A head massage with sesame oil followed by a dunk under the waterfall. You come out of the waterfall to catch your breath. You head back into the waterfall for a few more dunks while coming out periodically to catch your breath. Once you can’t take it no more, you wipe yourself dry and revel in the glorious after effects of a herbal waterfall bath. Pretty soon, you start to feel cold and your stomach begins to grumble. That is when you have Chukku Kaapi, the local concoction of herbs, spices and coffee to instantly refresh you. You then head home or to the nearest restaurant to have a delicious meal. Pretty soon you find yourself drifting into la la land and when you wake up a good many hours later, you feel like you are reborn. This is in essence a rural waterfall holiday in the deep south of Tamil Nadu.
I call it the herbal bath holiday destination of Tamil Nadu as the waters of the waterfall stream traverse through forests of medicinal plants and herbs before they tumble down on to your head.
This herbal waterfall holiday destination is the village of Courtallam, that is located in the Tenkasi village of Tamil Nadu. It has 4 waterfalls, each of which attract visitors by the drove for waterfall baths. The most remote one is called Old Courtallam falls. The largest and the most popular one is called Main falls. And the other two are known as Five falls and Tiger falls.
The experience is more or less the same at each of these waterfalls, though different people prefer different ones. Personally, I like the one at Old Courtallam. Not only is it a bit remote, but it enjoys a great location with paddy fields, palm trees, forests and mountains.
The Courtallam waterfall holiday is not just about the waterfall, but it is about the exotic local fruits that you can sample here (mangosteen, star fruit, nongu and padhani, grapefruit, etc.), the local drinks (chukku kaapi, padhani with nongu, nannari sharbat, etc.), the drive through the lush countryside, the pristine mountain forest atmosphere with terrestrial birds and animals and the full body massage services. Of course, the waterfall is the highlight and its effect cannot be expressed in words as one has to experience it for themselves in person.
If relaxation is on your mind and if you prefer rustic locations, then the herbal waterfall holiday destination of Courtallam is bound to appeal to you at multiple levels. It has been my go-to waterfall destination for close to four decades. Locals living nearby are bound to echo my sentiments. You have to indulge in it to understand its healing effects. Do add this place to your bucket-list and visit during your next holiday.
Things to remember while bathing at Courtallam:
1) There are metal barricades separating women and men bathing areas under the waterfall. Swim wear is usually not preferred here. Locals usually jump into the waterfall fully clothed. Men remove their Tshirts and shirts before getting into the waterfall.
2) There are a few changing rooms for women, but nothing for men.
3) A few toilets are available, though they might not be very clean.
4) Please do not use any soap or shampoo while bathing here as the down stream water is used by villages for drinking purposes. At best, use natural oils and natural shikakai if you have to use something.
5) Grip the metal barricades while bathing under the waterfall. I have known a lot of people lose their footing and hurt themselves.
6) Hold onto your gold jewellery if you happen to wear them while getting under the waterfall. The sheer force of water is known to loosen jewellery and it may go with the water current never to be found again.
7) Beware of the monkeys if you happen to have some food in your hands or in your bag. They are known to be greedy.
Best season to visit:
The waterfalls of Courtrallam carry water both during the SW and the NE monsoons. The best months to visit would be July, August, November and December. Water will be a bit cold during the winter months. Other months may or may not have water as it would depend on exact onset and strength of monsoons.
The waterfalls would attract the Sabarimala crowds during the winter months.
The waterfall is open from sunrise to sunset, though on some days, the local administration puts floodlights and allows people to bathe even in the night.
How to reach there:
Courtallam is to the west of Tenkasi towards the mountains. There are 4 waterfalls: Old falls, tiger falls, main falls and five falls. All of these are located close to each other, though the old falls is set a bit in the countryside.
The nearest airports would be Tuticorin, Thiruvanthapuram and Madurai. You can choose from any of these 3 depending on your starting point.
The nearest railway station would be Tenkasi, located about 10 kms away.
The nearest bus station would also be Tenkasi.
If you are traveling from Kerala, you can take the deviation to Courtrallam from Shencottai.
If you are traveling from Tirunelveli or Rajapalayam side, you can take the deviation to Courtrallam from Tenkasi.
If you wish for some beautiful countryside views and are traveling from Tirunelveli, then take this route Tirunelveli –> Chermahadevi –> Kallidaikurichi –> Ambasamudram –> Alwarkurichi –> Kadayam –> Thiraviya Nagar (take left after here) –> Old Courtrallam –> Courtrallam town.
Where to stay:
There are a lot of guest houses and resorts located in the vicinity of Courtallam. While some of them are located closer to the city, there are a few that are set right in the middle of pristine countryside.
If you prefer to stay in the city, you should have Tenkasi or Tirunelveli as your base.
If you prefer staying by the beach, try the properties located on Varkala’s cliff beach or the ones near Kollam.
Where to eat:
There are shacks next to the waterfall serving you fresh catch of the day, chukku coffee, simple meals and fresh fruits. These should be enough to curb your hunger pangs after your waterfall bath.
If you want a nicer place or a restaurant with much better options, you should head to Tenkasi town. If you happen to be returning to Tirunelveli, then you can either have a wide variety of food at Ambasamudram or at Tirunelveli.
Other nearby tourist attractions:
1) Kasi Viswanathar temple: 13th century temple located at Tenkasi that is famous for its large gopurams
2) Thenmala forest and palaruvi falls: Offbeat nature and wildlife getaway
3) Ponmudi: The offbeat hill station of Kerala with a 360 degree panorama
4) Kappil beach: Sandy beauty hemmed in between the sea and the backwaters
5) Varkala beach: The stunning cliff beach of Kerala where you can wash away all your sins
6) Papanasanathar temple: 1000 year old temple by the river Thamarabharani where you can wash away all your sins
7) Nellaiappar temple: A 7th century cosmic dance wonder
8) Kalakadu Mundanthurai tiger reserve: Rich hidden wildlife getaway
9) Manimuthar falls and Manimuthar Dam: A large dam and beautiful waterfalls surrounded by pristine forests of the Western Ghats
10) Karaiyar Dam: Offbeat wildlife and nature holiday destination in India’s deep South
11) Agastyar Falls: A gorgeous waterfall on the Thamarabharani river
12) Lesser known mountain railways of Kerala: A treat for nature lovers