Melange Travel

Chocolate, cheese and memories

Silver Cascade is a waterfall that serves as a gateway to the mountain resort town.  

An old, fading black-and-white photograph of a grinning 12-year-old on horseback on the grassy banks of the misty Kodai lake has always been a source of great amusement for my children. They would often quiz me about my riding skills and the long plaited hair in the photograph, concluding, that both were part of ancient history and family lore. The first bus ride up the Kodai hills through light rain, cutting across verdurous countryside had also settled down as a pleasant memory at the back of my mind. I remember a road lined with orange groves with excited children from the neighbouring hamlets often running along with the bus. I also remember the long, solitary pony rides and walks with my parents through the fog that tickled the tips of my nose and ears. The framed photograph and warm, vibrant and happy memories of this southern mountain resort town inspired me to plan a family holiday and we soon found ourselves in a hired car from Dindigul, headed towards Kodaikanal. 

Kodai has come a long way from its early days, a 150 years ago. The British employed local labour and elephants loaded with wood, rocks, iron and bricks to trudge up the thickly-forested slopes and build a ‘white’ township. The car from Dindigul, the nearest railhead, sped through open countryside, the autumn sun played hide-and-seek for a while before dark clouds moved in and rain lashed at the windscreen. The valley opened up and we saw a snowy cascade of water at a distance. This was the Silver Cascade, a waterfall that served as a gateway to the mountain resort. The first glimpse of the lake, the cottages perched high up and the narrow foot trails that made their way up the wooded hillside imparted a sense of peace. The mornings during our stay dawned bright, only to give way to thick fog and rain by noon. Walks by the lake and along the rolling slopes revealed that Kodaikanal had grown in stature to become the chosen abode of the rich and the famous. Sprawling villas and beautifully landscaped gardens lined the narrow wooded roads echoing with bird calls. Nearly every street corner in downtown Kodai had a shop selling homemade chocolates and local cheese that found its way into almost every meal and snack. The Kodai special masala chai was clearly the most popular hot brew being sold out of little tea-shops along the banks of the star-shaped lake. A stop for a cup of the strong hot brew flavoured with cardamoms was mandatory after the walks. The owner of the one we frequented the most — a bearded old man in a woollen cap, with twinkling eyes set in a wizened face lined by years of tea making — stoked the fire frequently to keep his blackened kettle on the boil all day as people trooped in to take cover from the rain and hold the steaming cuppa in hand.

Besides tea vendors there were ice cream carts, confectioneries with their amazing variety of homemade chocolates, shops selling trinkets and handicraft, toy shops and garment dealers. Cheese factories and retail outlets were also part of the trading hub, milk and milk products having contributed to an age-old sustainable regional industry. A special flavour is lent to the products by the bracing climate and the thick creamy milk. The walk to the local observatory was rewarding with its magnificent trees and grounds that teemed with birds and insects. Another popular occupation here is cycling around the 24-hectare Kodai lake, skirted by a five-kilometre-long black tar road. Bicycles are rented out and young people breeze past, pedalling furiously with shouts as they race each other. The Collector of Madurai, Sir Vere Henry Levinge, in 1863, built a bund to form the lake and stocked it with fish. The first boat was brought from Tuticorin and with the building of the Boat Club in 1890, the members of the club set sail. Boat races, conducted by the 124-year-old Boat Club are an annual event with participants coming from all over the country. 

Returning to a place close to the heart with sunny childhood memories and reliving the experience at a different stage in life always runs the risk of disappointment. The warm tints of early association could well be replaced with cold monochromes. It was with some trepidation therefore that I had returned to Kodaikanal, after more than three decades. But, the misty landscape, the peeping sunshine, the rolling hills overlooking a serene lake and the chatty walks down forested paths ringing loud with birdsong banished any fears of let down as Kodaikanal once again unfolded its charm, wove its magic and added to my previous precious memories.


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Printable version | Jun 18, 2021 10:26:19 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/travel/chocolate-cheese-and-memories/article6133646.ece

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