I had pre-booked my one day tour with Sri Ayyappa’s tours and travels. Simply because they were highly recommended in my online search. Now, I would also recommend them. It cost me INR 370 for the one day group tour which covered most of the attractions in one day.
The guide provided for the tour was an amiable man and was more than happy to satisfy my inquisitiveness and supplied me with lots of info in his broken Hindi and fluent Tamil. So he started with the basics like why Kodaikanal is named so, which I obviously knew from my wiki search!
New thing I got to know was that, in Kodaikanal, the only available mode of public transportation in and around city is private taxis, Jeeps or mini buses run by private tour operators for sight seeing. Buses ply from Kodaikanal to Palani and Batlagundu, two of the nearest cities, but no internal services. It was strange that not even a single autorikshaw could be found in Kodaikanal. On enquiring, our guide told that rickshaws are not allowed in Kodaikanal to curb pollution. (I didn’t buy that though!) Taxi owners union, it seems, got a stay order preventing autorikshaws from plying on Kodaikanal roads. All in the name of pollution and climate change! Someone had once came up with an idea of hiring out two-wheelers to the tourists. But the taxi drivers protested and threw the two-wheelers into the Lake. It is believed that these bike are still in the lake (as if that was not polluting the lake!!). From this story, I could make out the real reason why no other public mode of transportation is found in Kodaikanal. So, if you have to move around Kodaikanal, you have to depend on your legs or pay the price the taxi drivers charge, which could be insane amounts at times!
The minivan with two families and three other solo travelers picked me up from my hotel at about 10. am. Incidentally most of them turned out to be from Bangalore and one from my own office, whom I had never met before! I was happy to know all of them and realizing that I was not the only solo woman traveler in the group. But definitely the new one!
Entry Fee: INR 20/- Timings: 7.00 am – 7.00 pm
This a 1 km long path cut out on a mountain, supposedly by Lt Coaker, in 1872. It has a rich diversity of flora, many of which are tagged with their Scientific names and importance. One side of the walk has a scenic view of the valley below and other side is occupied by vendors selling warm clothes and souvenirs. On a clear day, The view from Coaker’s walk is awesome. Year 2018 is blooming year of ‘Neelakurinji‘ or Strobilanthus kunthiana, a rare plant that blooms only once in 12 years and endemic to the western ghat ranges. But, when I reached the walk, fog had decided to descent and I couldn’t spot any strobilanthus. But the walk and view was still awesome.
Entry Fee: INR 15/- Timings: 9.00 am – 4.00 pm
This one is a botanical garden cum park maintained by the state horticultural department. This park is used to organize annual flower shows and political and cultural meetings. I could have sat there all day. The air was scented by a soothing mix of pine and eucalyptus. It was a riot of colors everywhere with flowers in full bloom. Good place for a stroll with kids. By the time I reached there, it had started to drizzle.
LA SALETTE CHURCH
No Entry Fee
A quaint little church, painted blue and white. This one is more than 150 years old church. This church was built by Rev Fr. Louis Saint- Cyr. He died in this church and was buried at the entrance. At the site where he was buried, a plaque has been embedded in his memory. The main church building has stained glass windows that let in sunlight in various hues and shades. The main shrine has a serene figure of Lady Salette. On the right side is the figure of Joseph, holding infant Jesus. On the left side, stands St Michael, holding a sword with blood and a wounded serpent. All this information was provided by the old uncle selling candle inside the church. I could understand this much from the what he told me in a mix of Tamil and English. Church is located in a picturesque spot where tourists are allowed to click pictures. Altogether a peaceful place.
UPPER LAKE VIEW
No Entry Fee
According to our guide Palaniannan, Britishers were the first to inhabit Kodaikanal. Originally a forest inhabited by only tribal people, Britishers turned it into a summer retreat, to beat the heat of the then Madras. They then brought in people also to develop the city. Kodaikanal has a total of 5 lakes. All made by Britishers, by blocking natural streams. Four of them supply drinking water, so, boating and other activities are not allowed. The one in the city center is called star lake, because of its star shape. Boating activities are allowed in this lake. Yeah and this is the lake supposed to have sunken two wheelers too!
The upper lake view gives a view of the star lake from an higher altitude vantage point. earlier there weren’t much vegetation so, the star shape could be easily made out. Not possible now anyway. Here you would want many photographers, who would show you the photo of the lake where the star shape is clear and they would tell you that they can take a pic of their such that you will get a background of the whole star lake. On further grilling (with the help of my guide), I got to know that its a Photoshop trick for which you end up paying insane amounts.
Entry Fee: INR 5/-
This is a historic point for Kodaikanal. This point holds the memorial monument for Sir Thomas Moir. He was an engineer who laid the first stone for the construction of the Goschen Road connecting the Berijam lake with Kodaikanal. Locals say, he trekked upto this point from Munnar and decided to camp at the spot for the night. He apparently chose this spot because the sunset from that point was breathtaking. That is how he discovered this place. I have no clue how good this tale is. But this is what the locals believe. I am really bad at histories so, couldn’t validate the facts too.
Moir Point is also the place from where you need to get the entry permission for Berijam lake. Berijam used to the only village inhabiting the tribal inside the forest. Due to constant threat from wild life, the village was evacuated some 30 years ago, according to Palaniannan. As of now, Berijam has a Forest bungalow and some quarters for forest officials along the bank of the beautiful Berijam lake.
Moir Point also has a watch tower which is supposed to give an attractive view of the emerald mountains surrounding Kodaikanal. But thanks to the mist, I couldn’t get a view from the watch tower.
This one is common to almost all hill stations in South India it seems. My guide showed me spots where natural mushrooms including the infamous magic mushrooms grown in abundant among the pine trees. The heady scent of pines made the place surreal. You can get horse rides among the pine forest at a cost of INR 100 for half an hour. I preferred to walk and get my snaps. Beware of monkeys here. Also, you might get home made chocolates at a very cheap rates, but I got a spoiled box. So, be careful while shopping here too.
Entry fee: INR 10
This place was previously called Devil’s Kitchen. According to our guide, these caves were discovered by a British officer called Ward. According to myths, this was were Pandavas cooked their food while in exile. People entering this cave never come back. The caves are full of bats. Devil’s hideout! But according to facts, Guna cave is about half a kilometer long cave, so deep that there is obviously a dearth of oxygen which tend to suffocate anybody entering it. Caves are quite rocky too, so bodies getting stuck in crevices are hard to be brought out too. The entry to Guna caves is from a crevice in the three pillar rock. A very famous Tamil movie ‘Guna’ starring Kamal Hasan was shot here. A lot of people have been reported missing from the caves. So, now it is closed for public. Though you can see the deep crevices.
The spot is also known for the extensive roots of an age old tree. It does give a eerie and creepy feeling. Also, there are leeches. So be careful lest you end up feeding them.
THREE PILLAR ROCKS
It is a rock formation shaped like three pillars. This is where the entrance to the Guna caves is hidden by the rocky terrain and thick vegetation. Thankfully, by the time I reached there, sun was out and the rocks were visible. I do wonder if there is way to climb those rocks. When I asked the guide, he looked scandalized! Apparently no one climbs it now. But someone who dared has put a cross on top of the rock for sure!
KODAIKANAL GOLF COURSE
No, tourists are not allowed in. For entry, you need to be a member of the Kodai golf club. All you can do is walk around and click pictures.
On our way back, we passed the 500 year old ‘Jamun’ tree. So, earlier one could go near the tree and click pictures and pluck fruits. But Some of love lorn couples wanted to immortalize their love by etching their names on the bark of the grand old tree. This prompted the authorities to restrict the entry of people to the tree. So, today, thanks to all those immortal love, all I could do was stand afar, listen to the story from the guide and click pictures. According to my guide, this was the oldest tree in the world. I tried to contradict that statement, but he was adamant and stuck by it. But we do have a 5000 year old Bristle cone pine tree alive in the White Mountains of California. There might be even older ones who knows!
So, the last stop was Pambar Falls. The popular ad for Liril Soap was shot here. So, it became famous as the Liril falls. But, I couldn’t see a drop of water in these falls. So, to see water, I must come back during May-June!
The area around the Liril falls is a chocolate lovers paradise! Best place to shop homemade chocolates and herbal oils.
After the whole day of sightseeing we were dropped back to the Lake.
I had late lunch and strolled around the lake. then tried my hands at balloon shooting. INR 30 for 10 shots! Soon it became an addiction and I had to tear myself away from it. The best thing was the tandem cycle. Cycling around the lake (about 5 Kms) was the best experience (INR 100 for one round of the lake or half an hour) for me because I didn’t know how to ride one! tandem cycle made my day. Got a few shots of the sunset, and my day one in Kodaikanal was near to an end.
With a satisfied and happy heart, I came back to my room. I am sure going to get the best sleep in a long time, even though I again had to lie about my whereabouts!