Sunday, January 14, 2018

Year-end vacation to the hills of Kodai!

Our 4 day vacation to the hills of Kodai!

With ever-growing list of things to do, vacations are getting squeezed to less and less number of days. This time around, we could plan for only 4 days. With most of the near-by places already covered, very few remain to be seen. One such place was Kodaikanal, which I have already visited personally, but Souji and kids have not seen yet.

We rounded off on visiting Kodaikanal and booked the hotels a month in advance. Train tikcets were unavaiable even a month earlier, so we took the sleeper buses to and fro.

25 Dec, 2017 - Christmas - Monday:
We boarded the Sleeper coach (SAM tourists) right across Shantinagar BMTC Bus depot by 9:30 PM and rest of the journey was peaceful.

26 Dec, 2017 - Tuesday:
We reached Kodaikanal at 7:30 AM and it was as chill as a freezer. We asked around for 'Hotel Sivapriya' and thankfully, it was just across the bend and no need to travel any further. We took an hour to get freshened up and were ready for breakfast by 9:30 AM. The hotel was also one of the few ones which has a Pure Vegetarian restaurant, and that made our lives so much easier.

After a sumptuous brunch, we fixed the 'Valley Tour' deal through the travel and were off for sight-seeing by 10 AM. We covered various places like the Pine Forest Visit, Observatory, Mahalaxmi Temple, Palani View Point, Poombarai Village, Devil's Kitchen (Guna caves), Moier Point, Pillar Rocks, Golf Course, Upper Lake View and Kodai Lake. 

Observatory was not open to public, Gundar Falls has been closed for public, but we were informed by the driver only after reaching the spot. (We wish that the Travel desk should have informed us of this earlier, but they wanted us to buy the package) The Mahalaxmi Temple seemed to be very newly built, and seemed like an addition of one more #item to the itenary.

The Poombarai ('Poomparai') view point offers breathtaking beauty of a little village encircled by the mountains with terraced farming on one side and the hamlets on the other, making it a picturesque marvel. A picture perfect location that looks like a dream. A must see and most recommended.

The village itself has the Murugan temple which apparently is next in order of priority to that of the Palani's Murugan temple. 

The Palani view Point, was another view of the mountains which was completely covered with clouds and couldn't see anything other thant that. But the thin air and chill weather makes the drive and location absolutely enjoyable.

The Pine Forest was a visual treat. The lofty Pine Trees makes a beautiful forest scenery worth spending time. The clouds that caress the trees with the mountains in the background and a diffused sunlight makes this a must visit place for taking photographs. I believe many Bollywood and South Indian movies have been shot in these areas.

The Devil's Kitchen (a.k.a Guna Caves) was again thoroughly fenced and could hardly see anything. Apparently these are crevices in the land mass that have formed these caves. This caves were picturized in the Tamil movie 'Guna' and since then have been named as 'Guna caves' which earlier was called Devil's Kitchen. We heard some people have lost lives while the caves were open and since then have been fully closed with iron fences. 

Moier's Point was another view Point, which was covered with hovering clouds. We couldn't see a thing, but am sure should offer a good glimpse of the deep valleys.

We spent a couple of minutes at the  Upper Lake view, a point where one can see the Kodai lake and city from high above the valley.

We returned back to our hotel by 6 PM, freshened ourselves and had an early dinner at our Hotel. The mercury dipped to 'Unbearable' by 7 PM and we covered ourselves with thick layers of blanket and hit the bed by 8 PM.

27 December, 2017 - Wednesday:
We got ready early and had a heavy breakfast at our hotel. We walked to the Iconic Kodai Lake which was about 5 minutes from our hotel. We took a boat ride at the lake and spent quite a while enjoying the picturesque location. The boat-guy took us to the middle of the lake and informed us that the current circuit is upto that point and that he will return back from that point, unless we pay him extra if we want to see even more beautiful locations up the lake. Basically enticing/fleecing the tourists by paining a beautiful picture of what lies ahead that is not already covered in the current plan. And we had to take the bait, for not wanting to miss out on that beauty that lies ahead.

Well except for a few beautiful hoses near the road and a canopy of a bending tree, there was nothing extra to what we had already seen. Anyways, tourism survives on these hypes, doesn't it?

After the boating, we hired 2 cycles (one for Pooja and other for Souji) and a cycle assisted with trainer wheels for Ruchir. The route around the lake took close to 1.5 hours (5.25 Kms). Mostly having to push Ruchir's cyle all around the lake! We took some nice pictures wherever possible. It was a memorable drive!

We took a walk around the Shopping streets around the lake, Byrant's Park, Coakers Park and Coaker's walk. Coaker's Walk offered another beautiful views of the mountains. Good places to visit.

We checked out of Hotel Sivapriya after a sumptuous lunch and took the taxi to Hill Country Resort, about 6 Kms from Hotel Sivapriya further away from the City Center. Souji had booked this place after seeing some photos on their Website and when we reached that resort, we found the Resort even more stunning! The resort had a lot of cottages, greens, beautifully landscaped and very detailed. Surrounded by mountains, and very well maintained, this place was definitely luxurious. 

We took loads of pictures exploring all the spaces inside the resort. We played Badminton, football, Table Tennis, for some time in the evening till it became freezing. Thankfully, the window of our room overlooked the Amphi-theater and the huge lawns that carpeted most of the resort. Just sitting in our warm room, we could see all the activities around the resort and that was the best part of our stay here.

In the night, the resort's discotheque got us dancing to all the party songs. Ruchir danced away to glory and had a ball of a time over there. With tired legs and a long day, we got back to our room late in the night for a tight sleep.

28 December, 2017 - Thursday:
Morning breakfast at the Resort was outstanding! With tummy full, we took the bus out of the resort to cover a few more places around Kodai. We hired a Taxi at the Kodai lake area for the next better half of the day to go around the 'Picnic Tour/Trekking' package as they call it, which covers 'La Saleth Church', Dolphin Nose trek, Echo Mountain, Mountain View Point, Pambar Falls (Vattakanal Falls) and Lion's Cave. 

We drove past the 'La Saleth' Church  and did not spend much time there. A drive through the forests for about 30 minutes got us into a hilly region where we had to get down and walk the mountainous slope for visiting the Dolphin Nose and Echo Mountain and Mountain view points. 

The slope was quite risky, with very few man made steps. Rest of the steps were the fibrous roots of the trees that have spread far and wide across the mountains. Very uneven, unwieldy and quite arduous. Physically it was very challenging to get down the slope, forget even climbing back up! First stop was the Mountain view point, which offered pretty much the same clouds and trees across the viewpoints. Completely covered with clouds, we could hardly see anything. 

By this time, the knee joints were already making loud screeching noises, and we had just 15 minutes into the descent. The folks who were returning back after their full tour looked like zombies and that worried us a lot considering we had to descent 1.5 Kms further down the mountain to reach the Dolphin Nose Point and others. Our biggest concern was that of Ruchir, all of 4.8 years and whether he could pull it off. 

After another 30 minutes of climbing down the hard terrain, we made it to a Rocky edge of the mountain that somewhat looks like the beak of a Dolphin. The edge of the beak is again a suicide-spot and offers a view of the mountainous backdrop and the huge cliff. We spent a few minutes taking some pictures on reaching the end point. Very next to it was the Echo Point, another cliff where one can shout and hear an echo. However, it did not echo. May be they had gone out for a vacation as well.

After spending some time taking snaps all round and sinking in a liter of water, we looked at the unending, 60 Deg Ascent through the hills and our hearts lost a beat a beat or two more.

Ruchir was tired but was still carrying on. Pooja was remarkably doing fine for herself. Souji and I were barely surviving at this point of time.

The uphill trek of took 1 hour to get to the top. We took little breaks wherever we were out of steam. Thanks to the small shacks conveniently located all along the trek, that gave us some rest, water and snacks which helped immensely. 

Remarkably Ruchir was able to manage the trek all by himself without us having to Piggy-back him. Pooja was a trooper and a super sport and helped Ruchir and herself right through the trek and engaged him all along. For Souji and myself, our Knee joints were almost dead and demanded replacements. 

Overall, the trek to Dolphin Nose Point and Echo mountain, seemed that it was mostly for testing self endurance rather than the view points themselves. We were very happy to get back safely and still able to walk on two legs.

Next point was the Vattakanal Falls (Pambar Falls). This falls is quite close to the driveway and quite close to the road. In about 1 minute after getting down the car, we were awestruck with the beauty of this wide and cascading water fall. It seemed very child friendly, with no slippery stones and was not even ankle deep at the foot of the falls. The falls itself was beautiful and mesmerizing! 

Just that the water was freezing and playing with it would be bad mistake. Ruchir initially wanted to play in the water, but after his feet touched the freezing water, he did not want to even come get close to the waterfall, lest play over there. A few minutes of acclimatization, he started letting his feet down!

We spent quite a while here enjoying the beauty of this falls. Another point Lion's Cave/Den was across the same falls, but we were too tired and also got to know it was little risky for kids. So we dropped that point.

It was about 4 PM in the evening and it was already getting cold. We had a good lunch at Woodlands and then returned back to our resort. We struck the deal with the same driver to drop us at Madurai the next morning.

Back at our resort, we played Badminton and Football for some time and then went around the resort checking out all the other things we had not seen. We were very tired with all the trekking and our bodies were crying foul for not giving any rest. We hit the bed pretty early, as we had to check out and move towards Madurai the next day.

29 December, 2017 - Friday:
We got up early and after an early breakfast, checked out of Hill Country Resort. Our driver picked us up by 8:30 PM and we were off from Kodai to our next destination, Madurai. On the way, we took a break for 15 minutes, checking out Silver Cascade Falls. We drive to Madurai took us about 3.5 hours and reached the city by 12:30 PM. 

On the way, I had just called Prabhakar (my McAfee Colleague) to say Hi and inquire how to get around the Meenakshi temple, as he was from Madurai. Prabhakar, being so generous, got a room booked at 'College House' Hotel, and also got his car to take us around Madurai.

We refreshed ourselves at the hotel and then Prabhakar took us to a super Authentic Madurai Plantain Leaf Lunch at 'Sabarees' restaurant, right across our Hotel.

Later, we got into his car and he gave us Whirlwind tour of Madurai's must see hotspots, covering 'Perumal' temple, Murugan temple, Outer ring roads, his Cricket grounds, famous other landmarks in Madurai like Taj Hotel, Honeywell, HCl and other Industrial areas. We also checked out a few other localities inside the core city as well.

Next we visited at the 'Thirumala Nayak's Palace which was just awesome. People including me, mostly associate Madurai with Meenakshi temple, but thanks to Prabhakar, who gave us some insights and history of Madurai and the Pandian kings whose capital was Madurai. 

The palace itself is worth seeing for it's well maintained durbar hall, the huge pillars, the lovely aritisty on each of the pillars and the domes that form the palace. The museum adjacent to the Palace has a huge collection of all items related to Madurai and its history and is definitely worth visiting. All credits to Prabhakar for guiding us on this journey, which otherwise we would have completely missed. 

Prabhakar dropped us back at our hotel which was just about a KM away from the Meenakshi Temple. It was already 3:30 PM. So we quickly refreshed ourselves and then by 4:15 PM we were off to visit the famous Meenakshi Temple. 

We entered the temple by 4:30 PM and took the Rs. 50 Special Darshan tickets. The day being Friday and coupled with 'Vaikunta Ekadashi', the temple had long queues by the time we entered. The magnificent Gopuras were visible from a long distance. We got into the West Tower and then the unending queue took us about 2 hours before we could complete the darshan of Godess Meenakshi. 

By the time we came out of the temple it was already 7 PM and we ensured we got exited from the same west tower which was closest to our hotel. On the way, we quickly grabbed some food and then checked out of our hotel by 8 PM.

We walked to the Periyar Bus Stand, about 5 minutes of walk from our hotel. Our bus got delayed due to traffic jam by about 30 minutes. We departed through Royal Travels by 9:45 PM through a sleeper coach bus.

30 December, 2017 - Saturday:
We reached Bangalore by 6 AM and got dropped at Lalbagh's Double Road Entrance. We took a OLA cab and were back home by 6:45 AM.

Overall, the trip was quite refreshing and we had a good break from the monotony of official duties. The kids too had a good time and everything went well as planned. 

Here are some photos and videos taken during this trip for anybody interested.