We hired a taxi to travel to Kodaikanal. The reviews said the distance of 116 kms could be covered in 3 hours, the roads to the hills were safe and that there was just one hairpin turn on the mountain roads (being an extremely wary traveler and with no penchant for heights or mountain roads, checking the reviews helped me prepare myself mentally before embarking on the journey). After a wonderful breakfast at the hotel and after saying ‘goodbye’ to the warm hotel staff, we started our journey to the hills at 10 a.m. We reached Kodaikanal at around 3 p.m. The reviews were right about the time it would take us and the safety of the roads. I didn’t even realize when we crossed the hairpin turn. It took us a longer time though to get to the place because we got off several times in between, to take pictures. It was hard not to – wide roads, waterlogged fields, townsfolk, the grey outline of mountains in the distance, flowing rivers and blue lakes.
Kodaikanal –The ‘Princess of the hills
25kms to Kodaikanal, the scenery changed dramatically- mountains on one side, pine trees reaching up to the sky, babbling brooks that made jagged rocks glisten, crystal clear waterfalls, a veil of mist, pink and yellow wild flowers growing in profusion through crevices in rocks where the mountain met the roads, monkeys and a pleasant nip in the air. When the smell of eucalyptus tingled our nostrils, we knew we had arrived. Just taking in the highly scented air was refreshing. If you’ve ever rubbed eucalyptus oil on your temples when you’ve had a headache or a cold, you know what I mean. It has a way of clearing the blocks both literally and metaphorically.
At the entrance to Kodaikanal is a breathtaking waterfall called ‘Silver Cascades.’ At the base of the waterfall are roadside vendors selling boiled peanuts, boiled and roasted corn on the cob, sliced mangoes drizzled with salt and chilli powder, pakodas (deep fried dumplings made of chickpea flour), and tea. If you have a strong constitution you can taste it all. I, because of my past experiences, stuck to boiled corn on the cob only allowing myself to indulge in a few boiled peanuts too. Any food tastes so much better when one is on holiday and especially when its steaming hot and the world outside is cold. Don’t you think?
We stayed at a hotel called ‘Le Poshe’ in Kodaikanal. It was a 7 kms uphill drive from the waterfalls, before we reached the hotel. Two-storey white cottages with blue trimmings, the color of the sky, a white picket fence bordering flowers of all hues overlooked the colorful houses on the mountains.
The beauty of Kodaikanal is equal to the beauty of Switzerland if not more sans the snow-clad mountains. Instead here we have homes that resemble the villages in Italy (If you’ve been to Cinque Terre, you’ll agree. If you haven’t, then don’t forget to check out my blog on it Cinque Terra, Italy ).
When the sun is shining, the sky looks as blue as in a little child’s painting of the sky. When the sun’s playing truant, the mist settles down like a fleece blanket over the houses on the hills and you can see nothing ahead of you except the mist. When you go for a walk, it will be on a narrow road with fenced houses on either side and flowers peeping out of those fences – they grow everywhere in gay abandon.
Mountain roads, cold, wintry air in December, mouthwatering food, spells Kodai. I had been to Kodai twice earlier from college, but the Kodai I saw this time is a place I would love to return to again and again. It’s untouched, pristine beauty has a way of settling down comfortably in your heart.
We spent the first day exploring the area around the hotel by foot, soaking up the air, the flowers and the mountain view. We hired a car to take us to all the places mentioned on the tourist guide over the next two days. The view from all the places are actually the same – mountains, valleys, pine trees and lakes. We would have simply loved to walk down the mountain roads but since it was the children’s first time, we decided to first see the places marked for viewing. The first day we had to return without seeing much because of heavy showers. When it rains in Kodai, it’s impossible to see anything thanks to the mist. Every time the rain stopped, we’d wait for the mist to clear. By the time the mist cleared, the rain would start again. So, we decided to return to the warmth of the hotel room after a lip-smacking lunch in town of warm bread, chicken gravy and roast mutton. In the hotel room, we simply rested until it was time to go for dinner. We enjoyed lazing away without a specific plan or a job to do and gorging on good food. I guess sometimes that’s all one needs- good food, a warm bed and rest.
Devil’s Kitchen, Pillar rocks, Kodai lake, Green valley point, 150 year old church and a temple
The next day, fortunately the sun was out. Thank God! It allowed us to see all the places we missed seeing the previous day.
Devil’s Kitchen is a unique and natural heritage site. A 400 m walk from the main road through Pine forests brings you to the top of the hill behind three huge boulders called ‘Pillar rocks’. The caverns called ‘Guna caves’ exists between the Pillar rocks and can be seen on a sunny day. When we went, the sky was full of mist which is how it is most of the time in Kodaikanal, so we did not get to see the caves.
I have no idea why the place got it’s name except that at the foot of the hill the ground was covered with roots of trees growing entangled. It reminded me of the forests in a Harry Potter book or something from a scene from Jurassic Park. Only these were real. The girls refused to walk up to stand amidst the roots. In their words, it was ‘creepy.’
Pillar’s rocks are three natural boulders that appear like pillars. These rocks are untouched and can only be viewed from a distance. When we went to Pillar’s rock viewpoint the sky was laden with clouds. Like everybody else we waited for the clouds to move away and they did. Watching the clouds move away to reveal the rocks was a surreal experience like curtains lifting in a theatre after a long wait. Beyond the clouds we saw the rocks, the valley and the blue skies.
Outside the area considered as the viewpoint there were a lot of sellers selling boiled corn, boiled peanuts, ‘pakodas’ and there were a lot of monkeys waiting to grab it from you. My husband decided to throw a half-eaten corn on the cob to the monkey on the roof of a store much to the chagrin of the store owner. The monkey caught it deftly and began chewing on it, totally focused, to the delight of the girls.
Green Valley Point
It used to be known as ‘Suicide Point’ before because of the dense, deep valley which is 5000 feet below . Now it’s called Green Valley point which is more appropriate and positive as it provides a breathtaking view of the mountains, valleys and the Vaigai dam. There is a walking trail of around 1.5 kms around the point. Here too there are sellers selling ice-creams, seeds, plants, bird’s nests, artificial jewelry. There are also photographers who will take a picture of you for a meagre sum of Rs. 30.00. If you want your photograph framed then the cost goes up depending on the cost of the frame.
The lake is a manmade lake created by the British in 1863. You can go boating in the lake or horse riding or cycling around the lake which would be a distance of around 7kms. Though the waters aren’t clean, the view from the lake of colonial styled houses, blue skies, mountains, green pine trees is mesmerizing. We took a peddle boat for four of us, for half an hour, which costed us around Rs.200. Then we cycled around the lake stopping only to have a mug of hot chocolate at a home cum restaurant.
It’s easy to spend time around the lake eating, riding or simply sitting and watching passers by. Opposite the lake is a botanical garden, but with the whole place being naturally beautiful with trees, flowers, monkeys and horses, we decided to give the botanical gardens a pass.
New Year’s eve
The hotel we stayed in made new year’s eve special. With a campfire and amazing food including live cooking stations, any foodie will tell you that it was the perfect way to end the year. We had roasted turkey, kebabs, grilled chicken, seafood, biryani and all kinds of dessert. We ate like it was our last meal and relished every bite.
There was no music or dance or anything loud which was how I liked it. After dinner we sat for a while in the warmth of the lobby watching the sky lit with firecrackers at the stroke of midnight. With that came an end to 2020.
There we were, reigning in 2021 in a world far away from home and people we knew, and it was beautiful in a comforting, magical way.
The sun rose brightly on New Year’s day. We visited a 150 year old Church and a temple which was part of a guided tour and I thought it was an amazing way to begin the year – to thank God for all that was, to pray for mercy and for His blessings for the coming year.
The day after New Year we drove back to Madurai airport which was a five hour journey from Kodaikanal (the best long journey I’ve had considering I generally feel sick in the car) and then to Mumbai. We came back recharged and ready to hope for a better tomorrow again.
We went on a whim but its the best decision we took. I’ve returned feeling like a new leaf ready to write a new chapter in my life. Going to the hills and staying amidst nature also allowed me to stay closer to my thoughts and helped me with closure. It helped me deal with the loss of a parent.
I dedicate this post to all those who couldn’t travel during New Year’s or haven’t been able to for the last one year because of Covid. I hope in some way the pictures help you dream of beautiful places and weave beautiful dreams for the new year.
I wish with all my heart that anybody who reads this post feel more positive at the end of it.
Remember life is what you make of it. So, don’t let it wither away. Live! As I think back about my parents, that’s something that comes back to me stronger than ever. They lived, loved and laughed with their hearts and most important they stuck up for each other and what they believed in. I think that’s all that matters at the end- to find ways to feed your soul and to take in all the joys that life has to offer.
Wishing all of you a wonderful week ahead.
P.S. Jo from Sienablue, this one is for you :). I hope you enjoy reading it.
To read about our trip to Madurai, you can click on the below link:#madurai