In 2019, a torrential monsoon had drenched Karnataka and left every dam full and many rivers in spate. Water rushed down the slopes of the Western Ghats and restored well-known and little-known waterfalls to their absolute glory. It was also the year I spent exploring and discovering many such little-known treasures. While on a weekend road-trip to visit the temples of Kukke Subramanya and Dharmasthala in the Western Ghats, I learnt that there were two lesser-explored waterfalls on the lower slopes of Charmadi Ghats – Ermayi and Didupe Falls. Being September, the rains had subsided, but the water level was likely to be still good, so I decided to visit the two waterfalls.
After lunch at the Dharmasthala temple, I drove to Ujire, and from there, to the Ermayi Falls road about 17 km away. On the way, higher up in the mountains at a distance, another glistening gem of Charmady Ghats, Bandaje Arbi Falls, could be seen.
After parking at the start of the unpaved trail to Ermayi Falls, we followed Google Maps for what was supposed to be an easy and short 1.5 km walk to the falls. It was already mid-afternoon and we knew that we did not have a lot of time. We walked along the path until we reached Ermayi stream. When water level is low, this stream can be crossed by hopping across rocks, but during monsoons or when the water level is high, there is a foot-bridge built with arecanut logs. We followed the path as suggested on the map until its end, and then veered off to the left to look for the falls. We reached some cascades, but it wasn’t Ermayi Falls.
A decision had to be made to look for Ermayi Falls higher up or lower down the stream. I felt that it was better to walk up first as I could see larger cascades higher up. There was no path to reach these higher cascades, but we scrambled through the thick undergrowth, climbing over fallen logs or crawling under them, scraping ourselves on thorns and getting bitten by leeches. Even though it was late in the season, some parts of these woods remained moist enough for the last of the leeches to still be active. Finally, we made it to the rocky bed of Ermayi stream. Holding hands, the three of us in our group crossed the stream, where the flow was wide but shallow, to access the higher cascades. The evening sun cast a golden glow on the rocks, which were cream, yellow and pink. Skittering frogs skimmed across pools of water. Racquet-tailed Drongos flew overhead. The multi-tiered cascade in front of us was beautiful, but it was still not Ermayi Falls.
Not wanting to linger much longer, as evening was fast approaching, we made our way back. Disappointed at not having found Ermayi Falls, we walked down the path we had taken while coming upstream, crossing paddy fields on the left and watching a Red Helen butterfly fluttering between arecanut trees. That’s when a local person walking on the same path told us that we had come too far up – the sharp turn towards the falls was apparently just 1 km from the road-head.
We rushed back down and found the turning. There are no sign-boards and it was easy to see why we had missed it. It was a more thickly wooded trail, but the path was clear. A short distance along this path, we saw another lovely multi-tiered, unnamed waterfall. But we had run out of time to explore it further.
Crossing a stream, we finally reached Ermayi Falls. There was no mistaking it! The three-tier waterfall is about 30 feet in height, dropping down between horizontally serrated rocks, in a sight to behold. The force of the water was too much for us to venture close to the falls. We settled on some rocks to enjoy the evening birdsong that was surprisingly heard over the roar of the falls. With the fading light, we returned to the car and headed back to Ujire for the night.
The next morning, we drove back along the same road leading to Ermayi falls, but went further along it to the village of Didupe. Here, we hired a jeep to take us about 3.5 km along an unpaved road, to the forest office, where we sought for permission to trek to Didupe Falls, also known as Kadamagundi Falls. Due to the heavy devastation in the area during the monsoon that year, a local farmer led us through his property, to the trail leading to the falls. It was a short 2 km trek, but due to the landslides in the area, the going was slow. Once we got to a stream, we had to cross it to continue on the trail to the falls. We spent some time navigating across fallen logs, and in the process, had an opportunity to witness some dancing frogs (Micrixalus frogs, which tap and extend their hind-legs in ‘foot flagging’ behaviour). Once we crossed the stream, the trail was lush with moss growing over rocks and mushrooms growing over logs. Freshwater crabs scuttled around with open pincers.
We could hear the roar of the falls before we could see it! When it came into view, it was a sheet of water dropping over a torrential stream. Didupe Falls is over 70 feet tall. The spray from the water crashing into a small pool at its base reached farther than the height from which the water fell. Even without getting near the falls, we were drenched by the spray. When the sun came into view, it illuminated the forest canopy in shades of green and gold. Many rainbows appeared and disappeared. Little blue butterflies came out to bask. It was a magical setting indeed.
Ermayi and Didupe Falls are accessible from the town of Ujire in Dakshina Kannada district. From Ujire, drive towards Charmady Ghats. Before Mundaje, turn left onto the road leading to Kajoor/Didupe. Drive 10 km on this road for the Ermayi Falls road. Another 4.5 km on the same road leads to Didupe.
Due to changing trail conditions during and post monsoon, it is important to check with locals and the forest department before venturing to the falls. Water flow can be high, rocks slippery, and landslides are likely during the monsoon. Treks to waterfalls are best not done alone.