Kaleidoscopic Kodai

Kaleidoscopic Kodai

Kodai's riveting past whets the curiosity of Susheela Nair who soaks in the serenity of nature at its best


After a spiritual sojourn in Madurai, I was longing for an escape from the sweltering heat and humidity of the sultry plains of Madurai and the nearby places. Being a nature enthusiast, I couldn’t resist the temptation of dashing off to the charming hill station of Kodaikanal for a close communion with nature. Weary of all the regular tourist attractions in Kodaikanal, I was scouting for new places to explore as destination fatigue had set in. I decided to  skip the frenetic guided tours and mandatory tourist attractions where busloads of boisterous tourists make a beeline.

Set up as a sanatorium in 1845 by the America Madura Mission, this place whetted my curiosity as Kodaikanal holds the unique distinction of being the only hill station in India to be established by Americans. There are various activities for tourists like treks, a historic cemetery walk, visits to old churches, forest road cycling to ‘unexplored Kodai’. If you would like to venture out, you can explore the area with an easy trek, cycle through the forests nearby and walk to the Kodai Lake to the heart of the town.

Pambar Forest in Kodai.
Pambar Forest in Kodai.



Like many hill stations, the major attraction here is the star-shaped lake which is the hub of all activities. The sparkling, placid waters of the glimmering lake at the fringes of this hilly retreat heralded a welcome. If you want to indulge in touristy things, you can take a stroll around it or do a tandem tour in a pedal boat or hire a rowboat from the Kodaikanal Boat and Rowing Club or from the boathouse run by Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation. If you are not inclined to a boat ride, cycle around the lake or simply unwind by the water’s edge, munch roasted peanuts and watch the reflections and ripples in the lake. We also took the customary one-km stroll down Coaker’s Walk, a strip of paved road which offers superb views. We were fortunate to see Kurinji flowers in bloom on the steep mountainside.

After a visit to Le Saleth Church, the oldest church in Kodai, I embarked on a two-hour trek into Pambar forest.

It took us to the breathtaking Rhino Nose Viewpoint, where the village of Vellagavi is located, and culminated at Pambar Waterfalls, better known as Liril Falls. During the forest trail, we soaked in the serenity of nature at its best. We came across bunches of Neelakurinji flowers which bloom once in 12 years.

There are a myriad herbs and medicinal plants found here like eucalyptus, wild tobacco, which is said to cure lung ailments, orange creeper, the leaves and roots of which are used as anti-fungal and anti-bacterial medicine in traditional Ayurveda, to fruit-bearing trees such as juicy wild passion fruit, Jerusalem cherry — commonly known as sundaikai in Tamil, and many others.

Boating is a favourite pastime in Kodai Lake.
Boating is a favourite pastime in Kodai Lake.


Picnickers’ delight

The next day we headed out to the off the beaten path tracks with a picnic hamper. The drives out of Kodai are refreshing with the towering eucalyptus and cinchona trees rising from the slopes, their mingled fragrance teasing the senses. We took an excursion to the lesser-known Poombarai village.

The 20-km ride to Berijam Lake cruising past Madigatta Shola Forest and a few viewpoints was equally interesting. The beautiful reservoir amid dense forests of acacia and pine, Berijam is a protected area and hence there is restricted entry.

The trip culminated with a visit to Manavanur, a stunning hamlet offering verdant meadows and lush rolling hills.

The place also houses a sheep and rabbit farm. I saw sheep grazing on the meadows and grasslands that cover the hillsides. This beautiful stretch of nature thankfully remains untrodden by a multitude of revellers and picnickers as there is no proper accommodation or eateries. But there are some campsites close by for those who wish to camp under a starry sky.

On the last day, while returning to Madurai we stopped awhile by the lesser-known Shenbaganur Museum of Natural History, a museum affiliated with Loyola College in Chennai but maintained by the Sacred Heart College, a theological seminary.

It has a taxidermy collection of more than 500 species of animals, birds and insects, and a living collection of over 300 exotic orchid species and exhibits artefacts and relics of the ancient Palaiyar tribes whose descendants still live in these hills.

Manavannoor, a stunning hamlet with a lake and verdant meadows
Manavannoor, a stunning hamlet with a lake and verdant meadows.