Aug 30, 2011

Family Fun in Kodaikanal

Usually due to limitations set by visas, we have spent no more than 1 month in a country during our 7 months of travel.  Having 3 months to explore only South India is certainly a welcome change that allows us to travel at a very leisurely pace.  In fact, we haven’t really covered much ground at all after being here for 1 month already, but that’s ok as we’ve been able to spend time in some unexpected places, doing unexpected things.
For the past week, we’ve been hanging out in Kodaikanal, a former British hill station located at an elevation of 2200m above sea level in the mountains of the Western Ghats.  At first glance, the town didn’t seem like it was worth the 5.5hr bus trip to get here.  But in no time at all, we found enough things to do to keep everyone happy, healthy and even fit plus it was cool enough that you weren’t breaking a sweat just by breathing! And best of all, we were able to still keep well under budget. 

Fun family activities really defined our time here and the main place to be was around Kodaikanal Lake, which was a short walk from our hotel.  

There you could hire a 2 or 4 seater paddle boat or like us, you could hire a rowboat, complete with rower, for a relaxing 30min cruise.  For 2 people (kids under 5, free), it cost us all of $1.85 USD (Rs75).  And by hiring a row boat, you also help the rower directly as he gets paid for each trip he makes.  (There’s not much work around here, and tourism related jobs are the most widely required, yet also heavily saturated and competitive, especially in low season as we are in now.)  

Out of the water, you could also hire horses for a ride, ranging from a short 1km trip ($2.00 USD/Rs80) to a longer 1hr one ($8.75/Rs350).  As the trainer/owner rides along side on a bicycle, even if you weren’t experienced you could break into a trot or a gallop if you so desired, as he is able to maintain control of the horse.  We don’t get many opportunities like this at home in Australia, especially at this price.  The girls really enjoyed it and we did the 1km trip several times during our stay here.

But the activity that the girls enjoyed the most, was riding bicycles around the lake.  Bicycles of all types and sizes could be rented at a rate of $0.50cents USD (Rs20) per hour.  They even had kids’ bikes, so for the first time we each had our own bikes to ride for the scenic 5.5km circuit around the lake, which we completed in about 50min on average.  

The girls hadn’t been on bikes since the end of April when we were in Dalat, Vietnam and they were so happy and excited to be on bikes again.  They enjoyed it so much that this actually became a daily activity, which kept us all very fit too (on top of all the walking up and down the hills).

While the lake had a lot to do, like most hill stations Kodaikanal is sprawled across the tops of numerous ridges and there’s only so much we could cover on foot.  To see more of the surrounds, we joined a day tour. 

While Kodaikanal doesn’t have much industry other than tourism, it is a popular spot to holiday and we got to see some of the many impressive holiday homes that large companies have high on the hills.  Many expats and Indians from the big cities also retire and have nice homes here. Adding also to its diverse resident population is the renowned Kodaikanal International School, which has an international student body due to its secluded and safe location.  

But the highlight of our tour was a hike through a pine forest.  Although the hike was relatively easy compared to some of the hikes we’ve done, the forested terrain was still enough to keep the girls’ challenged and build their gross motor skills at the same time.   We were even lucky enough that the fog lifted briefly enough for us to see the Four Pillars rocks, which is a rarity at this time of year.

'Four Pillars'

Between all this outdoor activities, we also enjoyed downtime in our hotel room.  While the room was not the best that we’ve had, the view from our balcony certainly made the difference and its location near the centre of town was very convenient as well.  We all played many hours of ‘Uno’ together, interspersed with cartoon time on the TV, and even some jewellery making with the beads and supplies that we bought at the Tibetan shops in town (the girls made a necklace each for themselves as well as for their teddies, plus bracelets for themselves and for mom—all for $6.00USD).  

We also found places that made our tummies happy.  There were 2 Tibetan restaurants that made delicious momos, thupka soups and fried noodles, which were a nice change to the Indian cuisine we’d been having the past month.  Then there’s the seemingly endless number of tea stalls making delicious masala chai tea for Rs5 (0.35cents USD).  And for dessert, there were tasty baked goods at the ‘Pastry Corner’ bakery.  

Mmm--Beef Momos

Breakfast on our balcony

Even Dad gets in on it!

End Product!

 Cool mountain temperatures, quiet tranquil surroundings, yummy Tibetan food, and family bike rides around a lake.  This is how we’ve been enjoying ourselves for over a week in Kodaikanal.  You could get what you wanted to get done in a day without feeling sweaty, rushed or pressed for time.   It’s been very fun and relaxing—so much so that the girls didn’t even want to leave and wanted to stay another 10 days (not sure why that number!).  But enough of the cool (at times it got cold) and sometimes drizzly weather, we’ve got to return to the heat of the plains below and see more of South India!

Main Street Bazaar, Kodaikanal (that's our hotel, Hotel Strawberry Park, on left)


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