As a longtime on-and-off resident of Kodaikanal, I have been alternately overwhelmed and disappointed – but always inspired again and again – by the changes I have witnessed in the Palani Hills over the past fifty years.
Thank you, Ian Lockwood, for bringing us this inspiring article. It is gratifying to learn that nature seems to be renewing itself in some ways, but it also serves as a warning that we must be watchful and protect the fragile areas of our ecosystem, where new life is still tender and in need of care.
I first came to Kodaikanal in 1964 as a missionary-teacher of English and music. Back in those days, my four small children could walk around the lake or explore the town alone, and they never got lost. Everyone knew them, and if they happened to stray a bit too far, some friend or neighbour or shopkeeper would bring them home safely.
During those years, hiking was one of the main activities for all Kodai kids and adults, alike. Every weekend, we explored old trails and found many new ones.
The Palani Hills were our most-loved playground. We roamed about at ease, and there were few environmental issues or social problems that affected us.
I left Kodai in 1972, and spent nearly twenty years as a public school teacher in the USA before returning in the early 1990s as a teacher of International Baccalaureate English. By then, it was clear that problems in the community were escalating rapidly. The town itself was becoming seriously overcrowded. There were obvious problems with water shortages, open drains, and unregulated building projects. Busses, lorries, and automobiles jammed the intersections, and the concepts of traffic control and urban planning seemed totally foreign.
We still hiked as often as possible, and it was a relief to get out of town for long treks to Berijam or Poombarai or Kukkal. Long weekend camps were the best. In town, I was fortunate to live in Jaffna House overlooking Coaker’s Walk, which afforded panoramic views much like the vistas in Ian Lockwood’s inspiring photos. My next-door neighbour was Ruth Lockwood, Ian’s aunt. It was here that I got to know the Lockwood family and to appreciate, even more, the beauty and scope of the Palani Hills.
Ruth gave me an old map – actually, a long strip of cardboard that we could hold up against the mountainous vistas and locate the gopurams of the Meenakshi Temple, the Vaigai Dam, and many other well-known sites. At night we spent many hours gazing out at the jewel box of lights in the plains below.
Since the turn of the century, I have ‘failed to retire’ five or six times. Each time I seem to be drawn to return to Kodai. It was fifty-one years ago that I first came to Kodai, and I am still thrilled to be here. Now, entering my eighty-third year, I still have the delight of travelling (by car now) to some of the places where I used to hike.