Friday, August 03, 2007


(Pictures available at

On the 20th of May 2007, Manju, Kushal, Rohit, Sujay and I set out on a 3 day weekend trip to Kodaikanal. The trip was supposed to be typical boys roadtrip. It turned out to be more than that. Hollywood flicks are often about city dwellers like myself, heading out into the country to have a weekend of fun, instead returning completely reformed. This story, is not so different.

The 5 of us had initially decided to drive down to Kodai. However, at the last minute, these plans fell through, and we took the night bus from Bangalore instead. The bus ride was fun, with Baazigar playing on the "In-Flight Entertainment System" of our "Airbus" (read TV in aisle of bus). The bus halted thrice during the journey. Once just outside Bangalore, once at Salem. These were just 5 minute stops for Tea, and cigarettes. The third stop was just before the bus climbed up the hill to Kodaikanal. Here, we stopped for breakfast. We arrived at Kodaikanal at 10 in the morning. And even though we had been in the bus the whole night, the air simply recharged all of us. It's amazing, how we just stop noticing the amount of pollution in the air in our cities. It's only when we get away from it, do we realize the crap we breathe.

Our travel agent from Bangalore had his brother, Mr.Abu Backer (+91 98429 66718), contact us in Kodaikanal. We initially had reservations at a budget hotel called the JC Woodville Manor. But one look at the place, and we'd decided against it. Abu took us around Kodaikanal and showed us some cottages that aren't usually listed online. And these places looked absolutely lovely. Other alternative cottages which are listed online are

  • The Villa Retreat
  • Dalethorpe
  • Cinnabar Farm

Since we were visiting off season, the rates were on the lower side. We settled for a cottage called the May villa, run by a Mr.Fernando (+91 94865 04076). The cottages were on a lovely slope, with greenery all around. The place also had arrangements for bon fires each night (at an extra cost). The guys and I made friends with Mr.Fernando's son, Sharath, who turned out to be a really cool guy. He's promised to get in touch with us when he's in Bangalore. We took a large family room at the May Villa, for around Rs.800 a night. The rooms are adequately furnished, however, you might wanna consider carrying blankets with you, as the blankets supplied are really thin. I almost froze thanks to the cold weather at night.

On the first day, we decided to walk around town. As soon as we were done with lunch at the Meenaxi Bhavan, it started raining. and we were forced to head back to the cottage. Later in the evening, we set out once again, and this time, went cycling around the Kodaikanal Lake. That was a tiring experience, as the lake is much bigger than what it seems. As the guys headed back to the cottage after this little exercise, i decided to head into the town, to get a feel of what it was like to live there. Kushal joined me, and as we walked, we came across students of the Kodaikanal International School. I was later told by my sisters, that i was supposed to join this school as a kid, however, as my parents refused to let me be shipped off to such a distant place, i was kept at home. The school is a lovely place, and one look at it would remind you of Hogwarts. Nestled among the tall trees are the old stone buildings of the school, with a tall imposing church in the middle of it all. I could only wonder what it would feel like to study in a place like this.

As we headed into town, we saw several chocolate shops. We decided to buy some for later. The chocolates are wonderful, and we picked up these large chocolate rocks with almonds in them. They cost around 300 a KG, but are available for a lot less outside town. Our next objective was to hunt for alcohol. Up in Kodaikanal, you'll never be able to find any known brands of alcohol. We came across MGM Vodka and Rum, Madras Rani beer, and a lot worse... We finally picked up bottles of Mcdowell's whiskey, and a few beers and headed back towards the cottage. We saw pastry stores, bakeries, restaurants, craft shops. But what caught my eye, was a church, nestled among the KIS Boy's dorms. In the evening, we headed to a Tibetian restaurant, Tibetian Brothers, which we soon found to be the dirtiest place around. With something like mucus in the glasses, and cockroach dung on the forks, we survived the horrid food, and had a couple of pastries and headed home. However, the restaurant was filled with Free Tibet signs, and foreigners too. I wonder why ;) That evening we met friends from Bangalore. Interesting :)

That night, we all sat by the bon fire, and got drunk. In the ensuing madness, we broke a chair. And during transport of the chairs back into the cottage, we broke a pot (all paid for later) :)
The next morning, we all woke up with a terrible hangover. I was sicker than the others, thanks to the cold i came with. My condition aggravated, and i ended up with a congested chest. As a result, i couldn't walk long distances. We were to go on a sightseeing tour that morning, and even though no one was in a mood to go, we had to as we'd paid up for it. The bus arrived, thrice, and finally we all awoke, and headed out to see the sights.

Travel Tip : When on a sight seeing bus, forget all physics. Driving the minibus at a speed of 70Km/h isn't considered an offense. Maneuvering through narrow gaps between vehicles is normal, and turning the bus at a speed of 70Km/h on a hillside road imitating the antics of Montoya on the Monaco circuit, isn't considered hazardous.

The rollercoaster of a bus ride took us to Upper Lake View for a view of the lake, and part of the town from a cliff a little above. From there, we went on to the Hanuman temple, which was a distant observation point of the Mannavanur Lake. The lake is now closed to visitors, thanks to animals choking on plastic trash which once dotted the hill sides. However, a legislation now bans the use of plastic bags in the Kodaikanal area, and a heavy fine is imposed on anyone who litters.

Our minibus (whose driver soon earned the nickname Alonso), took us to a place called the "Round Waterfalls". In the off season, these are just little pools of water. Not too much to see. Heavy rains make these falls spectacular, i'm told. We trekked back to our minibus, through leech infested forests, and settled in for a winding drive to the Poomparai Village View. The village view is a panoramic view of a little village nestled in the hills. My flickr album shows this panorama.

After a ten minute stop here, our little rocket headed back towards town. But first, we would stop at the Pillar Rocks. The Pillar rocks are giant 500 feet tall rocks that stick out from the ground, like pillars :) To reach these rocks, we walked through pine forests, which our guide Peter, claimed produced trees used to make currency notes. The fog really played spoil sport that day, as we didn't see a single rock. Nonetheless, we walked down to the Guna Caves. These caves are a very interesting spot. The entrance to the cave is protected with a chain-linked fence. Only a little entrance can be seen in the distance. Why? For good reason. Several years ago, 14 boys ventured into the caves, 12 of whom never returned. They fell into a 500 feet deep crevice. Their bodies could never be recovered. In the 1950s, a trader from Madurai fell into the cave. His body was the only one to have ever been recovered from the 500 feet depth. A stone plaque recounts this story, at the spot. Legend has it that the valley the cave exists in, is bottomless, i.e it's depth is unknown. Locals say it is infact bottomless. The area is also called the Devil's Kitchen. The reason ? Well what may seem like innocent depressions in the ground of the cave are actually pits that go down hundreds of feet. Thanks to my stupid cold and associated ailments, i was kept from trying any stunts here. Anyhow, we headed back to the minibus, and Alonso took us to Suicide Point. Suicide point is a cliff. One can actually sit on the protrusion from where many, are said to have jumped to their deaths. The fog kept such temptations away. The spot is now called Green Valley View. We're told that the name Suicide Point was motivation for people to actually commit.

Alonso then drove us back to the town, past the Golf Course which is a large 18 hole course. He dropped us near the international school. We strolled around a bit, and then decided to get something to eat. Someone soon decided that we should be heading to the Astoria. So we did. On the way, we came across the Church i wanted to visit, and since everyone was willing, we went in. The place was simply mystical. Its one of those places that makes you feel great. It had this calming air, and was absolutely quiet. Everyone prayed, and left. Only Manju, Kushal and i decided we'd stay around for a little longer. As we sat, we were simply amazed at this picture perfect church up in the hills. We then took a few pictures, and ventured outside. Adventurous as i am, i went down the road, through the KIS Dorms. And that, dear patron, is one place you must see. The area is prohibited. Not knowing this, we walked through the dorms, and came across some of the prettiest buildings we'd ever seen. Little English cottages, with large wooden doors with huge iron hinges, with the signature chimney at the top. And around the cottage, colourful plants and flowers. And the icing to this little perfect cake, were the two small stone shacks outside the dorms, with a little fireplace, a few chairs and a blackboard. We soon realized that these were in fact classrooms where music,... was taught.

We ran into a caretaker of the place who was touched by the fact that we liked the place and were taking pictures. Soon after, a guard saw us, and promptly chased us away. We were left feeling very different, and we ended up with some great pictures too :) We then headed to the Astoria where we had a nice lunch. We decided to head to the Carlton Hotel to check if they had a large television where we could watch the race. And to our luck, they had a large LCD TV in their watering hole, The End of the Road. We settled in for a nice race, in this cozy little pub, managed by a nice gentleman Robin. After a couple of rounds of Chivas Regal and beer, we decided to head home. But not before a game of pool. We indulged in two frames of pool, while party planners who were throwing a party right next to the game room watched us from the window. And as we basked in this limelight, we concluded our two frames, and returned to the cottage feeling very satisfied at the proceedings of our day.

The next morning, we checked out of the cottage, and the boys headed off for their last sight seeing tour, while i stayed back in town as i couldn't take another trek. I'd simply drop dead. I had my own plans though. I decided to head to the Cloud Cafe for a morning of coffee, good food, books and music. The place looked nice the previous night. However, Kodai is a town that closes by 8.30. And we arrived at the cafe at 9. Bad luck. That morning however, i found the Cafe closed. MONDAY HOLIDAY, said the sign on the door. :( So off i went, looking for another place to eat. What i enjoyed the most was the walk. Strolling down unknown roads is an experience that i cannot recount. You have to do it to see how it feels. I walked into several shops, like the Potters Shed, where you can have a go at the potters wheel for Rs.200. I then went into a Tibetian store, where i picked up a few Tib mugs, bowls and incense sticks. I had walked enough, and i decided that i needed something warm. So i headed off to the Carlton again, and spent the morning with a Pizza, a martini and a few pegs of Teachers whisky. I had a lovely conversation with Robin, and the manager about Kodaikanal. I was told that a legislation was passed prohibiting any change in the area 200m around the Kodai lake. This, i'm told, goes a long way in ensuring that the charm of Kodaikanal is never lost. Our conversation went from admissions at the Kodaikanal International School to the IT industry.

It was a lovely morning. And as i looked out the window over the lake, a heavy rain started. Robin turned the heater on as the room was quite cold. Our bus would leave at 5, and it was 2 then. I decided to pay, and leave. I left my number with Robin. I promised that next time i was in Kodai, i'd visit his little tavern again, and he promised that next time i came, he'd keep the Magic Mushrooms i'd asked for ready :)

Even before i arrived at Kodai, i knew that i wanted to visit the Manna bakery, famed for it's apple pies and ginger biscuits, and the Cheese Factory. The manna bakery however, i'm told, was closed that day. And i simply forgot about the cheese factory till a few minutes before i left. I headed off to a chocolate shop, to buy some lovely chocolates and tea. Chocolates are cheaper outside the town, so on the village tours, if you see any chocolate shops, be sure to buy your stash from there. I then headed to a store called the Danish Display. It's a large handicraft store, filled with everything from Jute shoes, earrings, to cigarette holders, and antique brass locks. I picked up a few gifts from here, and left. It was getting late, and i still wanted to visit the church. As i walked back into the church alone, i felt completely different. I was at ease, and felt no hurry whatsoever. I walked in, set my bags down, and prayed. I closed my eyes, and in that silence, it was surreal. I lost control of my mind, and whatever i'd held bottled in my heart came right out. I didn't wanna leave, but i knew i would have to eventually. So i prayed, for Him to bring me back once again. To direct my life in a way that i'd have a reason to come here often. That He'd bring me back again soon. And as i prayed and walked towards the cross, tears rolled down my cheeks. And i didn't know why. I said my goodbye, and knowing somewhere deep down that my prayer had been heard, i walked towards the door. And as i did, a thick mist rolled in, and covered the door of the church. Something i had never seen before. And i couldn't leave the church. A heavy downpour started again, and i just looked out the door in amazement.

In all our lives, we always look for signs that our prayers have been heard. Sometimes, we just need to recognize those signs. For every other person in Kodaikanal, the mist would have been just another normal occurrence. But it was my sign. A sign whose meaning only i would understand. Feeling very very satisfied, i walked out of the church, knowing for sure that i would never be alone. He's always with you, in one way, or another. I walked through the mist, and collected my shopping bag from the tibetian lady at the Shangri-La store. The lady went on to tell me that her son studies in Bangalore, and had just got a job. And a few minutes later, i realized that i know her son. As i walked out of the store, i realized that the world is indeed a small place. I then went into the Kopedeg Crafts store. 10 years earlier, my sister had visited this store and bought me a little green alligator whom i named Wally. I picked up the same gator for her son Rishi, who just turned 1. It's an interesting life, full of unexpected turns, that take you to interesting places, and situations.

My trip was complete, and i met the guys at the bus stand. Our bus pulled out of Kodai at 6pm, and as it did, for some strange reason, i felt content with myself. I realized what it feels like to return completely satisfied, and happy with yourself. I was happy not because i had seen a new town. I was happy, because i realized a lot of things about life, and myself. I realized that God doesn't leave you. And that you're never alone. As the bus took the winding road down from Kodai, i once again had tears in my eyes. And i wrote something on that journey down.

Something moved me very deeply today. I realized that being alone in a place like this isn't all that bad.. I was alone from the morning and i spoke to so many people today and experienced what it's like to walk into an unknown town and speak to complete strangers. It makes you feel and know that you're a normal human being, and does away with all inhibitions about speaking to unknown people. I fell in love with this place. I fell in love with life. And i fell in love with god. And i realized that he's everywhere. I sat in the church at the school before i met the guys. I sat alone with my eyes closed, in total silence. And i prayed, for him to call me back to kodai, To give me a reason to keep visiting. And my eyes filled up with tears and it moved me very deeply. I realize now what i was born to be. I realize that i'm not like regular guys. I was not made to have mindless fun. I was destined for another kind of fun. Of meeting people. Of exploring unknown places. Of learning. The joy in a conversation with a stranger is one of the greatest joys one can experience. And as the fog rolled in just after my prayer, accompanied by a heavy rain, i realized that god was telling me that he was granting my wish. It was a sign. One that only i, in this small town, could understand. It was a sign, that i would come back. That destiny would bring me back. Kodai would call me. And as the fog envelopes these hills, i begin to understand, that this little town high up in the clouds stole my heart. And with that, i bid this town farewell. But not for long, as this story will never end.
and with that hope, i end this little account of my trip to Kodaikanal, the town that stole my heart.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

soul touching...I HAVE visited kodai before but never took it as seriously as u did.....I wish to travel there again after this post....keep writing...