface of the rocks, and then rustling away in small brooks. I could feel the bliss of dipping my feet in the cool water. The narrow path we walked was lined with sedimentary rocks and ferns, but the clearing was near. When we got there, my expectations fell seven phantom deep. There was no waterfall!
With no rainfall in the state this year and an acute drought, it was to be exptected that these small waterfalls dry up. The bed of the water body was parched and cracked. At the foot of the slope where the water fell, there were just a few pints of drying water with green moss growing underneath it. Under the raging sun’s heat, the sound of stillness had replaced the roar of the falls that might have been.
Somewhat dejected, we decided to return to our taxi. On our way back, near the entrance of the path that led to the falls, we found a series of shops. The closest one was owned by Thavamani (72), who lived here since 1975. She made and sold a quintessential south-Indian dish called kuzhi paniyaram, which is made by steaming a special kind of batter made of black lenthils, onions and rice. “This is the first time in 35-40 years that there is no water in the falls,” she told us.
Thavamani earns her livelihood by selling homemade paniyarams
She had set up shop at her house which was a small single-roomed space. A cot, a small table, a couple of chairs and a few boxes of clothes were fit in that space. She had placed utensils and three buckets of water at the entrance. There was no door or a source of electricity. “You see, the corporation constructed a children’s park nearby. A few shops were torn down and the power grid was damaged in the process and hence none of us have electricity here,” said Thavamani.
A few feet away, Rajambal (50) sold jackfruit. She and her husband live in a single-storeyed room allotted by the corporation. As she sliced and sold us a few pieces of jackfruit, she remarked on how water has become scarce here. “There is a small amount of water arrested between two huge rock mounds nearby. We use water from there to cook, drink and wash ourselves,” she said.
Rajambal sells jackfruits near the waterfalls
In spite of no rainfall, electricity and very few tourists, I wondered why people like Rajambal and Thavamani chose to live here. They did have livelihood here, but I still didn't know why they would live here. For instance, Thavamani had a son who lived in a village not far from the falls. Their equanimity and survival skills perplexed me.
I asked Thavamani if we could have a plate of paniyarams. She seemed taken aback and placed five pieces of the dish with tomato and coriander chutney. She sheepishly remarked that we might not like them. I told her they reminded me of the ones my mother made at home. As we finished eating and were about to leave, I couldn’t help asking her why she lived here.
"This is home. Where else will we be?"