Saturday, July 14, 2018

Travel South India through Kodaikanal in Tamil Nadu

We were few around the table, six complete strangers but with something in common. We were all far from what we call home. A new bottle of beer was opened and the waiter brings more fries to the table. We talked if we could travel for a couple of days in Kodaikanal, one of the three mountain resorts of south India!

Beers flowed, music too. The whiskey was served in the same glasses of the beer that had run out. It was very strong and looked like Jack Daniels. It was already late, soon it was going to dawn. The whiskey was also over. We started the return. We said goodbye with a hug.

I went to bed in anguish. The whiskey had left a bad taste in my mouth and in my heart. The music and its lyrics kept spinning in my head. The existential doubt to know if going on a trip was a good idea cornered me. I could not stop thinking about the selfishness of being far away to the discomfort of those who miss me, but then there is the desire to discover the world. Repeating the bad taste of whiskey we fell asleep.

Day 1

Early morning, we leave Trichy to start the route to the highlands, a little scared if the bike will hold the ramps to get to Kodaikanal. This city, Kodai for colleagues, is located 2,100 meters above sea level, and is part of the so-called Western Ghats.

We left very early, as always, although this time we take it more calmly. We know that in many sections we will not go at more than 20 km/h. We take NH-45. After a few good kilometers we have to take the detour towards the mountains! After around 50 km we see how the landscape changes. As soon as we start the climb we can already feel the difference in temperature. The suffocating heat of the lowlands give way to a nice smooth breeze! The road winds between eucalyptus forests and we do not miss to take a break to drink a chai.

Already on the rise we are greeted by very cute monkeys! We make several stops, the last to see Silver Cascade Falls, a beautiful waterfall, about 10 km from the town. Finally, after a good day (it will not be the longest by any means) we arrived at Kodai with all the energies of the world!

And they went well quick. We reach the accommodation that our friends had booked for us. We put our bags in the hotel and left for a town walk. Indeed, Kodaikanal is not teeming with people. The traffic is not anarchic and the city is surrounded by forests or coffee plantations. There is certainly not much to do there, apart from walks and hikes, but it feels good. In the evening it was even more cold!

Early morning we start our hike towards Berijam Lake, a 24-hectare lake in the heart of the city. To enjoy it, we walked around it under the prying eyes of the locals. The lake is surrounded by luxurious houses where garages often house several high-end cars. On the way, a trekking guide approaches us and offers to take us to Munnar in Kerala.

He shows us messages left by his previous clients and explains that he works for the tourist office. We accept. We book a 2 seater pedal boat to reach Coakers walk. This is a small walk with a view of the valley. We were beset by schoolboys who spent their time with us rather than watching the landscape! We reach the Moir Point which offers a beautiful view of the Pillar Rocks, three rocks of 122 meters in height with distinct shapes.

We see Guna Caves. In fact, there are not really any caves to see since they are below and not accessible. We walk more in to the forest where the monkeys are omnipresent. They are not aggressive but will not hesitate to steal a bottle of water or snacks. We reach Bryant's Park, a botanical garden with a wide variety of roses.

We go to see the Kurinji Andavar temple even if it is nothing exceptional. The view to the left of the temple is not bad. In the midst of pine forests we feel lost in the middle of huge trees! We spot unmarried couples meet there to make love discreetly.

We have momo, thukpa and chowmein for lunch. Finally, we walked back towards our hotel. We see a halal restaurant on the roadside. We take fried chicken wings, tikka chicken and a tandoori chicken for the accompaniment to the night drinks! After we go green in Kodaikanal, our next destination tomorrow is Madurai, the second largest city in Tamil Nadu.

Day 2

We wake up at 8am. We pack our bags, which will be taken by van to Munnar, and take another vehicle that takes us to the beginning of the trek. We descend the mountain, from Kodaikanal to the valley below. The sun is hot. We cross eucalyptus forests. Burnt soil intrigues me. I question our guide who explains that because of the heat, eucalyptus sometimes ignite spontaneously. Ok, we'll walk faster then.

We take some pictures. The landscapes are grandiose. Our guide shows us and makes us smell wild jasmine flowers, aloe vera, and lemon grass growing around. Below, the jackfruits look like swarms of bees on the trees. We go down again to a village in the middle of the mountains. It is noon, and the children in uniform come out of school to eat at home.

The villagers live mainly from the cultivation of mangos, bananas and papayas. We continue our walk and we lay on a rock of a dry river to eat. On the menu is rice and vegetable curry which is delicious. The sound of the rainforest surrounds us.

After this good meal, we finally arrive in the valley. The relief is more lenient, and always so beautiful. We then cross an orchard of mango trees, with their characteristic leaves. The sun is high in the sky, and it is very hot. We have finally arrived. We reach our hotel and fall asleep, exhausted.

Day 3

At 5am, we have a coffee. A bus takes us to an even more lost corner, so that we begin our ascent. We arrive there around 6am. The sun rises on the mountains, and the colors are beautiful when we start our walk. It goes up, it climbs, but fortunately it's early and it's good. We are approaching Kerala. The vegetation is different, richer, greener perhaps.

We cross for a good hour and a half coffee plantations. In the middle, we stop at the house of a man who lives there, who offers us sweet bananas deliciously sweetened from his garden in exchange for the bread brought by our guide.

The coffee plantations are sloping and shady. It is tiring but pleasant to cross. Later, as the altitude increases, the vegetation clears up, and the majestic mountains reappear. We meet women who go for water 2 hours walking down! Children, families, musicians all greet us very kindly. It is incredible to meet people who walk every day what we consider a good little trek!

Finally, green hills, tea plantations, indicate that we arrived at Top Station, not far from Munnar, in Kerala. We have lunch and take the bus to reach the city 30 km from here. The bus winds between the hills, covered with tea trees, lush green. That's wonderful.

First impressions about Munnar. It is apparently richer and developed than Kodaikanal, clean, and well organized. We take a room in a friendly lodge to take a well deserved rest.

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