When I last visited Kodaikanal – a little hill town in Tamil Nadu, I was merely ten. With faint memories of enjoying a boat ride with my family, I am ready to head there again. This time around, I wished to explore its lesser known, hidden gems in the company of my partner. The idea is to stay away from the tourist trap and take in the serenity of Kodai’s dense forests, lakes and high mountains.
After a three-hour drive on the zigzagging route from Madurai to Kodai, all I want to do is put my feet up and relax. We are staying at a resort housed in a building dating back to the 1840s. In fact, the building was originally known as Baynes Bungalow, named after a British District Judge who owned it. The beautiful colonial building was once used as a rest house for the priests of Nagapattinam. The monastic retreat boasts of suites with charming white exteriors and French colonial decor that oozes warmth.
A short walk away from the resort is a small iron gate, serving as an entrance to a hauntingly beautiful old cemetery complete with marble epitaphs that narrate tales of the long arduous journey braved by many a man, woman and child in the mid 1800s.
The following morning, we wake up to the emerald hill station enveloped in thick sheets of mist. With our local friend and naturalist Rabendran, we are traversing the narrow paths in the deep forests of Vattakanal, the lesser known cousin of Kodai. Vatta means circle and Kanal means forest, which when put together roughly translates into ‘forest in circles’. The locals often refer to it as ‘Little Israel’ since the place attracts a large number of Israelis as well as backpackers and hippies from across the globe. Israelis love the place for they believe in its spiritual energy. Rich in flora and fauna, the Vattakanal forest is home to more than 3,800 varieties of trees, shrubs and herbs and more than 600 varieties of ferns. We learn to identify the healing herbs of south India, smell the rejuvenating aromas of eucalyptus and lemongrass and track the footprints of leopards and wild boars. Amidst rare single fern, cinnamon, shenbagam flower and Himalayan cherry trees, we spot butterflies and birds such as the black and orange flycatcher, flameback woodpecker, red-whiskered bulbul, hoopoe, scalybreasted Muniya and Eurasian blackbird. Throughout the trek, we revel in the stunning valley views while breathing fresh forest air. Yearning for a break to enjoy the surroundings, we halt at the Vattakanal Falls.
Sitting at the foot of the waterfall, we are sipping on coffee and munching cookies and trying to grasp the varied sounds of the forest. We can hear the chirping of birds, buzzing of insects and the therapeutic gushing of water. We close our eyes and let these natural sounds permeate our minds. Once in a while, it’s essential to feel the peaceful emptiness of life!
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