The new-year eve was approaching and the wait to my first ever excursion to the southern nook of India was rather lengthy as it was increasingly getting challenging to convince my friends for it. Saurav was his usual confused self and Shresthi was fiddling between the ideas of Parvati and Kerala. I tried convincing them to the best of my prowess and eventually booking tickets for no use at all. So, with little options in hand, I packed a few t-shirts and boarded the first train moving towards Trivendrum from Jaipur, unclear in terms of my final destination or initial stops. All I knew clear was that I was going South; Deep Down South.
Kodaikanal is a popular tourist destination stranded in upper Palani hills on the border to Kerala in Tamil Nadu. It is best known for its scenic beauty and chocolates which interests tourists from all parts of the country, especially, the southern parts. A very few of them actually know about what lies 6 kms north to it in dense forests. My anti-civilizational travel instincts brought me to explore this jewel in the Palani hamlet known to the world by the name of Vattakanal or just Vatta. The name Vattakanal is derived from the apparently circular setting of mountains around the valley with ‘vatta’ meaning round in local language. Vattakanal happens to be the ideal backpacker destination, with a darling mix of ample verdure, myriad mountains, dirt-ridden pathways, welcoming locals and sweet intoxicants – it is a village right out of fairytales. It is placed along a region that is touted as one of the ‘Top 25 biodiversity hotspots of the world’.
Things to do
Vatta is majorly a spiritual forest and there is not much you can do in terms of adventure except for the transcendental muses and attaining internal serendipity. But if you are laid-back-holiday kind of a person you’ll be amused by the eye-ravishing view-line and ear-soothing bird-chirps given you accompany them over a cup of Nilgiri coffee. The forest is open to explore and the hills are welcome for hikes – Vatai offers a lot of exquisite viewpoints such as the Dolphin’s Nose. The region is lined by a number of unexplored waterfalls and sunset points making it a dream laid-back destination. Four kms away deeper into the forest, there is a century-old observatory, owned and operated by Indian Institute of Astrophysics. Though you don’t get to see the main building, it is still worth a visit.
Bottom line – Do the Shrooms. This is the best place in this country to get ‘the’ best shrooms.
Where to eat – Where to stay
Altaf’s Place is technically the only café in Vatta. There are various other small eateries which provide you lipsmacking local delicacies on the go. While talking about a bed to halt, Vattakanal doesn’t brandish any good hotel except for ‘The Kodai Heaven’. Though it fills that void by numerous homestays like Edwin’s Place, Ruban Cottage, Michael’s Place, Pink House, etc. You can expect a basic-amenities room in one of these at around 300 bucks in most times of the year.
How to reach
By Air: The 126 Km distant Madurai Airport is the nearest Airhead to Vattakanal. It serves daily flights from Kochi, Trichy, Bengaluru and Mumbai.
By Train: Kodai Road Station is the nearest railhead to Vattakanal at a distance of 86 kms. Due to low connectivity, it is suggested you get down at Madurai or Dindigul and take a drive from there.
By Road: Kodaikanal is easily accessible by roads from Coimbatore, Madurai and Dindigul. From there, it is a tense 6 km ride to Vatta where road ends abruptly.
Perched at an approximate elevation of 7200 ft above MSL, Vattakanal is your thing if you’re looking to travel to Kodai region and experience it in raw. Bestowed with sharply cool temperatures (owing to its geography), mercury bordered the mean line at the time of my visit on 2016 New Year’s eve. With mist-rolled hills, green valleys and spectacular woods, Vattakanal is swiftly becoming a tourist hotspot of the south. Visit it, before the crowds flock it, and destroy its underlying essence.