Perched atop the Palani range, KODAIKANAL, also known as Kodai, owes its perennial popularity to its hilltop position which, at more than 2000m, affords breathtaking views over the blue-green reaches of the Vaigai plain. Raj-era bungalows and flower-filled gardens add atmosphere, while short walks lead to rocky outcrops, waterfalls and dense shola forest. With the more northerly wildlife sanctuaries and forest areas of the Ghats closed to visitors, Kodai's outstandingly scenic hinterland also offers south India's best trekking. Even if you're not tempted by the prospect of the open trail and cool air, the bus ride up from the plains is jaw-dropping.
Kodai's focal point is its lake, sprawling over 24 hectares just west of the town centre. This is a popular place for strolls or bike rides along the five-kilometre path that fringes the water's edge, while pedal- or rowing boats can be rented on the eastern shore. Horse riding is also an option, but it's rather pricey. Shops, restaurants and hotels are concentrated in a congested area of brick, wood and corrugated iron buildings east and downhill. The only monuments to Kodai's colonial past are the neat British bungalows that overlook the lake, and Law's Ghat Road on the eastern edge of town. The British first moved here in 1845, to be joined later by members of the American Mission, who set up schools for European children. One remains as the Kodai International School; despite the name, almost all its students are Indian. The school occasionally holds concerts on the green just east of the lake.
After a while in the south Indian plains, a retreat to Kodai's cool heights is more than welcome. However, in the height of summer (June– Aug), when temperatures compete with those in the lowlands, it's not worth the trip – nor is it a good idea to come during the monsoon (Oct– Dec), when the town is shrouded in mists and drenched by heavy downpours. In late February and early March the nights are chilly; the peaktourist season, therefore, is from April to June, when prices soar.