Kodaikanal, a small hill station atop Tamil Nadu's Palani Hills is not exactly a hidden tourist destination. Through the year, it welcomes almost five million visitors from across India who are looking for a cool, quiet respite from the hot plains. Popular tourist sites include the scenic Green Valley View, Dolphins Nose and Coaker's Walk.
While Kodaikanal locals thrive on the bustling tourist scene, there are a few hidden destinations that they guard for themselves; these are truly off the beaten track. As a honorary local, who lived in Kodaikanal for close to five years, I managed to unearth a few of these spots and am sharing them with you!
Known as 'Little Israel', Vattakanal is an hour’s drive from Kodaikanal at a slightly lower elevation. It’s home to a small Israeli population, a handful of expatriates as well as Tamilians. It’s considered a spiritual spot by many as the energy which permeates the air is said to be incredibly positive.
Visually, Vattakanl is beautiful with sweeping emerald green valleys and tall mountains in the background. There’s a wide variety of fauna and flowers which fill the area with vibrant colour.
When in Vattakanal, one must head to Altaf’s café, which served Italian and Israeli fare; the hummus and pita bread is freshly made and especially delicious. In the evenings, locals gravitate towards the cafe for story selling and music jam sessions; they welcome new faces and visitors!
A three hour drive away from Kodaikanal, Poondi Village is like the quieter, more serene sister of the main Kodaikanal Town. It has terraced plantations of tea and forests of eucalyptus which permeate the air with a spicy scent.
Everyday, farmers take their cattle to a large nearby lake surrounded by lush green grass. If you’re adventurous, try swimming in the lake for an exhilarating experience!
When in Poondi, stay at Ampthill Downs, a cosy homestay which serves delicious country style meals. Spend your days at the lake, or hiking in the nearby hills - you may even spot some bison!
Hill stations are known for their chocolates, but Kodaikanal also has a cheese factory which makes exquisite fresh cheeses.
The Kodi Cheese Factory belongs to the Kodi Cheese brand which was established in 1972. Popular products include the Kodai Parmesan, the strong, hand made Kodai blue cheese (only for brave souls!), the Kodai Mozzarella and Kodai Cambrie which tastes great in fresh salads.
Lesser known that Kodaikanal Lake, Berijam Lake is a pure, tranquil expanse of water which is home to a wide variety of fauna and birds.
Visit the lake carrying a picnic basket and spend your time looking out for colourful birds including fly catchers, white bellied shortwings as well as butterflies and water flowers.
If you’re very quiet, you may even spot larger mammals like bisons, elephants and giant squirrels.
It’s important to note that since these spots are all offbeat destinations, finding transportation to them may be a little tricky. Hire a taxi for the day - which will cost around Rs.1500 or hire your own vehicle; be careful taking turns on the steep mountain roads.