Posted by Rob, armed with a point and click 😉
Courtallam, also known as the Spa of India and Poor Man’s Paradise, is famous within India for its seasonal waterfalls. Unbeknownst to most, it is also one of the few locales in India where durian is grown. Luckily for me, I was in the area at right time to bathe in the holy waters while I scouted for durian.
Before I could join them I needed to rent a room and drop off my gear. Finding quarters was easy off of the main avenue. I am a pale white guy and it was midday so I mangoed down in my room for a bit, but not alone. This little guy found his way to my third floor window where I shared my mango pits with him.
Durian was all over the place. Much more so than Lindsay and I found in Mettupalayam. Most of the numerous fruit vendors had a few durians on display. About half of the durian being sold was from Thailand. Kinda disappointing, but hey, durian availability is a good thing, and unlike back home in the states, these weren’t frozen. The asking price was high, around 700 rupees a kilogram, or $25 per pound!
That leaves the other half, which must be local, right? Well, sort of. While this durian is from India, it actually came from from Burliar, the very government farm Lindsay and visited a week or so prior. I was feeling good and enjoying the vibe of the Indians on holiday, so I just found this bit of irony hilarious.
Here in Courtallam, Indian durian was selling for slightly less than its Thai counterpart, around 600 rupees per kilogram. If that still sounds too expensive, well there are loads of other fruits to choose from: all the usual suspects plus jackfruit, chico sapote, rambutan, mangosteen, and even pulasan.
A fruit vendor named Mahadeel gave me the lowdown. Lindsay was right. Durian does grow here, only the season was over already. Durian in this area, which lies around 250 KM south of Mettupalayam, ripens and falls about a month before its northern cousins. So durian was dropping here while we were enjoying Delhi’s mango festival. Oh well. Worth it, I think.
Durian is not a major crop here. I am told that some estate owners have a few trees each, high up on the mountain slopes, and that is pretty much the extent of cultivation. Lindsay and I had read that some durian trees could be found near the falls. But, which falls and how close? Our source didn’t say. So I asked fruit vendor after fruit vendor until I was directed to Five Falls.
Just like it sounds, Five Falls has five falls all right next to eachother. After learning that I am from the USA, a local asked me if it was like Niagra. So I take it this is India’s Niagara. Only I think it must be a lot more fun. Access to the falls is free and men and women are kept separate, which makes sense with the density of the crowds pressing in to bathe in the waterfalls. That comes to 3 falls for the men, and 2 for the women. Sounds unfair, but there are loads more men.
I took my turn on the men’s side, of course. Surprisingly cold! And lots of fun getting in the fray. I was the only visible foreigner at the falls, and actually the only white person I saw in Courtallam. I suspect it is mostly a destination for Indian nationals. A quick search on travel forums reinforces this – I turn up nothing on Courtallam, by any spelling. Well I doubt I am the first, but I felt special to be part of the holiday.
Adjacent to Five Falls is Courtallam’s State Horticultural Farm and Eco Park. This is a nice park with paved walking trails, a river walk, and good views of the plains it sits above. There doesn’t seem to be much activity of the horticultural kind, but do have two durian trees. It was explained to me several times that there would be no durian, but when I continued to show interest, they kindly, if confusedly, led me to the back of the park to see them.
The trees, grown from seed and about 50 years old, have large canopies and likely bear a lot of fruit, but despite a motivated search, I was unable to find even traces of fallen durian beneath the trees. Makes sense given the price durian commands in India, and the attention to upkeep paid at the park. If you hope to score a durian here during the season, better show up when the park opens and wear a big smile and possibly a big wallet. Probably, you will have better luck with the vendors just outside the park.
Visit Courtallam between June and September to enjoy the area’s many waterfalls. If you are in southern India it is worth the trip. If it’s local durian you are after, come in June. Prices are lower then, too. Local durians should cost around 300 rupees per kilogram durian the season. If you aren’t lucky enough to be around in June, no worries, fresh durian of either Indian or Thai origin will likely be available whenever the waters are flowing.