Thirunelli has a rich history. Tucked away in the far corner of Western Ghats in Wayanad, it is a major pilgrimage point for Hindus of Malabar. Centuries ago, in the midst of the great forest, it was a major centre of trade and commerce. 

Thirunelli is flanked by the Brahmagiri hills (Hills of Lord Brahma), and is an enormously scenic location. There are countless stories that are heard and told, that relate Thirunelli to the myths and beliefs of the puranas – legends associated with Brahma and Vishnu. In fact, Thirunelli is house to one of the most prominent temples in Kerala, which according to popular belief, is the only temple in the world where the devotees can perform all the rituals related to one’s life, starting from birth to death and life after death.
Thirunelli is approximately 120 kilometres from my home, the road that passes through the high range of Northern Malabar, through Pazhassi territory, into Wayanad – a perfect place to breakout and chill for a nomad from the hot and humid plains.
I did not have much awareness about Thirunelli when I made my first journey there. It was just a casual jaunt, during college, when a few of us decided to beat the heat of the summer vacation by taking to the hills. I was a greenhorn here, so for me, it was the best chance to explore Wayanad, of which I had heard only in movies and TV.
We started off around 4 AM. It was quiet and foggy, before breaking dawn. As we moved uphill and the altitude increased, the density of the mist only increased. Soon, moving up the road that the British once used to chase the Pazhassi Raja, we pushed on in our Classic Mahindra Jeep, enjoying the fresh air and clamour of the forest.
Soon, we were past Iritty, Mananthavady and through the final stretch of the road towards our destination. The last 30 kilometres were absolutely terrific – a jungle path parallel to a river, signboards telling us to expect elephants to jump in front of us any moment, and moving on under the watchful eyes of the tribal populace.
We reached Thirunelli around 8 AM – four hours taken to cover the 120 kilometres. The destination was one of the most picturesque views I had seen in my life. There was nothing much in Thirunelli except for the temple, but the sight of an ancient temple, flanked by mountains on four sides, covered in early morning mist – was heavenly.
Thirunelli Temple
Image © Nidheesh Narayanan
I was enjoying the sights, when the leader of the troop told the rest of us – “let us take a bath before entering the temple”
What I thought I had in store was just one of the any other temple ponds that are found in Kerala. He led us through a side way, which was taking us away from the main temple complex. It was a path cut out in the jungle – a path filled with stones and steep flight of stairs. It was quite cold also, and the numbness had started showing in the energy levels.
I noticed the signage’s kept along the route in Malayalam “Paapanaashiniyilekkulla vazhi” – the way to Paapanaashini. It was at this point that I actually asked where we were heading to. I got the reply – “We are going to take a dip in the Paapanaashini. Just that all your sins will be washed off if you take dip”.
Okay – cool.
I was feeling good again. Come to Wayanad, take a dip in a temple pond, wash off all your sins and get back home clean.
What an Idea Sirji!!!
The path to Paapanaashini
Image Source – Wikipedia
I continued the walk, which was slowly transforming into a mini trekking. The knuckles and toes slowly started resisting, so was the risk of leaches getting on to the legs in the jungle path increasing. I was finding it hard to keep pace with the rest of the team, all of whom were quite experienced in this route.
At last, after an eventful ramble, we reached the spot of the Paapanaashini. Suddenly, for me, it was quite far from what I had expected it to be. Instead of a temple pond, what I could find was that Paapanaashini was actually a lively, gushing, rushing jungle stream making its way downstream through icy dicey, blistering granite rocks.
This was something I was least prepared for. Out of the blue, I could feel the wintriness all over my body. The whole place looked awesome, but somehow, I could not muster the guts to put myself in the waters. Even the thought of it was sending a chill up my spine; the frost was eating into the nerve.
The rest of the gang was in it. I was on the banks, still in two minds. Unexpectedly, I found myself being pushed from behind into the waters. Somebody, who could not stand the sight of me enjoying the warmth outside the waters, had done the trick.
The moment, from when I got the push, to the moment I touched the waters, had me preparing myself in my mind to brace the unexpected.
I entered the waters with a splash. For a moment, I went numb, frozen. The waters were cold, and if it could be compared to anything, it was could be polar ice. The rocks below were slippery, and it was difficult to get a foothold. But all this, lasted a second only.
Then onwards, I felt sudden warmth all over my body. The cold waters were gushing, but there was something in it, that was giving a special feel to the entire body – an awesome feel. It could slowly feel the Paapamsbeing washed away – a hand of God. It was an awesome feel. With closed eyes, I was enjoying every moment of this – that can be summed up in only these words – “Alive is Awesome”.
Spending quality time at the Paapanaashini, having an breath-taking water adventure that washed away all the sins, there is only one person to thank for giving me this “Alive is Awesome” feeling.
It’s God.
No one else could have created such milieu anywhere except by God himself. And this is exactly the reason why Kerala is called as “Gods own Country”.
Photo from
This post is written for Cinthol’s new Alive is Awesome marketing campaign.