Tour & Travel

Kodaikanal – a gem of a hill station

Juned A. Choudhury
Each year, in mid-August, we bring in a modest-size cake to the house for my wife to cut. In recent times, however, with three under-eight grandchildren clamouring to join the fun and in the confusion that follows, it does not always remain clear who actually cut the cake or whom we sang “Happy birthday” to.

This time, leaving the family to their antics, I decided to join a couple of hundred of my chums from various cities of India and abroad, at the 56th birthday celebration of Mahan Bharat, in far-off Tamil Nadu. The place where we met is not far from the Southern tip of the sub-continent, where the waters of Bay of Bengal, Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean meet. On this august occasion, how I wish minds in the sub-continent also similarly met!   
Mad dogs and…

“Mad dogs and Englishmen”, as the saying goes, “go out in the mid-day sun”. Providence has spared me from being either. But, on 15th August 1994, I did join a large group of international friends on a day-long celebration relay-run from Madras to Pondicherry, a distance of 190 kms. By turns we carried a single baton, running along the ‘old Mahabalipuram Road’ and the then under-construction East Coast Highway. We avoided the main North-South Highway because of heavy traffic there.

Celebrating Independence Day in these two cities had considerable historical significance. Madras is where the English first settled, the East India Company having been given some land by the rulers of Vijayanagar, who held one of the largest Hindu empires in Indian history, with Hampi as the capital. Fort St. George, built in 1653, is still being used as the Tamil Nadu Secretariat and Assembly, after much alteration. Madras has the oldest municipal corporation in India with a charter granted by King James II in1688. St. Mary’s Church located within Fort St. George is the oldest Anglican Church east of Suez and the oldest surviving British construction in India. It is still in use and is immaculately maintained. Robert Clive was married in this church in 1753. The marriage register is kept in the Chennai Museum. Elihu Yale, an early governor of Madras, went on to found the famous university in USA bearing his name. Today, the desolate, mystique ruins at Hampi, in Karnataka, amidst hills and gigantic rounded boulders, cannot be walked in a day; Madras (Chennai) is the fourth-largest city of India.

Pondicherry was a French colony from the early 18th century to the early 1950’s, when they voluntarily bid adieu. Sri Aurobindo established the Ashram there in 1926. Auroville, an offshoot of the Ashram, 10 kms outside the city, was the destination of our “Tour de Relais”. Auroville was inaugurated in 1968 with much fanfare, in the presence of representatives of 121 countries. They all poured some soil of their respective countries in an urn as a gesture of oneness of mankind. Designed by a French architect, Auroville was conceived as “an experiment in international living where men and women could live in peace and progressive harmony with each other above all creeds, politics and nationalities.” The same spirit prevails in the Cite Universitaire in Paris. Despite the endless disputes over the years between Auroville and the Ashram authorities, a large number of foreigners and Indians reside there and are involved in various research and development activities.

Kodaikanal
The 2003 Independence Day weekend was the occasion for holding the annual meet of the Indian chapters of the Hash House Harriers, in Kodaikanal (nicknamed Kody). HHH is an international recreational cross-country jogging club (www.hashheritage.com). The event was the ‘Indian National Hash 2003’. Besides Indians and other nationalities residing in India, some came from abroad, including a contingent of 15 from Malaysia. On a cold, misty Independence Day (Friday) we did a 6-8 kms run/hike along a trail in the woods. On Saturday and Sunday, in crispy weather, we did two more similar hash runs. Due to the altitude and inclines it was a little tougher than running and walking in the plains, but the natural surroundings and the bracing mountain air were rewards enough. The evenings were filled with fun, food, frivolity and friendship.

Kodaikanal, at an altitude on 6,700 feet, is in the Palani Hills in Southern Tamil Nadu. The Palani Hills are the eastern offshoot of the Western Ghats. Kody can be reached by flying to Madurai and then 120kms by road up the hills. Or, as 140 of us - men, women and a few kids - did it, by taking the overnight train from Chennai, alighting at Kodaikanal Road station at dawn, and then traveling 80kms by minibus. There is direct train connection from Bangalore too, which 40 others availed.

Kody is a compact town surrounded by thickly wooded hills and waterfalls. As in Shillong, Ooty and Nainital, there is a beautifully landscaped artificial lake with boating facilities. Of the three hill stations in Tamil Nadu – Ooty, Kody and Yercaud – Kody is in many respects the best. It does not get as cold as in Ooty in winter; the various viewpoints are within walking distance of the center of the town, unlike in Ooty; and it is not over-run with tourists thus helping to keep the place clean and environment–friendly. Arguably, Kodaikanal is the most beautiful and the best-preserved hill station in the sub-continent.

International School


The co-ed Kodaikanal International School (KIS), located in the center of the town, is another reason for Kody’s claim to fame. Founded as Highclerc in 1901 by American missionaries, it is now an associated school of the European Council of International Schools (ECIS) with studies leading to the International Baccalaureate (IB).  

My story on Kody will not be complete without the mention of Vijay Kumar of Nature Trails (e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ). A conservationist, from Hyderabad, nature trailing in Kody for the past 17 years, Vijay knows the hills like the back of his hand. He was of invaluable help to Vinod Reddy and Jayraj Rau of Madras HHH (www.madrashash.com) in locating the trails and organizing the very successful event. The Carlton (www.krahejahospitality.com) provided great hospitality to the whole group.  

Juned A. Choudhury is an eco-tourism consultant based in Dhaka.
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.