Monday 15 October 2018

#TheBlindList: 12 Degree Celsius in Indian Summer - Backpacking Kodaikanal

Jungles of Kodaikanal

Frustrated from the urban life and rattled with constant corporate pressure, the crowd in local trains and air pollution, I badly was looking for a much-needed summer break. After researching about backpacking hostels and escape, I zeroed down my backpacking choice on a quiet hill station in the Western Ghats – Kodaikanal.

Two days later, I landed in Madurai from Mumbai to have holy blessings of Meenakshi Amma to start with my backpacking journey. Madurai and hostel were spectacular especially when you meet fellow travellers like Balaji, Mani and Tamilseran. Time flys by very quickly when you discuss about Rajni Sir's movies and complicated Tamil Nadu politics. Initially, I had planned to visit Rameswaram and Shri Ram Sethu but I had to cancel due to the unforeseen bus strike. Backpackers travellers like me always prefer to stay in dorms as we get a company of other travellers and the stay is pocket-friendly if you are planning a long stay. To be frank, since every part of my backpacking trip was unplanned, my budget for 10 days trip was just Rs 6000 bucks. Seem crazy, but I enjoyed well within my budget. 

Balaji told me to visit Kodaikanal, a hill station in the state of Tamil Nadu. I checked all the details on Instagram and the place looked brilliant. There are buses every 30 mins from Arapalayam Bus stand in Madurai to Kodaikanal.

The Road untravelled.

Kodaikanal is 70 km in the west to Madurai. TNSTC bus will costs around Rs 50. Kodaikanal is located at 2200 metres above sea level. The road to the top is scenic but with lots of turns. The temperature changes rapidly after gaining some height. My bus reached at 4.30 in the evening. It was windy at 14 degrees and the worst part is I was wearing half pants. Clearly, I hadn't planned well on Kodaikanal. Papa Johns pizza brought some heat to my body. I had booked Vedanta Wake Up Lagoon for 2 days. It is located on observatory road and is just 200 metres away from Kodaikanal lake.

Lost in shadows on Deodhar.

Kodaikanal is known as the queen of hills. Crystal clear lake, the air we breathe and the chill in the environment seem right. But, to my surprise, it is not. Kodaikanal is believed to be poisoned with a dark history. Here's the story, Unilever came and left the land in contamination. They set up a thermometer factory where the workers handled toxic mercury. While closing its factory, the sold the toxic materials to the local shrubbery. Unilever is accused by the local activists of dumping toxic mercury in the open forest. The mercury contamination quickly spread across the city and forest. In 2001, the Department of Atomic Research conducted a study and found that the mercury in air and water was 100 times more than average. A very long-term exposure to mercury is dangerous to the human body. The mercury pollution level would have been low by now (Sigh!) as there are global chains, hotels and govt organisation running their business here as usual. All is now well :)

I had a cycle ride around the Kodaikanal lake. The night temperature at Kodaikanal dropped so low that my whole body was shivering. As everything was unplanned, I purchased a sweater from the local street shop. 12 degrees celsius in June is unbelievable for South Bombay wala like me. A bottle of whiskey, which is considered as premium liquor in Tamil Nadu helped me sit in half pants in the terrace. I was alone in the 4-floor hostel as it was off season. Spent some spooky nights but it did help me to have a much-needed peace of mind. 

The sun was up at 5am in the morning. There is plenty much to see in Kodaikanal. The best part of this town is the unusual chill and clouds. Local sightseeing costs around Rs. 300 by bus. Pine forest and Guna caves are the highlights of the trip. Guna caves are named after Guna/ Gumnaam movie. The caves are barricaded by the government as several people have their lives adventuring here. Chocolates, herbal products and windcheaters are widely sold in the town.
That's me after a cycle ride across Kodaikanal lake.
The deep evergreen jungles of Kodaikanal reminded me of Jungle book story. I even spotted a rear Giant Red Squirrel and some deers. It was my first backpacking trip which made me #SayYesToTheWorld . Travel brings power and love back to your life. A trip unplanned plans out to be the best.

What next? I have now shortlisted 6 locations across India namely Barmer, Chitkul, Puri, Tawang, Ladakh and Nainital and would like to decide where to go next 48 hours prior to the trip. With flights, trains and buses plying round the clock anywhere in India, one should always have #TheBlindList ready. Only those who dare, truly live!

- Chaitanya Kulkarni

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