Magical Mystery Tour – Kodaikanal

in kodai with the dream machine

The Trippy Hippies with the Dream Machine!

 

The road to Kodaikanal is a long and winding journey, something reminiscent of a fantasy voyage, in these postmodern times.

It was with a great amount of enthusiasm, and heads rushing with euphoria, that twelve friends, ten of us from Bangalore, one old friend from Delhi, and a wandering kindred soul from France, set out on the arduous and strenuous journey to the Magical hills.

Kodaikanal, literally the “Gift of the Forest”, is nestled in the beautiful, low lying Palani hills of Dindigul district in Tamil Nadu, at an elevation of about 7,000 feet.

There are a number of ways to reach Kodaikanal. One can take the regular train service from Bangalore City, which runs every day. Besides, tourist buses run to Kodaikanal twice a day.

However, our motive for this trip was to rough it, hippy style. We took the backpackers’ route, which involves hopping four local buses, a journey that takes twelve hours overnight and costs not more than Rs. 400 per person, one way, running across the states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

These Tamil Nadu state buses, which run at practically all times throughout the day and the night, can be boarded from any point upon the main road to the Tamil Nadu border town of Hosur. The first leg of the journey took us to Salem; thereafter we hopped three buses, the twelve of us packed inside with the local populace, having to perform amazing contortions and bending of space and time, even, at one point, travelling a whole stretch sitting on the floorboard! Needless to say, we thoroughly enjoyed every bit of the journey.

The ascent into the hills of Kodaikanal was like a ride into Paradise. Morning Glories peeked at us from every bush and creeper, around every turn, blooming in vibrant shades of blue and pink and white. The Flora of Kodaikanal is what attracts so many tourists here, around the year, though the best time to visit is definitely in the spring time, April to June.

kodai lake

Kodai Lake

The town of Kodaikanal lay unfurled like a magnificent green flag upon the colorful hills, and was met with by eyes, so full of wonder. We walked slowly, taking in the sights, past the main town center, with shops selling the local forest produce – pure honey, aromatic oils and perfumes, herbs and spices, homemade chocolate. A unique specialty of this beautiful hill station are the psilocybin mushrooms, which are sold by the local people to Indian tourists and a number of foreigners, though the legality of this practice may be debatable.

Our destination, however, was not the main city of Kodaikanal, but rather the lesser-known village of Vettaikanal, 7 km away and about 500 feet above Kodai town (as the locals call it). You can walk past the main street of Kodaikanal; past Coaker’s Walk and tread steadily up the long, winding road into the beautiful, mystical hills, where the Pine and redwood trees are so high that one must continually crane his neck in an attempt to see the top of the canopy! Into this ancient forest we walked, stopping once in a while to enjoy the breathtaking view as the clouds rolled away, and the entire plains unfolded before our eyes, in a cosmic game of smoke and shadow.

Coakers walk

Coakers Walk

Upon reaching Vettaikanal, we stopped for a little break at the main junction of the village, at Altaf’s Café, which is a quaint and homely restaurant run by the friendly and hospitable Altaf, who has been catering to Indian, Israeli, Russian and European tourists for about ten years. The cuisine here is excellent and reasonably priced, from delicious breakfast items such as Nutella Pancakes and English spreads, even to Israeli dishes such as Falafel, Hummus and Shakshuka or traditional Continental treats and also Indian chicken and vegetarian specialties. Altaf’s is located on a little plateau, which gently slopes off the hillside into forests where the local favorite, ripe tree-tomatoes can be picked off the branches laden with fruit. Here one can choose to while away the time, drinking the strong, sweet filter coffee and munching delectable pancakes, or by just sitting on the grassy meadow right below the open-air Café, listening to light progressive and psy trance beats that play all day in the restaurant.

vettai view

The View from Vettaikanal

After refreshing ourselves, we hiked the remaining few hundred feet to our home away from home, Michael’s cottage, which is on the hillside above Altaf’s. Though the path to the cottage is quite steep, as soon as one is in sight of Michael’s place, it is as if a secret garden is revealed to one’s eyes, where anything can happen in the peaceful midst of Nature, on one’s very own private hillside. Michael’s hospitality knows no bounds, and he has a vigour and enjoyment for life that is rare in today’s world. His cottage is favoured and frequented mostly by foreign tourists, especially Israelis and Russians, who have decorated the place beautifully, with artwork on the walls inside and outside. One of our crew also put his own brand of art on the outside walls, creating a huge World Peace symbol with broken bits of mirror and glass. Indians are always welcome here, and the room rent is Rs. 300 per person per night.

The view from the cottage is incredible, and blue skies and fine weather greeted us every morning, without fail, every day of the five that we spent there. We had to cook by ourselves, and every day the dinner menu was something different and special, with preparations beginning, amidst great gusto, from the evening onwards! Of course, Michael lent a more than helping hand, and we were treated on successive days, to chicken gravy, local songbirds, rabbit and even a beautiful vegetable curry made with great care by aunty from next door!

Every day, we went on the many walks around, that lead into the forests and up to cliffs, the most breathtaking being Dolphin’s Nose, which is a favourite spot for tourists. On occasion we would see Bison in the forests in the distance, and once, alarmingly up close!

I can truly say that it was with heavy hearts that we took our leave of Michael, Altaf and all the other friendly local people of Vettaikanal, who had been so good to us and made our trip so enjoyable, and memorable. On the long journey back to Bangalore city and civilisation, all of us made a pact, to keep returning whenever we could, to Kodaikanal for the rest of our lives. I have never been able to erase the memory of the Magical hills of Kodai, and have since visited the place many times, around the year, whenever I seek solace from the dreary monotony of city life.

 

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