For long time I have wanted to try my hand at travelogues. But somehow whenever I got down to writing it, I did not find it all that interesting and gave up mid way. Usually two approaches present themselves when one gets down to writing a travelogue – factual or chronological, neither of which I found particularly appealing. A factual approach somehow feels like a text book while a chronological approach ends up capturing lot of mundane uninteresting details. So I thought I will attempt what I call a stream of thought approach, just drawing upon salient aspects from my memories as they emerge naturally from my mind. If this is successful, I may try more travelogues in this style. Another distinguishing feature is going to be the lack of photographs. Though I take a camera on my trips and click some random snaps, photography is clearly not my forte. So I would rather spare my readers my photographic marvels.
Ooty and Kodaikanal are the popular summer vacation haunts of any typical south Indian family. Whereas Ooty was lucky enough to register my foot print within a decade of my terrestrial existence, Kodaikanal had to wait three full decades and survive a threat of the world coming to an end without being graced by my august presence.
One of the popular attractions in both Ooty as well as Kodaikanal is boating in the lake. Actually, almost every water body in the country that calls itself a lake has these pedal boats which couples take for a romantic spin around the lake. Seeing all the people going around on those boats, it all seemed so cliched so mundane; I just could not bring myself to step into one of them. It seemed a better idea to just leisurely stroll around the perimeter of the lake. Most of the perimeter was dotted with dirty little shops, vending homemade chocolates, local oils, woolen sweaters and a few knick knacks. But the lake is quite huge with the perimeter stretching over 4 – 5 Km. So we managed to discover some peaceful sections with clear blue water on one side and the green hills on the other only occasionally disturbed by the enthusiastic boater in the water or the cyclist on the land. Talking of cyclists, they have this weird bicycle called a tandem cycle which is like two cycles smashed together to be ridden by two cyclists pedaling in tandem. I could not for the life of me figure the point of these ugly contraptions. But seeing the number of couples riding them, I can only surmise that these things had some romantic angle to them.
The best aspect of the lakeside stroll was a little shop in a relatively calmer stretch that sold art works and tea. We could however afford only the tea. We satisfied ourselves by gazing at the art works while sipping the tea, pretending we were planning to buy one. Some of them were real good – a few carvings of animals and what looked like a carving of a wood goblin on a piece of wood. What we could afford however were some homemade chocolates and a couple of sweaters in one of the dirty little shops in the crowded stretch. Our joys on thus promoting local artisans were cut short, when the shop woman proudly told us that we need not worry about the quality as the local ‘artisans’ had a stringent quality check on the consignments from the woolen factories in Ludhiana.
Coaker’s walk and Bryant Park are other attractions in the vicinity of the lake. Coaker’s walk has a few good valley views. It also offers other attractions such as groundnuts and target practice, giving the place a kind of seaside feel. Bird watchers may also find this place interesting. However I hope mention of birds immediately after beach does not conjure a wrong image of the kind of birds I am talking about. Possibly the use of the technical term ‘ornithologist’ can help avoid confusion but that makes the whole thing sound so nerdy - which is one of the reasons I restrain myself from reeling off names of bird species I observed here. The only memorable thing about Byrant Park was a shooting that was going on for some low budget Tamil serial. There were these two sets of couples in marriage attire who were made to run towards each other again and again while a bored cameraman sitting on a large statue of a duck struggled to capture it right, though I am not sure what is so dandy about a man and woman running towards each other that it can even go wrong. But then who am I to judge these things? For all I know there might be droves of housewives in Tamil Nadu shedding tears of admiration over this great work of art.
Whereas it is easy to see animals in a zoo, spotting an animal in the wild is a really different type of experience. I have been to quite a few animal sanctuaries claiming to be the habitat of all kinds of exotic wild beats. But I have never got to see anything beyond deer and monkeys unless you count stray dogs as wild and exotic as well. So I had no big expectations when the hotel guys mentioned bison and foxes may be seen in the vicinity of the lake. Kodai Lake definitely did not look like the kind of lake where you could see anything except stray dogs in the surroundings. Then I found out there was another lake called Berijam Lake within the reserved forest, 21 Km from the city. You need forest department’s permission to enter this jungle but local tour operators have permits. On the trip to this lake I got to see a bison in the wild at real close quarters. That was indeed an amazing experience. The animal looked real majestic. That one sighting made the whole trip worthwhile.
There were a couple of other interesting sights on the trip to Berijam Lake as well all included in the price of Rs. 250 per head. One was a medicine forest that could be seen in the valley below. Apparently the trees give out a fragrance that can be hallucinogenic. Then there is this misty place called caps valley into which you can throw something light like a cap and the air from inside the valley throws it back to you. Also the entire hillside around the town was covered with creepers blooming with purple and violet bell shaped flowers and there were other smaller flowers of various hues. That and the various breathtaking valleys views were indeed good. But that was kind of expected and I guess it is out there for anyone to see in any written accounts or photos on the internet.