Waiting for the minivan to Kodai

The day starts with a sample of Indian time; the minibus to Kodaikanal would arrive at 7.15 am, but I have to wait until a quarter to eight before it comes through. And even then, we still need to pick up a few people, which means we only get moving at half-past eight, in a van crammed with better-off Indians. You immediately notice the difference in their behavior, much more helpful than the people I met before on public transport. Some of them shake my hand.

Indian breakfast in a roadside restaurant

Around 10 am, we stop at a small roadside restaurant for breakfast – this is clearly announced, in contrast to the local bus transport. It suits me well. I got up at 6 am and had only eaten some cookies. They only serve Indian breakfast, so I order dosaï – rice pancakes – with onion. The dish is assorted with dal – curry sauce – and another light green spicy sauce. It certainly does taste well.

Kodaikanal is a tourist resort for wealthy Indians

leisure for better-off Indians in Kodai

It strikes me that we are on our way to a tourist resort for wealthy Indians. At a waterfall, they are all urging, including people from other vans, to take family snapshots. Several fellow passengers want to include me in their pictures. This is nothing new to me. The bus driver wants to know my next destination. To reach Kochi, I will have to pass back past Madurai, he says. His agency can take me back by minibus and then transfer to a night bus to Kochi. That is something I would like to inquire a little further in Kodai before I agree.

A rest in Kodaikanal in a cold climate

Upon arrival, I am dropped off at a middle-class hotel, a bit older, but with neat rooms. Because I slept very poorly last night, I take a nap until about three o’clock. I do not want to make a lot of effort today; this is supposed to be a day of rest in Kodaikanal, so an exploration of the lake is enough for me. It is pleasantly cool here in Kodai, a bit foggy, with occasional rain, but it does well after the heat of the past week.

at Kodaikanal lake

People leave you alone near Kodaikanal Lake

I walk around Kodaikanal Lake, a distance of about five kilometers. Unlike in Madurai, I am almost left alone here; even though it is low season here, people only want to sell me occasionally, but without insisting. What a relief, I feel satisfied to have stopped here to rest in Kodaikanal, something I had no intention of initially.

come to rest at Kodaikanal lake

One occasional sustainer during my rest in Kodaikanal

One lady keeps pushing, though; she tries to lure me to Mana’s Bakery. I tell her I intend to do that in the morning anyway. She is trying – in bad English – to get as many details about me as possible, where I stay, how much I paid for the room, even my room number. Fortunately, a better dressed Indian passes by and asks: Is she bugging you?. The woman drips off. I catch up with the man and have a chat with him. He seems to live in Koidakanal and knows her; she always tries this with tourists. Not all Indians are like that; he explains to me.

Trying to expand an organic farm

The man is heading to a small shop for a cup of tea and invites me to come along. He appears to be from northern Kerala but settled here in Kodai 12 years ago to start up a small organic farm. He holds a degree in agricultural sciences. Step by step, he tries to expand his farm further; next year, he thinks he can start exporting. But it is not easy. To get by, he also runs a flower and plant stall near the lake.

Planning my onward travel to Kochi

When I talk about my further travel plans, we take out the map. He shows me a better and faster alternative to avoid the return over Madurai. I better travel on to Kumily to visit the Periyar nature reserve over there first. Afterward, I can pass through the mountains to see the backwaters in Kottayam. From there, I can go up to Kochi or down to Trivandrum along the coastline. The Western Ghats mountains indeed always force you a detour; there are only a few corridors towards the west coast.

foresty Kodai

Kodaikanal is an excellent area to hike and rest

I do not have to pay for the tea, that is on his account. While we are walking back to the center of town, we talk a bit more about the socio-economic situation in India. When he says goodbye, he invites me to visit his plant stall for another chat tomorrow. I tell him I will stop by if I have time left tomorrow. He also provides me a pleasant walking route for tomorrow. If you want to hike in South India, make a stopover to rest in Kodaikanal. It is a foresty, quiet area.