It’s always strange and wonderful to return to the hill station of Kodaikanal where I spent many months during the 50s and 60s years attending school. Kodai was a quiet little hamlet with a missionary boarding school, a lovely little lake with wooden rowboats, and quaint stone cottages where missionaries came to escape the heat and diseases of the steaming plains below. In the late 19th century there were still tigers and elephants roaming about. Following the colonial British habits American missionaries built a boarding school for their kids, and enjoyed western culture and camaraderie when they gathered during the hot season, drinking tea and going on hikes and putting on concerts and gossiping too.
The old Kodai was clean and rather innocent- at 7000 ft elevation and near the equator the area has gorgeous waterfalls, steep cliffs and hillsides, thick jungle vegetation, and is cold enough for some western fruits and vegetables for which our mothers longed- apples, pears, wild raspberries. The air was pungent with the smell of eucalyptus trees and wood fires. The nights cold enough for warm sweaters and wool blankets smelling of mothballs, bright Indian stars at night.
The modern version of this area is quite sad- the growing Indian middle class has taken over with cars and buses and trucks and hotels and pollution, big McMansions for movie stars, and the charming old bungalows fallen into disrepair. And this is their country, no longer a missionary enclave. And rightfully so. Still it’s hard to see unspoiled beauty and nature be overwhelmed by capitalist development anywhere- in India or the US.
Some expatriates are still here living in their own lovely little homes hidden in villages and neighborhoods away from the tourists. My former music teacher Bob, now 83 and retired, lives here part of the year in a nearby village tucked away in a lovely little home he had built. His friend and next door neighbor Pippa is a brilliant plant expert and has created an amazing garden of native and exotic plants. It’s a treat to be here high on a hill looking out at birds and orchids and giant tree ferns. At night we hear the farmers around us shooting guns to scare away wild boars from their fields of potatoes and garlic. So far the visit has been a round of Christmas gatherings and conversations and delicious food – over the next week were planning more quiet time for walks, scrabble, and I hope to get some writing done.
Sit back and enjoy this music video I created featuring Bob and Pippa’s gorgeous garden retreat featuring dozens of tropical plants from India and around the world.