Having spent good time at the Union church, the Madmans forest and Berijam Lake during the days before, we today intended to visit some of the many hot spots within the township itself. Of the many attractions in Kodaikanal, was a church built by a french priest, an almost unknown waterfall and a forest that found place in its tourist map.
These places were not far away from each other and they were easily accessible by road. We ordered dosa, a kind of thin bread made of rice flour and enjoyed the dip of “sambar” which is a lentil-based vegetable stew or chowder, cooked with a tamarind broth and “chutney” which is a coconut paste. Breakfast ended with a the south Indian coffee almost similar to the cappuccino except for the froth. We then set off on our drive to the planned destinations.
We first drove west of the lake heading towards the falls. The signage showed the place to be the Bear Shola Falls about 6 kms from the town center. We drove for hardly ten minutes through narrow lanes, past residential houses and had some trouble trying to park the car as there was no specific place earmarked for visitors .to However we parked the vehicle and walked past a rusty steel gate to trek into a the pine woods. Tall trees, wild shrubs, creepers, tiny insects and a few butterflies distracted our thinking. Enjoying the fresh air, we trekked beside a stream and kept walking uphill. We stopped for a while and listened to the waterfall making a chatter, some where further away. We listened to the chatter becoming louder as we followed the forest track uphill and having reached a clearing among the woods “Ola” there it was.
Unlike the huge waterfalls westerners might think they would encounter, this falls was a mere mountain stream, falling down a few ten meters. It was more a picnic spot and many got to wet their feet in the clean but chill water. A picturesque place it was and many posed for pictures or sitting upon the rocks, watched the world play along. We spent some time like most of the others and walked back wondering about its name. “Bear Shola” meant Bear Forest. It was named after the many mountain bears that once inhabited this place. Human intrusion into this peaceful woods had pushed the bears to move elsewhere and many found home in the many zoos around the world. The way in towards the fall, was the way out and we got back to the car only to find that the car park had become crowded.
We next headed towards a church built by a French missionary during the 18th century, at the instance of a Belgian women who had an apparition of the catholic saint and also found her daughter cured from a disease as seen in the vision.This was the first Catholic church built upon the hill country and soon had a huge gathering of natives living around it. This tiny church could be one of the most visited among churches of this size around the world. Ever since it was built it had been expanded by the people during the passing of time.
An annual feast day and an all night procession with the people carrying the decorated statue of Mary all around Kodaikanal has many thousand pilgrims and natives congregating in town and in the neighboring villages. The statues in the church were brought from Grenoble in France and many devotees kneel to offer prayers. I did offer my intentions in prayer at this little church. The colorfully decorated altar and painting upon it depicted the vibrant attitude of the people. The tin roof of the church was hidden behind false roofing. This church had a primitive, native feel and was completely out of tune when compared with the rich granite churches built by the British and the Americans. Called the “La Salette” church, it stands upon the highest point in the hill.The ravines and slopes beside it are a forest of trees, shrubs and mountain grass. Sitting on the steps that led to the church it gave me pleasure, to imagine the cold days during the early stages of the church and the religious as well as the cultural practices of the natives being molded into a Catholic religious practice.
Kodaikanal was becoming more and more interesting in my mind and we then moved on to drive through winding roads leading to the next destination called the “Forest of Roots”. The Forest of Roots was about 8 kms from the town center and was the entrance to a famous, tourist point called the Devils Kitchen now familiarly known as Guna Caves. The Devils Kitchen is a cavern nestled between three tall and huge ,pillar shaped ,natural rocks.that formed a part of the hill. It consisted of several caves that were infested with bats which was how it got its name. It was discovered by a British officer during the early eighteenth century. As the bats then were painted, portrayed and imagined to be the form of the devil the British stamped their share of belief by naming the cave after the Devil. This wet and slippery rocks on the ridge were cause for many accidental deaths. This cavern is a “no entry” prohibited zone, since then. It was after a famous Tamil film titled “Guna” which was shot in the Devils Kitchen, it also came to be known as the Guna Caves.
The Forest of Roots is through which one could access the caves. It was a wonder in itself and a scary sight too. It was hard to believe and something that was defying science. I had known that a root is defined to be that part of a plant which attaches it to the ground or to a support, typically underground, conveying water and nourishment to the rest of the plant or tree. At site here, the roots happened to be seen above the ground and yet performing the function of the root that would be underground. They were exposed to human contact but defying decay or destruction. They looked like many anacondas or pythons entwined with each other and climbing on to the many trees. They also looked as if the forest trees were pulling themselves out of the ground getting ready to move. Both the Devils Kitchen and the Forest of Roots had a spooky feel that sparked my imagination.
I imagined a scene of the forest under the glimmer of the full moon in a quite and hushed night that was suddenly broken by the the sound of a howling wolf, followed by a shrill shriek of an owl, waking up the colony of bats, which then like a dark cloud emerged out of the cavern fluttering their wings to take flight into the night sky towards the moon. Down below the roots of the trees creeping like serpents and making sudden hissing noises, shook the trees of their ground, to grow reaching up behind the bats. I guess my imagination could be the beginning of a scary story line or could be what it really might look like in one of those scary full moon nights.
Phew ! Kodaikanal has it all. Waterfalls, Churches, hell holes and some fanciful sights that could spark ones imagination. The “today” was fine and I lay on bed thinking of what would my journey to a temple built by a Chinese priest, to the Tamil God Murugan, be like, in the “morrow”.