When I had planned to visit Kodaikanal, I had envisioned a quiet serene place where the most strenuous activity would involve merely chewing my food. But I was certainly off track, as I realized from the numerous tracks … and trails and forests and lakes and churches and temples and quaint villages and … I see that you are catching on fast 😀
As I mentioned before, my year began with the Tamara Coorg where I broke my record of climbing my ‘Highest mountain ever’, namely the Balliyatre ridge at 5800 ft above Mean Sea Level (msl). Of course in the interests of verity, I need to repeat that I have climbed a total of two and a half mountains in my life or maybe a couple more in the course of this year :-D, in case I am giving you the impression of being a world class climber. And also please note that I did not actually climb from msl but from a much higher level :-D.
The Tamara Kodai helped me to further that number with a trek that put me atop a hill at 7000 ft above msl, with a slightly more strenuous trail to conquer, through the Shola forests. Of course they told me that it was the easiest of the various trails that they have curated.
Kodai is a charming and enchanting hill station, with its undulating landscape and evergreen forests that are in a permanent relationship with the mists that flirt with them.
Apart from being a place where one can opt for total for rest and relaxation, its terrain and history also offer a variety of activities for adventure, nature and heritage lovers.
So clamber along with me and let us allow the Tamara Kodai to lead us on our exploration of whatever we can pack into a span of 2 days, which as you will discover, is too short a duration to cover all that is of interest.
Kodaikanal shows you what its got, right from the time you approach the hills from the plains below. The route from the Kodai Road station to Kodaikanal town is scenic, once you start the climb. The views of the verdant hills, the Manjalar dam and several sparkling waterfalls including the majestic Silver Cascade, make your journey a mini sight seeing trip by itself. Do not miss the bubble man who blows bubbles that trap the rainbow colors within them at the Silver Cascade falls that draws the crowds even as early as 8 am!!!
Of great interest to someone like me, are also the fresh vegetables and fruits vendors that sit along the roadside, selling a variety of local produce.
The Tamara Kodai provides several activities and forms of entertainment right within its premises, apart from what nature has already bountifully bestowed all around it.
As always, doing nothing is a prime form of passing time that one can indulge in, ably aided by the comfortable rooms and serene views. One can lounge around on the comfortable chairs on the balcony or plonk yourself on the ledge of the living room window, wind down all systems and gaze at infinity for an indefinite period of time.
Activities within the resort –
For those who are interested in indoor activities, there are a host of options to occupy them.
Chess – a large wooden chess board beckons the intellectual types to come and play.
The Foosball table is next to the chess board for those with different Goals.
There is also a Carrom board in the lobby where I presume people can play while awaiting check in 😀
Guests who can (or think they can) play the Piano, are welcome to try their hand at it and entertain (or not, respectively :-D) the surrounding audience.
A huge floor based Snakes and ladders is a source of great fun where actual human beings play the part of the coins and a huge dice is rolled to decide whether they will go up in life or pass through the digestive track of the serpent 😀 This is ideal for families with children or those who still think they are children.
Table tennis, Pool table, Dart board, Archery, etc are also available.
They also have the latest PS4 system with several games.
The resort also organizes karaoke, group games, team building games, tambola, cultural dance events and such activities, depending on the occupancy and group requests.
Library – The mezzanine floor above the La Providence restaurant that originally was a chapel, now houses a library in one section. Books ranging from health, yoga, history of Kodaikanal, local flora and fauna, indigenous tribes and also children’s fiction, comics etc are available.
Several board games are also available on this floor. A creche on demand is also a part of the space where children are supervised and entertained by the lady assigned to the task.
Most of the activities and features are complimentary other than archery and the PS4. Please check before availing.
The Elevation spa which is Tamara’s in house brand, offers signature therapies ranging across ayurvedic and Western. Being the living quarters of the Jesuit priests who occupied the first floor of the original 170 year old bungalow, this has been designed to sport a sombre, medieval monastic appearance that is strangely soothing.
The 5 therapy rooms include massage rooms with a steam room and a manicure/pedicure section. One of the massage rooms is dedicated for couple therapy.
The spa menu indicates the various treatments and pricing.
Gym – there is a small and reasonably well equipped gym on the same floor as the spa.
Swimming pool –
This outdoor heated pool is maintained at 29 deg c and is said to be the only one of its kind in Kodaikanal. It is a great hit among the guests and is said to be the star attraction of the resort.
The beautiful ambience is enhanced by the chutney green deck chairs (sorry for the choice of shade but I am a foodie) and bright flowers.
There is a Yoga and meditation lounge next to the pool. In keeping with the deference shown by the Tamara to the history of the region, this is named the Levinge lounge after Vere Hendry Levinge who was a Collector of Madurai in those days and who was instrumental in the development of Kodaikanal, including building the famous Kodai lake. It is said that he is unofficially called the Father of Kodaikanal. The expansive view from the lounge also adds to the soothing aura.
There are yoga sessions at 7 am every morning which are attended by guests who need to be given an award for getting up that early, when all one would like to do in that cold is cuddle up in bed 😀
Outdoor activities –
Kodaikanal is a region that is swathed in forests, sparkling with innumerable waterfalls, dotted with several picturesque lakes and holds several tales of history and heritage.
The Tamara Kodai has delved deep into all that the land offers and has come up with an eclectic curation of various possibilities to offer their guests.
A long chat with Syed Mehboob, the Unique Experiences Manager, proved very informative and I learned a lot from him about the potential of the place. Syed is a culture, history and heritage buff and is well travelled himself, which makes him the ideal person for the job. He is full of enthusiasm and his knowledge is very vast. He has been with the Tamara Kodai since the pre opening and has been enterprising enough to conduct an in depth research on the place and its potential, in terms of creating a list of outdoor experiences that would cover a range of interests.
The Tamara also has enlisted the help of Rabindra, who is a guide and a 4th generation resident of Kodaikanal. He calls himself a Jungle man and though he has studied only up to the 8th standard, his informally obtained knowledge of the flora and fauna, can beat any qualified botanist hollow. He rattles off names of almost every plant that he sees, including the local and botanical names. He also knows every bird species merely by their call and tells you of all the medicinal plants in the forest and what they can do.
Between him and Syed, they pretty much have everything covered 😀
The resort drivers namely Ebi and Solomon also double as guides of sorts and are quite capable of taking the guests around to all the places of interest and also add their share of stories too, being born and brought up in Kodaikanal all their lives.
There are trekking options with varying degrees of strenuousness, village visits, visits to ancient temples and lakes, forest walks, sight seeing around the town etc.
Some of their popular experiences include the Rainbow trek named after the rainbow that arches over the waterfall when the light is right, the Liril waterfalls – where some scenes from the advertisement for Liril soap in the ’70s are said to have been shot, the Runner’s trek along the path that the early settlers used for sending telegrams through ‘runners’, a 7 forest trek which is a relaxed and non strenuous trail, a walk through Bombay Shola forest adjoining the Tamara Kodai, a drive through Berijam forest (with prior permission), cycling trails, visits to quaint and charming villages like Mannavanur, visits to ancient temples some of which are over a thousand years old, history and heritage walks in the town that include viewing several old churches and some heritage bungalows, gardens etc.
Sightseeing around Kodaikanal town, boating in the Kodai lake, strolling through Bryant park, shopping at the Tibetian market for everything from warm clothing to spices to chocolates, visiting the various view points like the Upper Lake view, Coaker’s walk, Suicide point, Guna caves, Pillar rock etc, are also options that are offered.
My experience –
I was there for 2 days and being a nature lover, I discovered that it was too short a time to encompass everything that I would have liked to experience.
On Day 1 – I arrived at the resort by mid morning and soon after being done with the check in formalities, I set out with Ebi on a tour of the town. Since this was my first time ever to Kodaikanal, I wanted to get an idea of the place and hence did the usual touristy circuit. The lake, several churches, the cemetery, some of the original bungalows, the Tibetan market, the Upper lake view from where we can also spot the Tamara Kodai in the distance, were the places that we covered in a span of a couple of hours. The fog was quite a damper and made my camera unhappy.
Kodai is a typical hill station, with colorful houses clinging to its hillsides and its undulating terrain and narrow roads bustling with traffic and people.
I got back to the resort in time for a late lunch and the rest of the day was spent exploring the property with Syed’s help.
The resort itself is so picturesque that it offers great photo ops and Somu and Praveen from the front desk were instrumental in very kindly and professionally helping me out with some pictures of my self. As a solo traveller who is bad at selfies, I depend on the skill of others to get clicks of myself 😀 The swimming pool, the magnolia tree and the quaint wooden bench are great spots for shots.
Speaking of staff, I must mention that the people at the Tamara Kodai are very helpful and eager to be of assistance in every way. Vidya, Shobha and many others, were also most obliging while I set up my food shots.
Day 2 was to begin with the Rainbow trek with Rabindra and unlike most early morning treks, this was to begin thankfully by 9 am, after breakfast. The time has been set as a result of several months of failed attempts to get their guests to wake up in the chill mornings. Really, one has to love nature a LOT to do that in Kodaikanal when all one wants to do is snuggle under the blankets 😀
Of course there is a price to pay for being lazy and according to my guide, I would have seen a lot of birds had I started early. So a lone Pied Bushchat was my victim and with Rabindra’s help I got a reasonably good frame.
The day was foggy too and hence I managed only fleeting glimpses of the Rainbow falls whenever the rolling mist obliged. The tree tops here resemble broccoli and hence this is also called the Broccoli forest.
The surrounding forests of the region are said to harbor fauna like the Black Langur, Sambhar deer, Indian Gaur (bison), Malabar giant squirrel and even leopards, which of course one has to be extremely lucky to see. With my sad luck I did not get to see even a single gaur which apparently stroll all over the place on all other days. Some one must have informed them of my arrival *eyeroll*
The trek also took me to the Angel, Liril and Tribal dancing waterfalls which are 3 sections of the same gushing cascade.
As Rabindra explained, the Tribal dancing falls used to be the bathing area of the queen whose entertainment was provided by girls dancing on the rocks as she bathed. An adjacent cave acted as her dressing room.
Above this is the Liril falls where one part of the advertisement is said to have been shot and the Angel falls is the highest of them all.
Through the trek, Rabindra educated me on the various medicinal plants, toxic trees, giant ferns, wild passion fruit, mosses, lichens, crocodile plants and even a plant called Lobelia that is used as an intoxicant.
This forest has over 3800 varieties of medicinal plants, over 600 types of ferns and 20 types of mosses and lichens, some of which are edible too.
I also saw several wild raspberry bushes that bear various hued fruit in summer and a cucumber shaped, edible wild passion fruit (see video).
The 2 hour trek turned in to 3 entertaining hours as we finally came back to the resort in time for lunch.
Post lunch, was my trip to Mannavanur which is a beautiful little agricultural village 35 km from Kodaikanal. The 1 hour drive took us through a patch of enchanting pine forest.
The route is also flanked by the ubiquitous Acacia or Wattle trees which the locals call ‘Shok’ tree. These were in full bloom with their tiny spiky ball shaped pale yellow flowers, mildly contrasting with the green of their foliage but yet distinct enough to create a pattern. Apparently the bark of this tree produces tannin which is used for tanning leather and dyeing fabric.
We also drove past terraced fields and panoramic views of the Poombarai village ensconced in valleys deep below. Unfortunately I missed getting a clear picture due to the mist!!!
There is also a Sri Kuzhandai Velleper temple (Murugan temple) in the village, which is said to be nearly 3000 years old.
Due to lack of time, we did not visit the village or temple but went straight on to the Mannavanur lake which we had an early glimpse of from the road, as we approached. It was by sheer serendipity that I clicked a shot of its heart shape, which I earlier had not known about.
En route I also did catch a peek at the Malabar giant squirrel who was foraging for some interesting looking berries and was partially hidden in the foliage and hence could not be clearly captured. A Long tailed shrike also posed for my camera lens, long enough to be shot.
The Mannavanur lake is a stunningly beautiful locale and seems to be maintained well by the forest department.
There is an entry ticket and camera fee and a 500 meter walk from the gate to the lake.
One can avail of coracle rides or just sit on the charming bench under the twin trees or even sit or stand atop the big log that is strategically placed to provide a photo op 😀
There is a small tea shop and a functional though not so great washroom in the premises.
The gate to the lake closes at 5.30 pm after which no visitor will be permitted inside for the day.
There is also a small water body opposite the gate which can give you some interesting reflection shots if the moment is right 😀
After spending about 30 minutes here, we returned to the resort in time for my spa appointment which I had definitely earned at the end of this hard day’s work 😀
I was given a relaxing foot reflexology massage by the petite Rophina Gonmei, where for the first time I actually put away my phone and fell asleep 😀 This was truly a great end to my day. Of course there was dinner but that is for another story.
Day 3 –
On the last day, since my train was at night and I still had time till evening at the resort, I was taken by Solomon to cover a few more of the sights that I had missed around town. However, it was a very foggy day and most of the places were view points, so in my view there was really no point (pun intended) in the exercise. So the Guna Cave, Pillar rock, Suicide point etc, were just quick stops where I took some general pictures.
Even the most common activity that every tourist indulges in, namely Coaker’s walk, was futile in the weather. This is a 1 km man made narrow pathway 500 meters from the Kodai Lake, which offers stunning views of the valley when the day is clear.
I did try my luck at Suicide point by climbing across the 500 meters of passage flanked by various stalls selling everything from fruits to bajjis (fritters) to knick knacks and handicrafts but all I found at the view point was a thick screen of mist and a zillion monkeys that actually clamber over the tourists!!! Be very careful of your belongings or before you know it, your smart phone will be smartly flung into foggy oblivion.
I came away richer by a packet of pears and my camera came away with a video of the tempting looking bajjis.
After this we drove past the Kodaikanal observatory, Bryant park, Kodai Golf club, the wax museum and the other venue of the Liril waterfall advertisement, before returning to the resort.
Actually we made one last stop at the Bombay Shola, a stretch of forest just adjacent to the resort. Solomon showed me a 500 year old Java plum (jamun) tree with a base that is naturally shaped like the Ashoka pillar. This tree is now fenced from the public because people were vandalizing it by scratching their names into the wood.
I had to leave by 5 pm for my 8.30 pm train and hence a late lunch was all that I could pack in before packing up to leave.
Please Note – This is a collaboration, based on the invitation of The Tamara Kodai and I thank them for hosting me with their warm hospitality.
The narrative is based on the inputs that I received from various sources as well as my own experiences.
Nov 12th-14th, 2019