At this time of uncertainty and social distancing, refresh your spirits with a virtual journey with travel writer Susheela Nair.

Visiting old churches to forest road cycling Off the beaten track in KodaikanalPambar forest, Kodai
Features Travel Sunday, March 29, 2020 - 18:58

With coronavirus plaguing countries worldwide and the resultant lockdown, there is nowhere to go except sit in the confines of your home. In a time of uncertainty and social distancing, trying to find new ways to bring a sense of normalcy and lift your spirits is key. Though I felt stuck and my wings clipped, there cannot be a better way for a travel writer to refresh the spirit than indulge in armchair travelling, sharing experiences of previous trips and taking readers on a virtual journey.

With summer around the corner, I remembered my trip to the hill station of Kodaikanal two years back. Tucked far away from the hustle and bustle of cities, it offers a medley of salubrious weather, stunning landscape, outdoor pursuits and a slice of history. Being a nature enthusiast, I was yearning for a close communion with nature. So I skipped the frenzied guided tours and mandatory tourist attractions and escaped to the less frequented places where I would find no busloads of boisterous tourists.

Kodai Lake
In the hill station I probed deeper into its riveting past and soaked in the serenity of nature at its best. Kodaikanal holds the unique distinction of being the only hill station in India to be established by Americans. It was set up as a sanatorium in 1845 by the America Madura Mission. There are myriad activities for tourists like treks, cemetery walks, visits to old churches, and forest road cycling to ‘unexplored Kodai’.

Like many hill stations, the major attraction here is the star-shaped lake which is the hub of all activities. The placid waters of the glimmering lake at the fringes of this hilly retreat heralded a welcome. I decided to skip the touristy things, like a tandem tour in a pedal boat or a rowboat. Since I wasn’t inclined to go on a boat ride, I took a stroll around the lake and simply relaxed by the water’s edge, munching on roasted corn and watching the reflections and ripples on the lake’s surface. I also took the customary 1-km stroll down Coaker’s Walk, a strip of paved road that offers superb views. I was fortunate to see kurinji flowers in bloom on the steep mountainside during the season.

Coaker’s Walk
After a visit to La Saleth Church, the oldest church in Kodai, we embarked on a two-hour trek into Pambar forest which is just a hop, skip and jump from the church. The arduous trek through the forest led us to the breathtaking Rhino Nose Viewpoint, where the village of Vellagavi is located. The tour culminated at the Pambar Waterfalls, touted as Liril Falls, reflecting the popularity of the Liril soap ad filmed here in 1975. People still fondly recall how the model cavorted under the falls, about her spontaneity and energy, and how the lather over a cascade led to the popularity of the iconic Liril Falls.

La Saleth Church, Kodai’s oldest church
Syed, Tamara Kodai Resort’s Unique Experiences Manager, who is a walking encyclopaedia on the flora and fauna of the region, guided us through the forest trail. He regaled us with nuggets of Kodai’s history and about the flora and fauna, the bounty of the Western Ghats. He shared interesting snippets of information on the myriad herbs and medicinal plants from eucalyptus, wild tobacco which is said to cure lung ailments and orange creeper, the leaves and roots of which are used as anti-fungal and anti-bacterial medicine in traditional Ayurveda, to fruit bearing trees such as juicy wild passion fruit, Jerusalem cherry, and many others.

The next day we headed off the beaten path with a picnic hamper. The drives out of Kodai are refreshing with the towering eucalyptus and cinchona trees rising from the slopes, their mingled fragrance teasing the senses. We took an excursion to the lesser-known picturesque hamlet of Poombarai. We tarried awhile there, entranced by the sight of terraced farms sprawling over the plunging valleys. The 20-km ride to Berijam Lake cruising past Mathiketta Shola Forest and a few viewpoints was equally interesting. A beautiful reservoir amid dense forests of acacia and pine, Berijam is a protected area and hence there is restricted entry.

Berijam Lake
The trip culminated with a visit to Mannavanur, a stunning hamlet offering verdant meadows and lush rolling hills. The place also houses a sheep and rabbit farm. I saw sheep grazing nonchalantly on the rolling meadows and grasslands that cover the hillsides. This beautiful stretch of nature is Kodai’s best kept secret and remains untrodden by the multitude of revellers and picnickers due to lack of proper accommodation or eateries. But there are some campsites close by for those who wish to camp under a starry sky.

Green meadows in Mannavanur
On the last day on our way down to Madurai, we stopped by the lesser-known Shenbaganur Museum of Natural History, a museum affiliated to Chennai’s Loyala College but maintained by the Sacred Heart College, a theological seminary. It has a taxidermy collection of more than 500 species of animals, birds and insects, a living collection of over 300 exotic orchid species, and artefacts and relics of the ancient tribes whose descendants still live in these hills.

All pictures by Susheela Nair

Susheela Nair is an independent food, travel and lifestyle writer, and photographer based in Bangalore. She has contributed content, articles and images on food, travel, lifestyle, photography, environment and ecotourism to several reputed national publications. Her writings constitute a wide spectrum, including guide books, brochures and coffee table books.