Chennai to Kodaikanal: A walk on the wild side

A hill town that has something for every kind of tourist


One can go boating at the Kodaikanal lake, or hire a horse or bicycle for a ride around. Photo: iStock
One can go boating at the Kodaikanal lake, or hire a horse or bicycle for a ride around. Photo: iStock

Halfway up the ghat road, there was a perceptible drop in temperature and a subtle hint of eucalyptus in the air. Kodaikanal was a few hairpin bends away. 

A stately, indulgent hillside resort is what my husband and I were looking for. We found it in the Kodaikanal Club.

Formerly known as the English Club, it has all the vestiges of the colonial era—ivy-covered stonewalls, forest-green trims on the windows, old parquet flooring, wingback chairs and a resident piano. The older rooms even have fireplaces. After an alfresco meal in the garden and a nap, we spent the evening nursing a conversation at the bar under the glassy eyes of a mounted bison’s head.

This trip was an antidote to the usual weekend getaways that are packed with sightseeing. We were determined to follow no particular agenda. But while some of the languor persisted into the morning, the restlessness kicked in. We couldn’t possibly waste the glorious weather lazing indoors.

Perched on Palani Hills, Kodaikanal has at its heart a man-made lake that goes by the name of the town. One can go boating, or hire a horse or bicycle for a ride around the lake. Two parks, Chettiar and Bryant, showcase the foliage of the region, especially during the annual flower show in May. For the laid-back visitor, a saunter along Coaker’s Walk, a corniche overlooking the valley, would qualify as an active holiday. 

Moving away from the lakeside, there are many lookout points within the town to view the landscape, and sights such as Pillar Rocks, the Guna caves and Green Valley View (which also goes by the unfortunate name of Suicide Point) can keep tourists busy. There are waterfalls with evocative names like Fairy (3.2km from the town) and Bear Shola (1.3km). Further away, there’s the pristine Berijam Lake (21km), but you need the permission of the state forest department to enter the area. There is the option of numerous treks through pine and shola forests, or a pilgrimage to the Palani temple 63km away. In short, Kodaikanal has something for every kind of tourist.

My husband and I had experienced all this on our previous visits—everything, that is, except the Neelakurinji flower. The purplish-blue flower blooms only once in 12 years, and while I intend to keep my date with the Kurinji in 2018, for now our shoes were laced up and a path beckoned for a stroll. 

After a shot of masala chai, we set out on a ramble. The road along the lake is nearly 6km long but we picked the road along one side of Bryant Park to begin our walk. 

The soundtrack for my attempts at scaling the devilishly angled pitted path was my ragged breath. The tar had long since given up all pretence of holding together a road that vehicles could theoretically navigate. I tried to keep my balance as loose stones rolled under the feet, even as my husband reached the highest point in the park with enviable agility. 

At the top, the urge to pump one’s fists in the air was strong, but the execution after an uphill climb was rather feeble. We decided to wander along roads that were familiar to us from previous trips, and chose the path to the Doordarshan Kendra, beyond the Saleth Matha church and up to the bridge towards Vattakanal. 

We wandered off the path, walking among eucalyptus, pine and wattle trees, passing all manner of mushrooms, fungi and wild flowers. The scent of foliage was all around us. Our footfalls were muffled by fallen leaves, rich in colour and detail, as our urban preoccupations fell away in the wilderness. 

Who needed the fickle Neelakurinji when wild daisies kept us company everywhere?

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