Kodaikanal, known as the “Princess of the Hills” is a hill station nestled in Dindigul, Tamil Nadu. Come summer, tourists from all over South India flock to this scenic paradise, where natural and manmade wonders co-exist. Kodaikanal’s primary income source is its tourism industry. In recent years however, it has become increasingly polluted and overcrowded.
I first made my visit here from Chennai all the way back in 2004. Aside from a few hazy memories and photographs taken at Bryant Park & Coakers Walk, I have no further recollections or talismans of this trip. In March 2021, I had the opportunity to revisit this place with family. This being the lull period between the first and second wave of COVID-19, we managed to visit during a time when handfuls of tourists were just venturing out again. Owing to the lack of activity and business during the first wave, we witnessed Kodaikanal in its prime.
To me, Kodaikanal is full of simple treats — lazy evening strolls, cycling by the Kodaikanal Lake, sampling the local chocolate and chasing sunrises at different vantage points. In this blog, I want to take you through the highlights of my Kodaikanal trip — must-visit places, among other travel tips relating to commute, stay and the like…
If you are travelling to Kodaikanal from Chennai, trains are your simplest option. We alighted at Dindigul Station and hired a cab that took us to our hotel situated near Kodaikanal Lake.
Kodaikanal is easily accessible via flights too. The closest airport is Madurai, which is 120 km away. Daily flights ply between Madurai and Bangalore, Trichy & Coimbatore.
Kodaikanal is well-connected by road with frequent bus services that ply across Dindigul, Theni, Coimbatore, Madurai & Chennai. Alternatively, you could drive there or hire a private cab for a full-blown road-trip experience.
We didn’t overly research our stay and decided on Sterling Kodai Lake, on the suggestion of a friend. For large families or friend groups, this would be a good option as they provide various rooms going up to 4–6 pax. capacity.
Sterling, Kodai Lake is situated bang in the middle of Kodaikanal; it overlooks the Kodaikanal Lake and all the major tourist attractions are easily accessible from here. For those looking for a more relaxed staycation, it offers a mini- universe with an activities center, bonfire, different dine-in options among other amenities.
Within the property, there are several housing options, each named after a different flower. We loved some of the little touches like how each room was greeted with a shrubbery of its namesake flower. It also houses a small herb garden with helpfully marked labels indicating each plant’s name, scientific nomenclature & medicinal properties.
We however, found the service to be slow and a clear preference given to those who held memberships.
There are several boarding options in Kodaikanal, ranging from budget to medium range and premium; for those looking for a truly local experience, I recommend browsing through Airbnb.
We hired a local cabbie who took us on a customized tour of the must-visit sights. Apart from knowing the terrain well, he recommended some really good breakfast spots and was an amazing conversationalist. If you plan to visit, I’ll be sure to pass along his name and contact details.
When in Kodaikanal, be sure to traverse some parts via cycle. We spent a good two hours cycling around the Kodaikanal Lake, taking in the natural sights and sounds of the city.
Kodaikanal has numerous dining options at every price point. We enjoyed the simple and wholesome South Indian breakfast options at Astoria Veg & Hilltop Woodlands. Hilltop Inn is a fairly good option for lunch on-the-go. Visit The Carlton for a fine-dining experience. We didn’t find their biriyani exceptional, but their dessert spread was delectable.
We began our trip from Kodaikanal Lake and made our way from there to the other popular viewpoints on the first day. Make sure to visit the Upper Lake View Point, where you can see the lake’s star-formation shape in all its glory. Covering an expanse of 60 acres, the lake was built in 1863 by Sir Henry Levinge, a Collector in Madurai; he wished to promote Kodaikanal as a tourism spot and had the lake constructed at his expense.
Cycling or walking around the perimeter of the lake is a great way to shed those vacation calories, and will take a good 2–3 hours. Don’t miss out on paddle boating while you’re here!
Coakers Walk is a one-kilometer-long walkway overlooking the breathtaking Palani hill ranges. If you visit during the early morning, you’ll be sure to be greeted by misty mountains and dew-dropped blooms. For those hesitant about full-blown trekking, this is a great option as the walkway is well paved and just a kilometer long. It connects the Van Allen Hospital at one end and joins the road to St. Peter’s Church on the other. The views from the church are equally mesmerizing and definitely worth a visit, while you’re here.
Speaking about viewpoints, Moir Point, which is situated at a higher altitude, offers panoramic views of the hill ranges — we spotted several nature photographers and birdwatchers here.
Situated just half an hour away, is another popular draw, the Kodaikanal Pine Forest. This is a great picnic spot and well-known for horse-riding.
We also visited Guna Caves, which got its name from Kamal Hassan’s superhit “Guna”, shot here in 1990.
However, our best experience by far was the trek to Dolphin’s Nose. Situated at 6000 feet above sea level, Dolphin’s Nose is a flat rock crag at the tip of the mountain, its shape resembling a dolphin’s nose. This viewpoint offers a bird’s eye view of the valleys and surrounding mountains. The trek here is relatively safe albeit tiring; be sure to wear sports shoes, watch out for loose rocks and trek at a consistent speed. There are two small grocery stores along the trail, providing cold drinks & refreshments for tired wayfarers.
For someone like me, who’s wary of heights, this was quite the experience. I love pushing my limits to explore just where it will take me. And I wasn’t disappointed!
I believe the best moments in life are encountered just beyond your comfort zone. They may be hard to find when you’re on auto-pilot, but they are definitely worth seeking.
Of Kodaikanal, Kurinji & Sangam Literature
A blog about Kodaikanal would be incomplete without mentioning the kurinji flower, which is known to blossom in the region just once in twelve years.
The Tamizh Sangam literature (200 BC- 300 AD) has various mentions of the kurinji in its ‘Agam’ (love) poetry. Legend has it that the terrain is presided by Lord Murugan, who married Valli, the daughter of a tribal chieftain by adorning her with a garland of kurinji flowers. It is also believed that there was a practice of offering the honey from the kurinji flowers to their Lord Murugan.
Over time however, the shola grasslands have been cleared for plantations, leading to lesser kurinji blossoms, and the practices associated with it. The next flowering would be in 2030, something avid nature enthusiasts look forward to.
The Sangam poetry associated with the kurinji landscape depicts a verdant hilly terrain with different flowers, birds and wildlife — it shows man as one with nature and is the perfect landscape for love and joyful union.
Let me leave you with a little excerpt, translated by A.K. Ramanujan —
Bigger than earth, certainly,
higher than the sky,
more unfathomable than the waters
is this love for this man
of the mountain slopes
where bees make rich honey
from the flowers of the kurinji
that has such black stalks.
— Kurunthokai-3- Kurinji tinai
The Romance of Kurinji
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