Blessed with brilliant weather year-round (yes, even in summers), Kodaikanal’s perch 2000m above sea level makes it rich in natural treasures. Surrounded by dense forests, lakes and high mountains, it makes for a perfect getaway. Except it’s no secret, and tourists tend to migrate here in droves. The roads are congested, and the crowds are chaotic. Take a deep breath, and weather through it; just beyond the limits of Kodaikanal lies a world of wild beauty. So make Kodaikanal your base, and escape everyday to a new paradise.
Forty kilometres west of Kodaikanal, past winding roads, and through an invigorating forest lies Mannavanur Lake. While it’s barely half the size of Ulsoor Lake, what Mannavanur Lake lacks in spread, it more than makes up with the idyllic setting. Quietly resting in a small valley between swathes of rolling meadows, the lake is a popular picnic spot. With plenty of grasslands on which to spread out your blanket, it’s perfect for an al fresco lunch on a bright sunny day. Pack a lunch, or don’t – just a stone’s throw away is a small settlement of sheep rearers and farmers. The little shacks here serve the most delicious (and traditional!) south Indian breakfasts. Nothing beats idli, vada and dosa, hot off the stove.
If you’re in the mood to wing it to the north-west, make your way to Kookal, a quaint village 40 km from Kodaikanal. A hidden paradise no one told you about, it’s a land where time stands still, preserving all that we city-slickers hold dear – tranquility and unspoiled natural beauty. Cocooned in a thicket of towering trees, Kookal has everything going for it – a beautiful lake, ringed by a shola forest denser than a packed Mumbai local. There’s even a trail, allowing for a short hike that rewards you with a breathtaking view of the mountains around.
For those with a taste for adventure, this mountaintop village, enveloped by lush forests (no motorable road though), is for you. There are about 100 families here and the only way to get here is on foot, following a trail down the hill from Dolphin’s Nose in Kodaikanal. You’ll find that everyone here carries on barefoot – the earth the village rests on is believed to be sacred (there are more than 50 temples in the area. ‘nuff said). The warm hearted hospitality of the gracious villagers is truly moving. Stuffing ourselves silly with the most delicious idlis because the lady of the house wouldn’t take no for an answer and downing copious amounts of black coffee offered in almost every house we crossed that morning, is a memory for keeps.
For those with a penchant for the offbeat, Berijam Lake poses an intriguing challenge. Twenty-five kilometres to the southwest of Kodaikanal, in the heart of Upper Palani hills, Berijam Lake is a secret that reveals itself only to a select few. Getting here involves navigating the cumbersome red tape to get permission from the Forest Department (do this at least a week ahead), but it’s worth the effort. Nowhere else will you be witness to refreshing clouds of mist dancing on the waters, on a calm winter morning. If you’re lucky you’ll have an elephant herd or a lone Indian Gaur for company, across the bank.
Put the camera down, and live the moment.
Neelima Vallangi is freelance travel writer and photographer specialising in offbeat and adventure travel features.