Summer vacation, a quaint hill station, and local bakeries form a part of every child’s fantasy and if you’ve been a bookworm like me then this is a scene straight out of Enid Blyton’s magic lands. So when we revisited the ‘princess of hill stations’ Kodaikanal in December 2019 I was filled with childhood nostalgia.
We list below Six things to do in Kodaikanal in a non tourist fashion.These are places you must visit or experiences you must have while in Kodaikanal which we highly recommend if you wish to be a traveller and not a tourist.
1. Stay in a Pre Independence British bungalow.
Having visited this town several times in the past we didn’t want to do a regular touristy round of visits and kept it mostly to chill with my family. One of the best things to not do at any place is to stay at a hotel and we did exactly that.
With no agenda in hand we checked into the lavish Kurinji bungalow maintained by Saffron stays in the afternoon. Being peak season we were told many other guests would join later but luckily we got in earlier and got to choose our favorite rooms! The house had a beautiful garden spread out on all sides with a well laid out brick path in between.
There was a common area with a small cute bar and a nice set of antique couches to lounge. When we walked around the house we found a small game room with a TT table but the highlight was a mini-trek like arrangement which took us past a campfire place and towards a thick growth of trees. The former came of use in the night for a musical jamming session while the latter acted as the perfect bait for some bird photography.
2. Have a steaming cup of Sukku kaapi on a morning walk.
I have wondered many times how coffee became a staple in Tamil households when it is something that came into the country much recently from the west and not to forget it is an expensive luxury. The answer probably lies in this traditional drink called sukku kaapi (dry ginger coffee) contrary to the name there is no real coffee in this, instead, this is a herbal tea of sorts perfect for the kind of weather in the hills.
On an early morning walk to the Kurinji andavar temple, which is very close to the bungalow we were welcomed by the voice of Kaveri. She insisted we taste the local hot beverage, as we were her first customers on this cold December morning. Tempted by the smell we immediately took the offer only to realize later that we didn’t have our wallet.
We promised to return the next morning to pay her and also get some lessons on how to make Sukku kaapi. The main ingredient we learned is roasted coriander seeds which mimics the aroma of freshly roasted coffee beans! So the next time you’re in Kodaikanal (or any part of TN) we highly recommend you look for a cup of local sukku kaapi, after all, it is also a magic potion for increased immunity as opposed to the negative effects of caffeine, we so often read about.
The temple is associated with the Kurinji flowers, which blooms in the Nilgiris once in 12 years. It also has an interesting activity, but you need to be lucky and have a mist-free clear sunny day for that. From within the walls of the temple, you will find a set of telescopes set up. You can spot the hill-temple of Palani from here quite clearly, visible even with the naked eye.
3. Visiting the Sunday market on PT Road.
Weekends are usually the worst time to be at hill stations because people from all neighboring towns and cities flock here. We got lucky perhaps, as Sunday is a special day to be in Kodaikanal. The Sunday local market at the Poet Tyagaraja road brims with life and undoubtedly we vote for this as the best experience in Kodai. The Sunday market is the perfect place to savor local snacks like Boli,Appam and kuzhipaniyaram. It is also amazing to see the variety of fish on display in a hill town, locals sure know how to enjoy their Sunday. It is also a place to hone your street photography skills as the colours on display in the form of flowers and vegetables are resplendent and diverse. Visiting this Sunday market is the best thing to do in Kodaikanal for a traveller.
4. Take a Dual or couple cycle ride around the lake.
Undoubtedly the lake is the most happening and beautiful place in Kodaikanal. We were surprised to find the lake empty on a Sunday morning, turns out that most people only start coming in the late afternoon. Contrary to most places in India where with time and growing population the charm of such places has lost, Kodaikanal maintains its lake pretty well thanks to the efforts of the Rotary club.
I had not been cycling for a while now due to a knee injury but I really wanted to, that’s when we decided to try the Dual cycle. In India, one may not find this cycle anywhere else but Kodaikanal, this is a must-try activity according to us. One needs more coordination and focus riding this than the normal one because it depends on your partnership and focus. I enjoyed this activity and though we started out to just ride a few meters we ended up completing an entire circle of the lake!
Taking a walk around the lake is also quite refreshing. We took a long walk along with my parents while eating some of the famous homemade kodai chocolates and watching a bunch of locals play a game of carrom-board. You should also not miss buying some good quality cheese at the Kodai Cheese store at the corner of the lake.
5. Café hopping on PT street.
There are a lot of cuisines to explore in this small hill town and if it’s a Sunday then local street food is a bonus. ‘Tibetian brothers’ which is at the beginning of the street offers some amazing momos and thukpa usually, it is bustling with regulars. Cloud street which is your best option if you’re looking for some continental fare is famed for its woodfired pizza. We also tried hummus, soups and some pasta. Finally, the one place you cannot miss is Café Cariappa, not just for their delish carrot cakes and aromatic coffee but also to have a chat with Kokila who will leave you asking for more with her knowledge on coffee.
6. Celebrity-homes and Shooting spots.
We love movies and we have always found it exciting to scout for movie-shooting locations in every destination we visit. Famous movies in Tamil like Gentleman, Gunaa and some recent ones like Mehandi Circus and Penguin have been shot in Kodaikanal. So getting to these exact locations and taking pictures of the very same frames would be a fun thing to do. Some movie stars of yesteryears like Gemini Ganesh and Satyaraj own bungalows in these neck of the woods and we somehow mapped those homes as well. Ask the locals and they will tell you exactly where-which scenes were shot and also some interesting BTS anecdotes!
As we were on a road trip we had the luxury of having a car but in case you don’t, it is best advised to stay at a place closer to the lake so that you can do most of these activities on foot. As states open up for travel it is best to find off-beat things to do and why not, you won’t just find experiences that will last a lifetime but also beat the crowds.