Kodaikanal is a quiet, charming hill station situated 2125 m up in the scenic Palani Hills. It’s the ideal place to cool off from hot, dusty travels down in the plains of Tamil Nadu. Currently being developed as a health resort, it’s only just being discovered by Western tourists. This is perhaps surprising since Kodaikanal has more attractive reminders of the  Raj—churches and colleges, bungalows and parks, a golf course and an artificial lake—than other more popular hill stations. And it is the only hill station in India that was developed by American missionaries.The bus trip up there across rugged mountains, plummeting valleys and terraced coffee plantations is spectacular. Kodaikanal is famous for its hill-fruits and plums, and its pride is the rare Kurunji flower, which blooms just once every 12 years. Unfortunately, it last flowered in 1992. The two tourist seasons, when the place is rampant with holidaying schoolchildren, are mid-November to mid-January, and mid-April to end June. For better weather and 20-30% discounts at larger hotels come February/March or August/September. If visiting between November and February, bring warm clothing— it gets very cold at night.

From Kodaikanal , there are regular buses to Madurai; one bus daily to Coimbatore (4.30 pm); and one bus daily to Bangalore (6 pm). It’s wise to advance-book seats.

Shopping in Kodaikanal
The emphasis here is on light exercise and recreation; walking, pony-riding and boating on the lake. The small town overlooks the lake, and is easily negotiated on foot. You can hire out cycles by the hour or for the day down by the boat club, which is ideal for leisurely tours round the vast artificial lake. There are also taxis, but few people take them. Kodaikanal is really just a place for long, invigorating rambles. Allow 2 full days for the best walks, and have a decent map handy (try Higginbotham’s bookshop in Madurai).

Walk One (full-day)
Coaker’s Walk-Sacred Heart Church-Kodaikanal Lake-Bryant Park-Golf Club-Green Valley View-Pillar Rocks
Rise at 5.30 am, dress warmly and take a blanket, for Kodaikanal ‘s main attraction: the sunrise over the mountains. A 15-minute walk up Coaker’s Walk from the marketplace brings you out on a plateau running along the steep southern face of the Kodaikanal basin. The early-morning scenery is glorious but latecomers be warned: the views are often gone by 9 am.

After breakfast, proceed east from the market-place down to the lake.  On the way, divert right for a brief visit to Sacred Heart Church. It has a touch of Surrey with stained-glass windows, gothic arches, a mock-Tudor tower, and a small English cemetery. If not for the Tamil hymn books and alarming fresco of Christ rescuing a flock of anxious Indian villagers from a watery grave, you wouldn’t know you were in India at all. Kodaikanal ‘s famous star-shaped Lake was formed in 1863 by Sir Vere Levenge and nestles in a wide range of dense wooded slopes.

Covering an area of 243 hectares (60 acres), it is the focal point of all life on the hill station. Clean, tranquil and scenic, it is very ‘English’. The small Boat House here (tel 315), on the left, coming down from the Church, hires out four-seater rowing boats from Rs20 per hour. For choice of boats, and no crowds, turn up early. Nearby, you can hire out ponies for about Rs40 per hour from the curiously named Horse Riding Forward Association. It doesn’t accept any responsibility for ‘any accident those who riding themselves without horse man’. From the pony rank, it’s a 10-minute walk to the east of the lake, where you can enjoy a picnic lunch in pleasant Bryant Park, noted for its flowers, hybrids and grafts. There’s a popular horticultural show here each May.

Even if you are not a golfer, the walk up to the Golf Club (tel 323, 6 km: 33/4 miles) is one of the best in the station. Take the road leading off the northern end of Bryant Park, ascend to the top of the ridge from which there are fine views down over the lake, and whenever you hit a major fork, keep to your left. The walk is a continuous joy. Young boys may turn up to suggest ‘short cuts’ and they are reliable. You’ll reach the golf club in around an hour. The course itself is beautifully kept, and spans a succession of undulating meadows and hills. Cows are employed to keep the grass down. It’s hardly ever used, except in May, when the 300 club members turn up for the annual tournament and for a small green fee of Rs75 you get clubs, balls, temporary membership and the course practically to yourself. An extra Rs20 will hire you a good caddy and for another Rs10 you get a spare set of balls.

Alternatively, take directions at the club for adjoining Green Valley View, which commands a beautiful view of the entire Vaigai Dam. Or walk 1 km ( 2/3 mile) further on past the golf course for Pillar Rocks, three massive boulders standing shoulder to shoulder, measuring a total of 122 m and providing a plummeting view down into the valley plains. There’s a pretty waterfall here too.

Walk Two (full-day)
Observatory–Bear Shola Falls–Museum–Telescope House
For day two, try a pleasant 40-minute stroll up to the Solar Physical Observatory  3 km (2 miles) from town, approached via Observatory Rd, located 5 mins north of the Boat House. Founded in 1898, situated at the topmost point of Kodaikanal at a height of 2347 m, it gives panoramic views of the town, lake, and surrounding Palani Hills. Check opening times (normally 10 am–noon and 7-9 pm, April to June) at the tourist office before visiting. On the return walk, take the rugged, picturesque path left for Bear Shola Falls 1.5 km (1 mile) from the lake, another popular view point and picnic spot. In the afternoon, stroll back up Coaker’s Walk for the Shenbaganur Museum near the top of the rise, on left. This is famous for its collections of flora and fauna including

300 varieties of orchid, and is well maintained by the Sacred Heart College. It is open 10-11.30 am and 3.30-5 pm. The Telescope House at the nearby observatory is a good place to be at sunset. If it isn’t free, and it often isn’t, enjoy the sun going down from the small knoll below which it is a sheer drop of 670 m, with privacy guaranteed. There are several other nice walks, notably Prospect Point (6 km; 3 3/4 miles), Fairy Falls (5 km; 3 miles) and Silver Cascade (1 km; 2 ,5 mile), behind the Sacred Heart Church.

Apart from golf, boating and pony-riding, Kodaikanal is a good area for fishing. Licences are issued from the Fisheries Officer (enquire at the tourist office), and charges are Rs5 per day for carp, Rs250 per day for trout-fishing in local hill streams. Short treks around the Kodaikanal hills for about Rs1200 per day are offered by A School in Nature Education, c/o Greenlands Lodge, Coaker’s Walk. These are easy-going nature rambles, geared to students and youth hostellers, which take place between May and June, September and November.

There’s a reasonable selection of weavings and local crafts at the Cottage Craft Shop near the bus-stand. It’s open 9 am-12.30 pm, 2-6 pm, Monday to Saturday. You’ll find attractive Tibetan produce and local coir mats for sale on the road leading down to the lake.

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