Our free tourist map of Kodai courtesy of the tourist board resembled a MacDonald’s kiddie play sheet. Abandoning it after about five minutes, we instead took to first wandering around the towns’ bustling central roads that were scattered with stalls selling umbrellas, hats and fried snacks and later probing the steeper tree lined roads that snaked away from the town and up towards the hills that surrounded us. Jutting off one busy road, through a five-Rupee turnstile and towards the hills’ edge was a pedestrianised pathway known as Cokers’ Walk. Cokers’ Walk started at the gates of a grand old colonial building and twisted out onto a glorious open hilltop viewpoint peppered with large families walking in close groups and honeymooning couples stoically posing for pictures against the hazy but undeniably grand view. Before us, the Western Ghats rolled away and down to the plains below in the dusty green and sandy hues of the pre-monsoon forests. The sides of the rounded, rolling hills had been visibly bisected by zigzagging roads, villages splayed out across broad gullies and the intermittent gouge of logging ventures across the panorama. I felt like I could punch a giant inflatable football over the edge and watch every bounce as it disappeared into the haze and down towards the Indian Ocean.
As we rose and twisted along the outlying parts of town the settlements petered out and the air quietened. Ahead of us on the road we could hear small groups of holidaying Indian boys approach, slapping each other on the back and playing music on their phones while dressed in their trendiest outfits for the trip. As we passed each other and continued along the road, their shrieks and echoes faded into nothing and the breeze and cuckoo calls were all to be heard in the cool afternoon air. It was a stark change from Madurai and a welcome change from the heat, the dust, the smog and noise of the plains. I was beginning to see why this was such a thriving Hill Station for the old colonial elite.
Soon enough, we joined one of the footpaths that snaked up and down the hillsides of Kodai and guided hordes of noisy, panting families to and from the various coach stops that were dotted around the area. After descending the narrow, steep steps downwards, we took a sharp left turn off the path and through a bush, down towards the roar of water we could hear. Although we left behind the tiresome crush, we were still not quire alone – rubbish littered the creek that we traversed down, forming in faded, algae-crusted banks in between the enormous rocks while chocolate bar wrappers floated serenely in clear pools like lazy fish on the gentle current. We followed the stream as it cascaded and wound down the hill at an impressive angle, surrounded by close woods and opening into tantalising views of the hills opposite. Before we scrambled too far down the hill, we stopped on a broad jutting rock to admire the view. Beneath us, a young, wealthy-looking couple bathed in their clothes, splashing each other and shrieking, unaware of our presence.
Back up on the hilltop, we spent sunset watching the pedal-boats weave around the broad, forest-lined boating lake and eating the puffed-rice snacks from the steaming vending-carts that dotted the lakeside park. All around us, the same holidaymakers strolled around us in the pale orange light, pausing at the nearby cricket match and cheering at the occasional crack of the leather on the willow that rang across the evening air.