It all started with a sense of emergence, an escape from the back-aching burden of assignments as a writer and the many sleepless nights they caused me.  After the submissions were finally made, it was time for me to catch a break — to hop on a trail which promised a sense of relief from the monotonous grind which the city would often put me in.

What was better than a hill station? Kodaikanal seemed to be the perfect option. You’d fall asleep on the bus at night and wake up to the sound of wheels humming on the hilly road, bringing you to a higher altitude, before you finally disappeared into the mist.

Stepping down from the bus, I was greeted by the everywhere scent of coffee in the air. You can drench all your senses in the coffee at Kodaikanal, sipping on it slowly with one hand in pocket and the other around your mug, soaking in the warmth in the cold mist of Kodaikanal.

kodaikanal india jiyad narssar
Photo by Jiyad Nassar.

The gift of the forest

Kodaikanal is located in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It stands at an altitude of more than 6,889 feet above sea level,  wrapped by the Western Ghats mountain range. It has recently emerged as a popular tourist destination, thanks to its accessibility through the roadways coming from major south-Indian cities like Bangalore and Chennai.

For some, Kodaikanal (or “the gift of the forest,” in translation) offers a weekend trip with the family. For others it is a place of solace, to cloak themselves in the mist that cover these hills. You won’t know when the mist will arrive and when it will depart. It is hard to fathom the presence of the sun—when it is there, things are pleasantly warm. When the sun is gone, the mist takes command, soaking the vegetation in her alluring, sparkling drops — drops that you could drink like an elixir. Kodaikanal has something to offer to everyone.

Things to do in Kodaikanal

If you are traveling to Kodaikanal, you’d want a good three to four days minimum: there is so much to do that any less would not suffice. You can start by exploring the hikes available. There are several points that offer expansive views of the surrounding valleys, such as the appropriately-named Dolphin’s Nose. On a bright, sunny day, you could see the sun chasing the landscape—going to and fro, fading behind the clouds suddenly before returning. Even on misty days when there is hardly anything to see, the cold and clear air is still refreshing. It is recommended that you carry enough warm clothes and an umbrella. When you are in Kodaikanal, the quickly-changing weather can always surprise you.

kondaikanal india janu prasad
Photo by Janu Prasad.

If you ever feel like going astray or getting lost in the woods, then Kodaikanal is just the place for you. The surrounding area is dotted with thick pine forests planted in the early 1900s as a part of timber cultivation. Since then, these trees have remained and have grown to provide shade along the scenic curves on the roads. Listen to the birds chirping while watching the sunlight filter through the thick canopy overhead .

There is also a lake in the center of the town where a recently-discovered species of  jellyfish make their home. You can take a boat ride in the river and pedal through the cold currents, or pay a small price to go horse-riding along the shoreline. Otherwise, take the time to relax and do nothing in particular: sit on one of the many beaches, snack, and read a book.

monkeys in fog ahmed zayan
Photo by Ahmed Zayan.

After a long day of trekking, opt for one of the many cafes in Kodaikanal. If you are in Vattakanal (a few kilometers from Kodaikanal and a more laidback spot away from the main town) then you should make sure to check out Altaf’s cafe. The cafe serves refreshing ginger-lime-honey tea which makes for a great drink between conversations with new friends. The cafe also offers mouth-watering dishes—both continental and Indian—that will fill your stomach at budget-friendly prices. To keep from shivering when the night arrives and the temperature drops, seek out a fireplace (most of the local cottages have them) and enjoy the company of friends before heading off to bed. 

Kodaikanal is truly relaxing to the senses and calming to the nerves. For me, it put my agitation to rest and the vast expanse of the plains left plenty of room for thought. It made me fall in love with traveling–made me eager to explore the hidden gems that lay around me, to pack my bags and open my poetry journal, refill my ink and set out. 

If you happen to be in South India and have a few days of leisure, then Kodaikanal is definitely a place you should explore. The wholesomeness of it is enough to tingle your senses and enough to draw you back. I have been there more than five times and plan to revisit it next year. It is the gift of the forest to me, a gift that I accept and ingrain deep in my heart. It is a spot where I can be nurtured into a more accepting and inclusive being.

Do you have a special place you like to go for relaxation?

Header photo by Preethi RB.

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Ribhu Singh
Ribhu Singh is a freelance journalist based in Bangalore. He is fond of traveling and covers tech, arts and culture, environment, and wildlife.