It’s been a real effort to motivate myself to write about Kodaikanal, firstly because I’ve half suppressed our dreadful journey there and also as it was a massive flop. And if there’s anything worse than experiencing a flop, it’s dredging up and analysing all of the details of a flop. Especially as a flop doesn’t quite bear the entertainment factor of an event such as a disaster, which I suppose the journey to Kodaikanal might fulfill.
Kodaikanal is a hill station in Tamil Nadu, popular for it’s natural beauty of varying varieties. Due to it’s remote location, we only found one train that took us to Kodaikanal Road station and it got in at midnight – which wasn’t ideal for obvious reasons.
We jumped off the train and onto the miserable, dimly lit platform – where almost every inch of the dirty station floor was covered with sleeping Indians all in lines like sardines, blankets pulled over heads with possessions heaped around them. Bedraggled dogs prowled territorially around us, adding to the overwhelming sensation of being unwelcome. It was like jumping off the train and landing unexpectedly in someone’s bedroom – our natural instinct was to get out.
And so our eyes raked the walls for some sign saying exit, or taxis, but instead met the huge sign reading:
“Kodaikanal City – 80km”
No amount of hopeful eye rubbing, wishing or cursing could will away that small sinister ‘k’ from in front of the ‘m’ – an even more unwelcome guest to this perverse scene upon the platform. It was midnight and we were standing in a lifeless station, 80km away from our hotel. Great.
What were our options? The most obvious a. Try and find a nearby hotel to stay in. But where were we? Where on earth was Kodaikanal Road if not in Kodaikanal? Judging by the size of the station and amount of people using it as a bedroom, there wasn’t a town for miles. Which brought us to our next option b. Lie down amongst the Indians, blanket over head and blend in amongst their sleeping ranks until the morning, which would hopefully bring an answer to our whereabouts. Or c. Try to get to Kodaikanal tonight. Easier said than done, as it was obvious we were still in the plains, no taxi driver seemed to be around and would we trust them to drive us up a mountain in near pitch black with potentially treacherous roads?
Fate, or should I say a taxi driver with spiders crawling out of his shirt collar, decided for us. He ambled over from thin air and knew immediately where we wanted to be. A quick assessment of his sanity, levels of anebriation and a sweeping glance at the circling dogs and we opted for the backseat of his car. It smelt good and he’d changed out of his skirt into a pair of trousers. Good, he can better reach the pedals. He told us it was his daughters birthday. Good, maybe that will encourage him to get us all up the mountain alive.
That 80km was the longest 80km of my life. We both desperately stayed awake for the entire journey, in case our driver decided to fall asleep. But fighting off tiredness was slightly easier when you glanced over the edge of the road to see the sheer drop below. Finally, at three in the morning, we made it to our hotel – freezing but jubilant that we’d made it out of this tight spot without squatting in the train station. My thoughts are with those who had to spend the night, and god knows how many more, on that grubby station floor.
I’ve always found that arriving in a place at night often makes it seem slightly sinister and scary, and almost always makes it seem much bigger than it is. Arriving in Kodaikanal at night I felt all of this; I assumed the harsh metal scaffolding and grey high rise buildings would simply melt away by morning time as it normally did in this kind of situation.
However, after having our senses assaulted by the megaphone chorus of the bus station from 6am (which was conveniently situated opposite the hotel) and then the pneumatic drilling and hammering chiming in at 7am, I realised that my night-time vision was disappointingly accurate.
We were at constant risk of being run over by beeping jeeps and buses that resembled bomb shelters on wheels – which I imagine were dented from the impact of mowing down unsuspecting tourists. Traffic and pollution is always much more offensive when up in the hills, and no matter whether we were peddling around on a Mickey Mouse boat on the picturesque lake or drinking tea in a garden, it was impossible to escape the sounds of thundering traffic. It was also impossible to escape the freezing cold weather, as the cheap hotel rooms we stayed in were ill prepared to defrost the freezing tourists.
If it hadn’t been for the presence of friends and natural beauty, the place would have been a complete waste of time. And unfortunately the scenery was cloaked in mist most days, so the only activities on offer were traipsing around the busy streets or drinking (coffee or alcohol). The only personality this place really had, were the colourful old farmers, trying to sell you magic mushrooms with a cheeky, toothless grin.
Hostile, disappointing, freezing and slightly tacky – Kodaikanal was a big flop, and without the pleasure of meeting up with some friends, it would have toed the line of a disaster.