Postcard from Kodaikanal

Kodaikanal is one of the most preferred holiday destinations south of the Vindhyas for anyone who wants to get away from the heat of their respective cities and visit a beautiful hill station that retains much of the old world colonial charm along with some exceptional salubrious climate. It is termed as the ‘Prince of Hills’, a welcome change from about ten ‘Queen of the Hills’ title given to other hill stations in India. I had been there recently over the long Republic Day weekend and began to appreciate the cause for all the hype surrounding this quaint little town up in the hills of the Western Ghats.

A few things are striking as soon as one reaches Kodaikanal. There are broad walking spaces almost on all the roads of Kodaikanal. It is imperative for a hill station town that is sure to attract tourists from all over the world to have good walk ways. Broad, empty footpaths and dedicated walking spaces makes Kodai an absolute treat to walk in. Compared to the struggles of walking in Bangalore, it was a welcome change to not be in constant fear of being run over while walking on the streets. I averaged walking around 14–15 kilometres per day, which is unimaginable in Bangalore.

The view of the surrounding hills of Kodaikanal can be breathtaking when the fog clears.

One of the reasons that I walked so much is that there is a near complete failure of public transport. There are no busses that ply from Kodai to any of the tourist spots. There is a strong taxi drivers association, which has fixed the price for all pre-arranged tours to the famous spots of Kodai. The pre-arranged tours is not uncommon. Almost every hill station that I have been to has had such pre-selected set of spots bunched together as one package and usually, there would be around three to four such packages at different price points. The problem with this however is that I would like perhaps 2–3 spots in each of the package and not the rest. The packages try to impress everyone and would thus include, a temple, a park, something to do with villages/tribes, view points, shopping points, etc. I generally go to the hills to view and climb the hills and not to visit a temple. Since, these packages don’t work out for me, I select the places that I want to visit and usually walk there or have occasionally hitchhiked.

One feature that really caught my eye was that Kodai has bicycles for rent at moderate prices. It has two to three cycle stands at different parts of the Kodai lake and one can pick and drop a cycle at any of these points. I couldn’t use the facility as I was with a friend who did not know how to use a cycle and we thus, decided to walk around the lake — a radius of seven kilometres. The broad footpaths aside, it was also quite peculiar that only one part of the lake was commercialised. There an attractive absence of “lake-side restaurants”, which makes the lake walk peaceful and enjoyable.

The other striking part of Kodaikanal was the cleanliness. The municipal corporation responsible (the town falls under Dundigal District) takes good care to keep the town clean. All of the street food vendors had a dustbin placed next to their carts and it was quite impressive to see that municipal workers would clear the bins every few hours and clean the street for any stray garbage. Like many tourist places, Kodai too has facilities for horse riding for tourists. It was singularly impressive that any horse dung that landed up on the street was cleaned up within an hour, for which a certain fee was paid by the owners of the horse. Finally, every Tuesday was designated as ‘cleaning day’ by the forest department. One would not get permission to visit many of the tourist spot on these days, as the forest officials, along with a huge army of volunteers, would pick up all the plastic and other rubbish from the tourist spots in the hills and forests.

While many of these initiatives from the government are laudable for making Kodaikanal an attractive tourist destination, there is one feature that many tourists will rue. There is only one retail outlet that sells alcohol: a government run wine shop. The wine shop stocks very few options of liquor, most of them made in Tamil Nadu. There is no fixed timing for its operation and one would find it shut more times than open. Private players have not been granted licenses to operate in Kodaikanal.

Barring that one small nugget that can inconvenience tourists, Kodaikanal is an excellent holiday destination in the off-season. Things might be very different during peak season (the summer months), which I may never find out.

Anupam Manur is a Policy Analyst at the Takshashila Institution and tweets @anupammanur

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