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Published: October 22nd 2008
One of my favorite vacations as a kid, we would take the train from Chennai and get off at Madurai. A day there - and we’d take a cab to Kodaikanal. We stayed at a guest house/apartment that my father had - and the food was really cool.
History - Kodaikanal was established by American missionaries around 1845, as a refuge from the high temperatures and tropical diseases of the plains.
Kodaikanal, meaning The Forest of Creepers , was discovered by Westerners in the early 19th century. British Lieutenant, Ward, first spotted Kodaikanal in 1821. In 1845, the first two bungalows, Sunny Side and Shelton were built by American missionaries with the help of an Englishman, Mr.Fane. Later many American and British families visited and decided to remain in the pristine hill station, as the weather reminded them of that at home. It also became a summer retreat for many European diplomats who came here primarily to escape the sweltering summer of the plains. However, it was only in the 20th century that a few elite Indians came to realise the value of this enchanting hill station and started relocating here. Amongst the current Indian locals, there are often discussions about how their ancestors trekked and climbed the mystic hills, from the villages in the foothills. It sometimes took them up to two full days to scale the steep valleys, braving attacks from wild animals and eventually reaching the summit of what is now Kodaikanal market, basically to sell their produce from the plains.
The Kodai Lake was laid out in 1863 by Sir Vere Hendry Levinge who was then the Collector of Madurai. The lake was originally stocked with fish from the local streams. In 1890, the first Boat Club was formed and today there are three different Boat Clubs with a variety of boats available on hire. Surprisingly, pictures taken in Kodaikanal during the early years of its foundation show the area around the lake with very few trees and a marshy landscape because the manmade lake had no bunds. Today, with an excellent paved path around it and strict municipal laws against construction near the lake, Kodai lake is as pristine as ever.
Getting there - Train from Chennai - get off at Kodai road - hire a cab.
Stay - Variety of options ranging from 40 $s to 200 $s a night.
Stuff to do - Walk Walk Walk. The Kodai Lake, as it is called, is instantly recognized as Kodaikanal's most popular geographic landmark and tourist attraction. Almost all distances in Kodaikanal are calculated with the lake as the pivotal point of reference. Just beside the lake is Bryant Park, a wonderfully maintained botanical garden. With a staggering array of trees, shrubs and cactuses, the park shimmers with a rainbow of stunnning flowers during the peak season. The park organizes horticultural exhibits and flower shows every summer. Entrance fee to the park is nominal and it is open all round the year.
Coaker's Walk, constructed by Lt.Coaker in 1872, is a kilometre-long paved pedestrian path running along the edge of steep slopes on the southern side of Kodai. The walk winding around Mt.Nebo, starts near Van Allen hospital and joins the main road above St.Peter's Church, providing a panoramic view of the plains. On a clear day one can view as far as Dolphin's Nose in south, the valley of the Pambar river in the southeast, Periyakulam town and even the city of Madurai. A fascinating, yet extremely rare phenomenon called Brocken spectre can be witnessed here, in which a person can see his shadow on the clouds with a rainbow halo. This occurs only when the sun is behind the viewer, and clouds and mist are to the front. There is an observatory with a telescope halfway along the walk.
My picks - It’s a quiet place. I enjoyed the hiking.
Food - South Indian stuff - Idlis and dosas.
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