From the moment we stepped foot on Indian soil, Ram was set on sharing a version of India with us that couldn’t be found in the big city. He often reminisced about the fresh mountain air, the open space free from congestion, and the lush greenery found in the hill station of Kodaikanal, near his hometown of Madurai. He was emphatic we visit this natural haven to contrast it to our time spent in the bustle of Chennai. Of course, we agreed. We boarded an overnight bus for the 10 hour journey (no liquids before bed!). The bus was spacious…we basically had a double bed to ourselves and a cozy blanket each. We’ve paid far more for much less!
Traveling with Ram meant we didn’t have to know where to get off the bus…he acted as our trusted guide. But, the minute our stop came we were shooed off the bus by the driver before we could re-shoulder our bags. We found a local taxi (all Jeep Commandos) to take us up the hill 7km to the Sholai School. Recently, Ram has been volunteering with the school, so we found ourselves the special guests of Mr. Jenkins who developed a system of holistic education where children of all ages learn through doing–they organic farm, build bridges and even produce their own electricity. We spent the day admiring the school grounds (lush jungle), tasting the cheese and organic coffee produced by the students and understanding some of the challenges they face as an organization.
From the Sholai School, we traveled down into a nearby valley to an organic farm owned by friends of Ram: Karthik, Francesca and Gabriel. They opened their home to us…literally, the door is never closed, but you have to duck (humble yourself) to enter. It was a fascinating stay. Originally from Italy, Francesca has spent the last 30+ years living in India. She is an incredible cook, and kept us well fed throughout our stay. We ate a range from traditional Indian idlys to organically grown bananas to homemade foccacia. We drank coffee with milk–straight from the cow!
Joshua was in heaven. I could see his brain calculating how much he would have to pay for warm, fresh, raw milk in the states.
Being the last house on the road, there was little traffic (almost none). We could see straight across the valley; the only obstruction–the mist. Francesca and Gabriel told us jaguars still roam free in the area (and occasionally make meals out of the local dogs). It was truly a special place for Ram who stood on the porch to absorb as much of the stillness as he could take back with him to Chennai.
Back in Kodaikanal, it was time to say goodbye to Ram. We were distraught…he had held our hands through the first two weeks of our travel in India…and all of a sudden, we were on our own.
It took a few tries, but ultimately, we found a clean guest house in a church which was located directly across the street from the place we ate every meal, Dhabba and the place we ate every dessert, Pastry Corner.
If we’ve learned one thing traveling…frequent the local gems! By the time we left, we had eaten so many free sweets at Pastry Corner that Joshua tried to leave a tip…and they wouldn’t accept it!
We spent our final day in Kodaikanal walking around the lake, tasting one last cake and admiring the viewpoint from Coaker’s Walk where we were the main attraction for the locals!
Unfortunately, by the time we boarded our bus north to Bangalore I was feeling ill which turned from worse to hell in a matter of hours. Nothing like a speeding driver, bumpy mountain roads and a confined space with no bathroom to come down with a serious case of Delhi Belly!