The word Kodaikanal means the Gift of the Forest in the Tamil language. And, it really is. This Princess of the Hills is nestled cozily amidst the rolling slopes of the Palani Hills in Tamil Nadu. At almost 7000 ft, Kodai is higher than Nainital or Mussorie. This haven of beauty is a perfect amalgamation of natural beauty and cultural diversity. The place remains cool and pleasant around the year and is a perfect retreat from the hot summers of India’s southern plains. Visiting Kodaikanal left us elated, mesmerized and hankering for more.
History of KodaiKanal
Kodaikanal was once home to the nomadic hunter-gatherers, the Palaiyars. The beautiful place finds mention in the Tamil Sangam literature as the scene of lovers’ union at midnight, a forest rich with lakes, waterfalls, teak, bamboo, and sandalwood. Kodai is also home to the Neelakurinji flowers that bloom once every 12 years. The Kurinji Andavar Temple in Kodaikanal to the day maintains the legacy of the epic Sangam love poetry, Kuruntokai (2).
In 1845, British bureaucrats and Christian missionaries rebuilt the city as they did almost all hill stations around the country – in a bid to escape the scorching summers of India. The first two bungalows, Sunny Side and Shelton were built by six families of American missionaries from Madurai with the help of an Englishman, Mr. Fane. In 1875, the Indian Railways extended its line from Chennai to Tirunelveli and a train station named Kodaikanal Road was built near Ammaianayakkanur village, to facilitate visits to Kodaikanal.
An Evening by the Lake
We landed in Kodai in the busy weekend of 1st May. The city was choc-a-bloc with visitors, and yet, it was one of the most beautiful short trips we have ever made. We stayed at the Sterling Kodai Valley resort, which is a few minutes away from the bustle of the town center. The resort was pretty, with decent options for family activities, including Segway rides, Dirt Biking, Movie nights, Fish Spa, among others.
We spent the first evening strolling along the lake. The lines for the boat ride were long, and we preferred to stay on the shore. Our four-year-old took a horse ride, and we indulged in some snacks by the lake. There was the option of hiring a bicycle (single and multi-rider options were available) to spin around the town. It was rainy, so we missed out on this. But, I do plan to go back and enjoy a more laid out Kodaikanal on a bike someday.
A Walk to Remember
We started the next morning at the Coaker’s Walk – a 1-kilometer (3,300 ft) paved pedestrian path running along the edge of steep slopes on the southern side of Kodai. It was constructed by Lt.Coaker in 1872 and is one of the most scenic walks I have taken in the country. On a clear day, one can view as far as Dolphin’s Nose in the south, the valley of the Pambar River in the southeast, Periyakulam town and even the city of Madurai. While we did not enjoy such an expansive view, our mist-laden view of the valley beyond was breath-taking. It is said that some lucky walkers can see a phenomenon called Brocken specter here, when the sun is behind the viewer and clouds and mist are to the front.
The road leading to the key sights around town was distressfully blocked by traffic that afternoon. We stayed on the path up to the Upper Lake Viewpoint. The view was majestic, sweeping over Mount Perumal, Boathouse, Carlton Hotel, Kodaikanal International School, Fish Hatchery, and of course the Lake itself.
From there, we decided to take our chances and leave the beaten track to the Dolphin’s Nose and Pillar Rocks. We took a road literally less traveled towards the Poombarai Village and the adjoining Pine Forests. It was a wonderful drive among serpentine roads through sky-high pines, cool and calming. We stopped in a lonely pine forest for pictures and memories.
Then, we made our way to the step farms of the village. In the village, there is a temple of Lord Muruga 10-12 centuries, built during the Chera Dynasty. We also visited a quiet Sai temple in the hills before returning to the town from our mesmerizing afternoon in the hills.
The Amazing Food of Kodai
We found Kodai a treasure house of food experiences. Our favorite has to be Cloud Street on PT Road, where an Englishwoman settled in Kodai for more than two decades, serves some of the best woodfire oven Pizzas I have ever had. We also immensely enjoyed the Carrot Cake and decadent Chocolate Truffle Pastry from Nia’s Treats in the same lane.
Kodai also offered us lip-smacking takeaways on our return. There are many cheese makers in this small hill town, but Caroselle’s Montasio, Brie-style and Camembert-style cheeses are truly delectable. We also bought a ton of homemade chocolates – our favorite flavor being peanut butter and vanilla. Kodai had a range of exotic fruits to offer too. We bought passion fruit, dragon fruit and kiwi – each one more luscious and juicy than the other. But, one of Kodai’s most delectable offerings has to be the juicy baby carrots that were offered almost everywhere in town by local farmers. My little one tripped out on the crunchy, orange delicacies.
Our Kodai trip was short, sweet and left me hankering for more. Here’s hoping that it makes you want to pack a bag and go Kodai too. In me, Kodaikanal, The Princess of Hills, has found a life-long fan.
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