Away we went to the 'Princess Hills' - Kodaikanal

Ah! This is one trip I'd always cherish. It was the best bike trip of my life time till now. I wonder whether I'd ever enjoy such a ride again! Probably never... Ever again...

Day 1

It was half past 5 in the morning when the soothing November drizzle made little patterns on my winter coat as I kick started my bike. The city of Coimbatore was sound asleep, seeking warmth and snuggled under the blankets. Me-self, my g'friend and a few stray dogs were probably the only creatures awake at that hour of that cold winter morning. Even my bike showed signs of laziness as it took me a few extra kicks to start the cold engine.

I got a gift voucher for a 3 days, 2 nights stay for two at Kodaikanal with my new mobile and this journal starts from Coimbatore 'coz she was working there and the travel enthusiast that she was, she readily agreed to join me. Besides, I thought of staying over at Coimbatore for a night before I could maneuver my bike along the winding climbs of Ghats.

Kodaikanal is around 175 kms from Coimbatore and we reached Pollachi, 50 kms on our way, braving the chilling morning breeze and without any pit stops, in an hour. After a brief break there, we continued our journey. The next 60 kms till the foot hills of Palani was driven by my g'friend. To my surprise I found her a fairly good driver though she was taking to wheels after a break of almost three years  and we covered that distance in less than an hour and half. Palani is a famous pilgrimage town where more than 7 million devotees visit the Palani Murugan Temple every year. This temple draws the largest number of devotees in Tamil Nadu. I should not fail to mention here that the ride along the NH209 was very comfortable as the roads were free of any pot holes and were well maintained.

The watch around my wrist said a three quarter past 8. We stopped at Palani for our breakfast which we had from a little road side restaurant. The hot dosas, the spicy sambhar and those hot spongy vadas… Ah! My mouth still waters at the thought of that modest breakfast in that busy little town.

Another few kilometers ride through the country road and we passed the sign board that said “Princess Hills Kodaikanal Welcomes You”. The ride from this point is something worth accounting for. As always the Ghat roads were a pleasure to ride along - the winds, the hair-pin bends, the blind bends, sometimes along the edges of steep slopes and some times through the woods... A few hundred feet above the sea level and we were already blanketed by mist. It was difficult to see what lay ahead even with the sun right above our heads. The silver oaks on one side and the steep fall on the other made the ride one of the best in my life. It was fun… thrilling…

After a ride for about a couple of hours I found my hands numb because of the cold and I very badly wanted to take a break and warm up. But we were at the middle of what you can call as ‘no man’s land’ and there was nothing around us save the tall oaks, wild shrubs, frozen boulders, a fallen tree trunk and the blinding mist. I slowed down the bike as soon as I realised that we were at some clearing. I parked the bike at a side and she served me with hot coffee from the flask that she had brought along (very thoughtful of her). I lit a cigarette and we had a little chat over the hot coffee. To look back at that moment it seems to me like a leaf out of some romance novel – two young lovers sitting side by side on a fallen tree trunk, the mist flying all around, the blue sky, the silver clouds…

We sat there for a little past half an hour and the mist suddenly started to clear. The sun shone brighter and we got the shock of our life. A couple of meters away were a little settlement with little thatched shops on either side of the road and cattle grazing about in the near vicinity. I sat there shocked looking at a cow munching at the leaves on a nearby shrub.

Another hour's ride and it took us to the gates of the resort hotel where we had a room booked for our stay. Switching on the heater and hitting the bed is all that I remember.

Around the Kodai town

A stroll for a couple of hours or three in the evening showed us almost the whole of what that dainty little town is all about. Being one of the major tourist attractions there was a market with numerous shops selling different things from aromatic oils, artifacts etc. to fancy jewellery. We got into one of the shops and I had my eyes on a leather gloves. She brought a jute handbag for herself and surprised me with the gloves that I was eyeing at. When I saw that the money in our purse was thinning I nearly pulled her out of the shop.

A steaming plate of spicy roasted lamb, chapattis and cocktails made our dinner and we walked around the place for another hour and finally found our way back to our hotel room.

Day 2

Kodai Lake

Just in front of our resort was the Kodai Lake. We rented a bicycle each and went around the lake a couple of times. Pony rides around the lake are also available for those interested.

We then went for the boating. We got into a pedal boat and we waded through the placid blue lake. She pointed her finger at a direction and asked me to look there. What I saw was something amusing. A sheet of mist was rolling down from nowhere and was moving towards us. The both of us agreed on the idea of moving against it and within a few minutes we were blanketed by thick, blinding mist. It was even difficult to see the water around us. We could only hear the oars of other boats splashing at the water. A good 20 minutes boating and we were back in the shore munching on hot spicy chilly bhajjis and sipping at steaming masala teas.

Other places of interest in and around Kodaikanal are the Bryant Park, Coaker's Walk, Bear Shola Falls, Green Valley View, Pillar Rocks, Guna caves, Silver Cascade, Dolphin's Nose and the Kurinji Andavar Murugan temple.

Now, I don’t want to go too much into telling you about the place and make this look like a typical travelogue. This journal is more supposed to be about the personal experience of the riders and not too much details about the place. Yet I can’t help but tell you something about the Coaker’s Walk and the Guna Caves because these two are my personal favourite spots in Kodaikanal.

Coaker’s Walk

Coaker’s Walk is around 500 meters from the main bus stand. Constructed by Lt.Coaker in 1872, this is a 1 kilometer paved pedestrian path running along the edge of steep slopes on the southern side of Kodai. The walk, winding around Mount Nebo, starts in front of the Van Allen hospital, running parallel to the Van Allen Hospital Road and joins the main road beside St. Peter's Church, providing a stunning panoramic view of the plains. Our fancies took wings and we said we'd get married at this Church and have our first kid in Van Allen's... Dreams, dreams, boundless dreams... What can they not tell us!

On a clear day, one can see as far as the Dolphin's Nose on one side, the valley of the Pambar River, Periyakulam town and even the city of Madurai. It is said that a fascinating rare phenomenon called Brocken specter can be witnessed here, when a person can see his shadow on the clouds with a rainbow halo. This occurs when the sun is behind the viewer and clouds and mist are to the front. There is an observatory with a telescope halfway along the walk. Entrance fee to the walkway is nominal and it is open all year.

Guna caves

Guna caves, made popular by the Tamil movie ‘Guna’, previously called Devil’s Kitchen, are deep bat-infested chambers between the three gigantic boulders that are the Pillar Rocks. The deep narrow ravines of the caves are now closed to public due to the tragic deaths of twelve youths there. These dangerous caves are highly protected now, and tourists can see sections of the cave system from afar.

Also the walk in the pine forest has left me with memories as green and tall as those trees. We ran around the trees crushing the dried leaves under our feet; lay flat on the ground looking at the branches over our head making intricate patterns, and what not? The two of us transcended time and became the little kids that we were back in our school days…

And here is a word of caution. The Green Valley view point, also known as the ‘Suicide Point’ is a spectacle that’ll behold your imaginations. I couldn’t disagree any lesser with the nick name – Suicide Point – given to this spot. Though now fenced and the people restricted from going to the edge, I bet many of us even in our best spirits would feel that the bed of clouds below are thick enough to hold your feet and that it is good enough idea to try walking on them! But the real danger of this spot is something else – monkeys! A gang of really unruly monkeys gather around this spot and if you are not there in a group and alone or as a couple, expect the little devils to cause you some trouble. Our experience was nothing different. The monkeys took a special liking for my g'friend and it was at the nick of time that a tourist guide walked in there, blowing his whistle and shooing the monkeys away!

Day 3

It was time for us to check out and we went for a final cycling around the lake. I did want to go boating a second time, this time in a row boat, but she disagreed to this idea. By half past 12 at noon, we handed back the key to our room at the hotel reception and started our ride back.

Now, wait! Did we leave Kodaikanal all that soon? No. Not for a hundred million good reasons! We checked into a cheaper hotel near the lake and spent another night and day in that misty wonderland. The evening walks around the lake, the rides through every other odd streets of that town ship... have all left me with memories to cherish forever!

The ride back

Finally on the fourth day, we decided to go back!. The ride back was equally thrilling. But this time, more than the mist laden bends of Ghats, I enjoyed the plain country side ride through little villages and town ships of Tamil Nadu. The ride back took us around 7 hours and I still remember the wind mills against the evening sun at the country side…

Original post:

Kodai Factfile:

Nearest airports: Madurai (135 kms), Coimbatore Airport (180 kms) and Trichy (200 kms).
Nearest railway stations: Palani (64 kms), Kodai road station (80 kms) and Dindugal (100 kms).
By road: Limited bus service and taxi cabs are available from Palani.
Accommodation: From cheap lodges to luxury resorts charging you a few 1000's are available.

A bike ride to the foothills of the Fire Mountain

This was the most impulsive journey that I ever embarked on.

It was half past 9 on a Friday night and I was sitting at a 24-hour coffee shop in Bangalore with one of my friends. I was telling him about my motorcycle trips to the different places as I was discussing with him about the places around Bangalore that I’d like to visit. ‘Tiruvannamalai’ was a chance mentioning by him, but something that caught my imagination.

By 12'o clock at night the back packs were ready, the tank of my bike filled and we set off to the abode of Arunachaleswara.

Through the country road

The 90-km ride till Krishnagiri along the NH 7, which connects Bangalore to Salem in Tamil Nadu, took me two and half hours and was more than comfortable. Though the four-lane, well maintained National Highway was flocked by slow paced heavy trucks at night time, cruising, sometimes along with them and at times ahead of them was an enjoyable experience. We had only one halt on the way till Krishnagiri and that was at Hozur where we had omelets fresh from the frying pan at a road side stall. We reached Krishnagiri at around 2 at night. From there we had to bid adieu to the good old highway, take a turn and follow a trail of country road sometimes through what looked like jungle, and at times through little villages. The silhouetted trees against the moon, and the silvery hillocks on either side made us feel as if we were riding through a land in someone’s imagination. We reached Tiruvannamalai by around 6 in the morning and checked into a lodge near the temple.

Ramana Aashrama

This is the first place we visited. The aashrama of Maha Rishi Ramana is hardly a kilometre away from the temple. I'd have to write a book if I start writing about this enlightened soul. But I'm least bothered to take up that effort as there already a thousand and more books written on the life and teaching of this great saint. Instead, I'll tell you something about the aashrama. It is a quaint little place with a temple dedicated to Swami Ramana Maha Rishi and little other temples for various other Hindu deities. There is a restroom for the pilgrims visiting the aashrama, a book shop that sells religious texts and books written by Ramana Maha Rishi and other souvenirs. But the major attraction for me in this place were the peacocks that were roaming around so freely and without any fear of other two legged creatures like us around

Arunachala hill

Right close to the aashrama is this hill at the foot of which the town of Thiruvannamalai rests has an interesting story attached to it from the Hindu mythology. It is said that once Maha Vishnu and Brahma, puffed up with arrogance, sought to see for themselves the end and beginning of Shiva. Vishnu took the form of a boar and started searching Siva's feet, while Brahma turned into a Swan and looked for the head of ‘The Destroyer’. Siva took the form of fire just to snub their vanity. As the Lord had taken the form of fire, neither the crest nor the root could be approached. 'Aruna' means crimson colour and 'achala' means immovable. As Shiva stood in the form of fire it came to be known as Arunachala (Fire Mountain).

We trekked up this sacred hill and hit base by afternoon. After having a decent meal from a nearby restaurant, we took a nap.

Arunachaleswara Temple

By around 5.30 in the evening we got up, took turns under the shower and visited the famed Arunachaleswara temple.

The 11-tiered East Rajagopura rises to a height of 217 feet, while the fortified walls with 4 entrances offer a formidable look to this vast temple complex. The Pei Gopura, Tirumanjana Gopura and Ammanaiammal gopura are the other three. The 1000-pillared hall and the temple tank were built by Krishna Deva Rayarar of Vijayanagara. Each of the entrances of the temple has a huge Nandi (the sacred bull of Siva) and several towers such as the Vallala Maharaja Gopura and Kili Gopura.

Just sit inside the huge temple precincts near the huge pond with your eyes closed and let the sanctity of the place seep in… Ah! That was such an unparalleled and elevating experience of my spirit!

Footwear stolen!

We got out of the temple to find out that both our sandals had been stolen. Both of us got very frustrated at this and called, who ever who did that, names never heard before. We then straight away went to a footwear shop in the town and brought a pair of brand new sandals each. But we had the laugh of our life time when we visited the temple the next day morning. We saw this person sitting at the entrance and he had sandals of people who had gone in lying around him. He kept the sandals for us for some tips in money and that, it seems, was his job. So we placed our sandals in his custody, least we wanted it to be stolen a second time. And while coming out I struck a conversation with this man and told him how our sandals got stolen the previous day. He just looked at me, opened a tin chest near  him, took out our sandals and asked whether we could recognize them? Now, this was something freaky funny. It seems that he watched over our sandals for us the previous day without our asking him to do that and when he couldn't find us coming out for a long time, he just kept them away safely in his chest. Tiruvannamali is truly a divine land!

Original post:

Tiruvannamalai Factfile:

Nearest airport - Bangalore (220 kms), Chennai (170 kms)
Nearest railwaystation - There are trains to Tiruvannamalai from Chennai.
Bus services - Tiruvannamalai is well connected to both Chennai and Bangalore with regular bus services from both these cities.
Accommodation - You can find very cheap to economy lodges around the temple.

For more details, visit: