Kodaikanal — Princess of Hill Stations


When I wrote my last post, realization struck me like a magic wand that words of a traveler can inspire even a couch potato to switch off that TV/Laptop/PC and go outside and explore. I consider this post as a part of the charity work I do. Social work is not just helping slum children how to read and write, not just campaigning about ‘Say No to Drugs’, it is also to inspire people to wander, to get lost, to explore, to dream. I want people to put their shoes on and use that rotten laptop bag as a backpack to loaf around with, collecting visions and fresh air.

Photo of Kodaikanal — Princess of Hill Stations 1/1 by Stuti Gupta

I have traveled to fourteen states in a year’s time, and this trip remains to be the closest to my heart. Why? One important reason – ‘twas full of spontaneity and dis-inhibitions.

Only when you step out of your comfort zone, you shall learn how crucial it is to let go. Let go of fellow passengers you meet, let go of the favorite-side-of-a-bed, let go of hotels and washrooms, let go of fear, rules, rights and wrongs…let go of yourself…

It was prep holidays again for the second semester final exams. Both my flatmates and I were sitting in different corners of the house finishing the last bit of assignment on Family Therapy. We were required to write about the dynamics of our family using psychotherapy concepts. Three of us had our earphones plugged and we were howling within ourselves. It gets very difficult to write about things you have always known but managed to pass through it until psychology hits you hard. Ah! We booked our tickets to Palani earlier that evening and the bus timing was 8.45 pm. We sent our assignments around 8 pm and panicked to pack. We managed to put a few clothes, sport shoes and a sweater and locked our house. Although we forgot to have dinner. We literally forgot. I remember the times in school when the teacher would say “Oh! You forgot to do your homework? Do you ever forget to eat?!” and I just wanted to tell all of those teachers “yes! I have finally reached that stage of life where I forget to eat while finishing the assignments.”

We thought we missed our bus, but thankfully it was late. We reached Palani at three-fucking-thirty in the morning. The sky was dark blue. We spotted an auto and said the first hotel we have had seen on Makemytrip the previous night. We reached there and got a room for the morning. We slept for two hours, got dressed and went to the famous temple in Palani — Palani Murugan temple. We climbed about 1000 stairs (we survived!) and it was absolutely beautiful early morning.

Photo of Palani, Tamil Nadu, India by Stuti Gupta

We had an amazing breakfast there — crispy masala dosa and crispier vadas. After living in South India for almost five years, I can eat dosa at any hour. Dosa for breakfast, dosa for lunch, as an evening snack and (sometimes) even for dinner. We packed again and left for the bus stop and found out that we were fifteen minutes late for the last bus for the afternoon. All the cab drivers came on us like honey bees attack you if you dare to disturb their beehive. One awful thing about being a North Indian in the small cities of South India is that they think of you as dumbfuck. I have had really bad experiences with drivers in TN especially.

After a while, we decided to hire a car from Palani to Kodaikanal. It was around 5pm and it was the best decision to take it at that time. We got to see the sunset through the layers of mountains and that was just the beginning.

It was 8 in the evening when we arrived to Kodaikanal. We had no idea where we were going to stay. I’m not saying that it is a cool thing to do, but somehow things unfolded for us perfectly . Our cab driver asked us the place he should drop us and we told him a hotel that we had read about on Tripadvisor. As it was still further, he asked us if we wanted to check out his friend’s hotel too. We three looked at each other and then in a fraction of second we agreed. We went to the hotel and it looked cozy and the owner was 50 year old man who later turned out to be really fun. We decided to stay there itself. The old man asked us if we wanted a day tour of the place and he gave that package to us at a very cheap price because we were staying at his hotel. I usually do not prefer doing such touristy things because it binds you and compels you to visit places mechanically. I like to chill at fewer places but inhale as much as I can of that place. However, we just agreed because this old man sell it too well.

We woke up at 6am and rolled one. We went out for a nature walk and to buy socks because clearly we didn’t pack enough for the cold wind.

We came back, got dressed and saw that a vehicle was ready to take us a goody-good trip, literally, figuratively and of course, in its own hallucinogenic way. We were ten people in all.

1. The old man who I earlier mentioned was a hotel manager and also a driver, a photographer, a guide, a life saviour when we got stuck between monkey gangsters and the list will never end.

2. Three honeymoon couples. Weirdos that we could totally trip on.

3. Three of us.

We chilled the entire afternoon hoping to different places — church, waterfalls, walk through the clouds, dingy forests, typical suicide points and a land full of pine trees. It is unbelievable how the day turns into night here, from deep spring to early winters. We had asked them to drop us to Vattakanal, a small unpopular land of serenity. We did not know where we were going to stay there and Tripadvisor and Makemytrip were not that helpful for this place.

Photo of Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu, India by Stuti Gupta

The old man called a young mute man who drove us to Vattakanal, hardly 5–6 kms away from Kodai. This mute man had a friend, who had a homestay. We three looked at each other and screamed YAY together with our eyes. The room was beautiful, it had four double beds and the walls were colorful. You could see the productivity of magic mushrooms in those paintings.

We had an amazing night, full of music and discussions about education system, while we inhaled rounds and rounds of smoke. It was like we were still in school, showing each other how cold it was through foggy breaths. We made a lot of new friends from Israel, Germany and Poland. They were living right next to our room in the middle of nowhere surrounded by mesmerizing cloud dance.

We woke up next morning and went for a walk again. We discovered a viewpoint which was the best experience of all in the trip. It has no name, we just found it while walking in the forest and talking to dogs there.

We hogged at a small cafe and then we had a post-breakfast meal right after we finished the breakfast. We were charged up again. We went back to the room, we packed our stuff and left for a trek back to Kodaikanal. That entire walk was so pleasant to the soul. It was so quiet that I could hear myself breathing, and feel it healing me.

I wrote this note right after this trip ended…

We live in a beautiful world. To begin with, my heart is strung, my tongue is tied and my soul awed. Pardon me for jumping from one thing to another.

Drastic differences and diversities but so peaceful as we greet each other with hey’s and hello’s as we pass by, as if we have been neighbours for years. After every two minutes, a knock, to ask, to greet, to enter, to invite and just to chat, to play or to smoke some. This trip has taught me life changing lessons so quietly that I’m not sure what I am taking from here but I am quite sure, I have left a part of me there behind. Colourful walls and the travellers who painted a piece of heart on it, a simple yellow ashtray and the fire place, the view outside the door and the silence of the breath like never before and always more: I am disheartened because of the lack of words in the dictionary that could describe the feeling…when you reach the edge of the hill and lie down there. The feeling when the floating clouds below me and through my hair, wash the feelings off my face. So naked and fresh, as if I was never in love with anyone. As if I was never touched before. As if someone grabbed my heart like a child grabs gems; choosy while seeking for the favourite colours at first but greedy for eating all of it anyway. My stiff nerves melted like homemade chocolates in the mouth. The walk from Vattakanal to Kodaikanal with our backpacks and music, shoes on, and no road map was is the most beautiful achievement of my life. Waterfalls, ups and downs, churches and shrines and all of it just pass by. Life is really short but you can make it look rich by smiling and discovering and sustaining the surprise look as you do that. Getting lost and finding ways, exploring, digging in, running around and running away. One of those moments when the music is too loud to hear the horns of the world. Trees play bass to the singing of the birds in perfect melody. Hills look like several naked infants lying beside each other, yawning and sleeping, with four five strands of hair on them and few teeth in the front. Lit up city from the top looks like the stars spread out on the land and the stories you hear from people and discovering together means so much more than having a 5 star stay. I feel like a traveller, I’m afraid to say this but I think I’m getting addicted to these small journeys and always looking forward to the next ones.

I am sending so much love to all of you who are reading this.

Peace out.

Sweet syrupy optimism following you.

This article was originally published on Stuti Ashok Gupta's original blog