Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu’s lush hill station resting 2,000 metres up in the Western Ghats, has a history of catching the eye of outsiders. The region, believed to have been part of Paliyar tribal territory for millennia, saw waves of Westerners begin to arrive in the early 19th century, many of them missionaries drawn to the cool, forested hill country. Today, Kodai is made up of more than ancient communities and Christian advocates, full of big-city transplants, reclusive artists, green-thumbed farmers, and a host of nature lovers.
Get your nosh at Daily Bread: Pastry Corner when you pull into town. Both egg and chutney sandwiches fly off the counter as filter coffee orders are hollered from the entrance of the cosy café—and slices of cakes and scoops of ice cream made with fresh seasonal fruit make return visits a pleasure. Those famished after the four-hour drive from Coimbatore or three-hour drive from Madurai can dig into the variety of toothsome dosas at Hilltop Woodlands and Astoria.
Most journey to Kodai to stretch their legs alongside its beauty, and Kodai Lake often is the first stop. In the 1860s, three streams were dammed by Sir Vere Henry Levinge, a British-era Tax Collector, to form the town’s iconic, star-shaped lake. Dozens of hectares in size, a roughly five-kilometre walking path wraps around its circumference. Visitors typically walk or rent cycles or horses to take around the lake. Row and pedal boat for hire are equally popular, followed by a visit to Bryant Park, the nearby 20-acre botanical garden, or a jaunt up to the nearby Coaker’s Walk, a highly-appealing viewshed of the plains.
The hill station is also the starting point to explore the vast amount of natural wonders that make up the Dindigul district and beyond. Day trips to Vattakanal for honey-lemon-ginger tea and orchard scenes at Altaf’s, hikes to Dolphin’s Nose and Pillar Rocks, and visits to Kukkal Caves—inhabited by members of the Paliyan and Paliyan tribe up until a few decades ago—are several destinations that attract visitors to the region. There are dozens of hikes to undertake, from beginner to advanced levels, a few of which can include camping and night safari add-ons. Some of the more ambitious hikes from Kodaikanal are to Perumal and Palani.
Other fresh-air activities include bird-watching at Berijam Lake; en route, stop at the Kodaikanal Pine Forest, pictured in quite a few south Indian films. The 1895-established Kodaikanal Golf Club also attracts many outdoorsmen, while others seeking out salubrious activities look to Karuna Farms for yoga retreats or 1ON1 Fitness Retreats for wellness bootcamps.
If interested in a spot of shopping near the Seven Roads Junction, venture to the beautifully patterned stoles and scarves that line the shelves at Shalimar, bright earrings and intricate postcards that hang at Re Shop, and glistening, high-quality pottery at Potter’s Shed. Those keen on learning more about Kodai’s history can pay a visit to the Shenbaganur Museum (filled with regional artefacts and information on local flora and fauna), the 133-year-old La Salette Church, and the Kurunji Temple. The temple is named after the elusive Kurunji flower that blossoms around the hinterland of Kodai and Munnar once every 12 years, an event that draws many custom expeditions.
Stop by Kodai Cheese, a maker and purveyor of cheddar, gouda, parmesan, and mozzarella since the early 1970s. Tibetan restaurants are popular in the town centre, particularly The Royal Tibet for its potato cheese momos. Continental café fare also sees plenty of footfall at Muncheez and Cloud Street, while Tava remains a longtime favourite for its tasty vegetarian spread-think paneer bhurji and bhindi fry with hot parathas. Nightcaps can be taken at either The Tamara or The Carlton Hotel, each property promising charming stone bones and verdant vistas.
Julian Manning can usually be found eating a crisp ghee roast with extra podi. The rare times his hands aren’t busy with food, they are wrapped around a mystery novel or the handlebars of a motorcycle. He is Senior Assistant Editor at National Geographic Traveller India.