Kodaikanal, often referred to as “Princess of Hills” has evolved from being a honeymooner’s paradise to a backpacker’s paradise. There are numerous hidden gems here that are not well known and more beautiful (if that’s even possible) that the famous attractions of this hill station. Day 1 of my stay here was super eventful. Exhausted, I slept like a baby. I had an early start the next day as I was trekking to Dolphin’s Nose. It is a moderate trek of about 3 kms. one-way and starts downhill. The initial steps going down are steep and the roots of age-old trees have unearthed most of the concrete blocks, making the descend uneven and challenging. You may twist your ankle if hurry down, so be careful. After those steps, you need to descend quite steep through a slope to reach the perfect viewpoint to get a panoramic view of the Palani Hills.
The striking point here is a remote village Vellagavi, the only village in the district not connected by roads. The locals commute 16 kms. one-way on foot through the forest to sell their crops and buy essentials from Kodaikanal. It offers an enthralling view of entire Kodaikanal up on a hill. Then you pass through a small stretch of pine forest to reach Dolphin's Nose.
Seems like this quaint town has bountiful beauty and stunning landscapes round every corner! Day 1 was a treat and day 2 started with similar views.
A protruding rock off the cliff resembling the nose of a Dolphin is hanging at 6,600 feet altitude with a plunged valley beneath
Surrounding hills and the valley are usually wrapped partially or completely in clouds through the year barring a few days of summer. I was lucky to have a clear sky to witness a scintillating view in the splendor of lush-green surroundings. Some days are just meant for you. You reach "Echo Point" if you trek further down from Dolphin's Nose. The climb on the rock there is equally adrenalin pumping and from here you can hear back the oscillations and vibrations of your own roar. Ask someone to record a video, scream as hard as you can and catch the throwback of your voice as it roars through the valley. It's fun!
The cliff at Echo Point: not for the faint-hearted but worth a roar from here
Now the toughest part of trekkingclimbing up the steep gradient for a stretch. There are many makeshift stalls on the way selling food and fresh lime juice which are perfect for the trekkers. I always patronize these stalls even if I do not have a need as it helps run the local economy.
Franklin wanted to take me through the circuit route to cover all the touristy spots including the viewpoints. I was not keen on visiting them as I had already done that 15 years ago and secondly, the view of Palani Hills is almost the same everywhere, which I had enough of. The only place I was keen on visiting was the Pillar Rocks as it has an aura of its own. There are a few theories behind this marvel but nobody really knows how these 400 feet tall twin rocks were formed. It is evident that they existed for several centuries and before the first man reached Kodaikanal, so it is not a man-made structure. Historians and locals associate Pillar Rocks with the Englishman David Gelli, who traveled to Kodaikanal for his honeymoon and the couple trekked all the way to the top. In a tragic accident his wife, Irene fell from the summit and died. He went there again to set up a striking white wooden cross atop the rocks in memory of his wife. The cross remained there for more than a hundred years before being destroyed by the natural forces. It is believed that David Gelli jumped from the rocks to be with his wife in heaven, as he was never seen after that. There are unexplored caves inside the rocks and few trekkers have tried to venture into them to never return. Franklin informed me that these caves are so deep and one has to navigate between the two rocks that the authorities could not retrieve the bodies of those who died after trying really hard.
Pillar Rocks, a symbol of love and sacrifice. Visitors still search for the white-cross even today
My next and the last destination among the popular ones was La Salette Church, a perfect example of Tamil-French architectural excellence. The locals spell this as "La Saleth". A French missionary laid the corner stone of this holy shrine in 1863 and it was dedicated on Easter Sunday of 1866. When I had visited La Saleth 15 years ago, it was a simple structure atop a hillock, but now it is growing. This time, I could see an extended entrance with the Stations of the Cross lining each side of the steps, something that resembles the Holy Path of Velankanni. A large La Saleth Grotto on the right side of the Shrine is also a new addition. The interior of the church is jaw-dropping with Our Lady of La Saleth above the altar and the statue of St. Joseph. There are two most striking aspects of the interior. One is the wooden ceiling chequered in blue and white, a reminiscent of century-old European architecture. The second aspect is the decorative stained glass paintings on the windows, which were creations of a noble French woman Madame Coile. This church is situated within the city limit so it is the first stop for tourists who take the bus and shared taxi tours and hence, it is flooded with tourists in the morning. I visited during late afternoon and for about half an hour there was not a single tourist, giving me ample time to explore and indulge in this serene and calm place. The back of the church is peaceful and the sound of a gushing stream passing beneath it adds to the tranquility of the place.
The holy Shrine of La Saleth at 7,000 feet elevation was the first Church in Kodaikanal
The real beauty of Kodaikanal lies in its remote villages and a drive through narrow, winding roads offers you some spectacular landscapes you can never see from the 'famous' viewpoints. Franklin figured out a similar drive and it was his first journey on this route as well. He too was excited as he was getting into something his other customers have never asked before. Our first stop was a small farming village of Pallangi with a handful of houses. The village being located in a valley provides a breathtaking view of lush-green surroundings, rivers and waterfalls.
Solo traveling is more fun when you know that your guide is an adventurer as well a good photographer
If you look at the Google maps here, it tells you that your journey ends here, there are no more roads further and it's time for you to return. Well, didn't buy into that as Franklin had other plans. He enquired with a local in Tamil and to my surprise, started driving further. Eventually, we reached the end point after almost 15 kms. of the most exhilarating drive to a village, Kombaikadu (not on Google maps). The residents were in awe, as they had never seen tourists visit them. They did have some conversation with Franklin, which unfortunately I could not understand. But in the end they were all laughing as Franklin put the car in reverse gear, so am guessing it was a good conversation. It was a 60+ kms. stop-and-go round trip of about 4 hours.
A beautiful drive unmapped by Google and interior of Kodaikanal's Western Ghats
Housekeeping staff of my hostel informed me of a park that was at walking distance, tucked away from a temple on the hill. I usually don't visit a park but I got up early and thought of going for an uphill walk and accidentally I bumped into this same park, Chettiar Park. It is a well-maintained park and tourists barely know about this because they all flock at Bryant Park. There is a huge variety of flora that one can explore spread over a large area. This is a paradise for botanists and nature photographers. I went there early morning before the park opened up for visitors but was lucky enough to get an entry and I was truly mesmerized by its beauty. They say Neela Kurinji flowers that bloom every 12 years grow at this park and hardly any tourists visit during this time barring few locals. I wonder why there is a mad rush to Munnar to see Kurinji flowers.
Well-manicured bonsai trees add to the visual beauty of the well-maintained Chettiar Park
About one kilometer down the park is Kurinji Andavar Temple that provides a spectacular view of Palani Hills. This temple is dedicated to Lord Murugan (the God of hills). Kurinji in Tamil means "hilly region" and Andavar means "God", hence the name. The hillock offers a panoramic view of Palani Hills to the left and Kodaikanal city view to the right. Thick clouds usually cover this valley and if you are lucky like I was, you will witness a stunning view. This is a place where you would enjoy spending time and soak in the serene environment.
Blue sky and endless cloud covered hills as far as I could see from Kurinji Andavar Temple
I was completely immersed in nature and my phone rang, it was Franklin who wanted to let me know that the bus to Kodai Road Train Station will leave in about 30 minutes. I knew it's time to leave, as I have to cover a 3-hour road journey followed by a 10-hour train journey back to Bangalore. Feeling refreshed and energized, I bid adieu to this beautiful town and headed back lost in thought about my next adventure.
An exhilarating trek to Dolphin’s Nose surrounded by mesmerizing views and canopies
Pillar Rocks bloom and beautiful waterfalls come alive for a few weeks after heavy rains