Kodaikanal’s splendours may have thinned like hair on a balding man’s head but 22 km away, an enchanted valley survives. Cradled by the Palani Hills, Elephant Valley is spread out over 100 acres at the edge of a reserve forest and it offers more than elephants: crisp, clean air, people who take things slowly, more birds than you can count and more trees than the eye can scan. This eco-lodge is like a cup of manna for the jaded traveller.
Old-fashioned village houses, bushes thickly covered with hibiscus and horses grazing in a large open space are a charming throwback to some older world, but the stream that passes through the resort clinches it for me. It begins up in the mountains but is cleaner here. Its clear waters gurgle over rock and wind their way to the cliff’s edge where they drop 40 ft in swathes of foam. There is something primal about being at the source of a waterfall, I discover one morning, as I sit on a stone bridge metres away from the drop, looking out at the golden hills.
At Elephant Valley, peace is punctuated by thrills. It is situated on an elephant migration route and it is not unusual for visitors to see elephants, bison or wild boar, I’m told. During the drier season, they frequently make their way down to the stream at night and even frolic in the resort’s coffee and pepper plantations. “Once, a bison slept all night near your room,” Kalai (waiter, birdwatcher and keen conversationalist) tells me exuberantly. Though I see few animals during my stay, I sense the nearness of the forest. In the half light of dawn, monkeys swing up the silver oak. Boar marks on the banks of the stream indicate that the two snuffled by in the night. Mid-afternoon, a chameleon in the garden twitches from crimson to grey in seconds. Towards evening, a squirrel urgently signals to another in the thicket, an SOS kruk-kruked out.
It is possible to venture closer. The resort organizes treks and horse rides into the nearby forests and hills. My not so little horse is a spirited one and harrumphs his way up to show me foaming waterfalls and dolmens, megalithic tombs standing starkly in clearings. The more indolent pleasure of bird watching holds me to the waters for many hours. There are more than 300 species of birds to be found in these parts a cornucopia of twittering, chirping, cooing delights, a riot of colors in beak and wing. And they frequently hang out near the stream. I am surprised by my own patience. I find myself doing unexpected things: marking the exact way a red-whiskered bulbul cocks its crest, watching a yellow wagtail strut.
For those uninterested in birds or walks, there is enough mist-soaked tranquillity to enjoy. The cottages are far apart and most come with generous sit outs as well as their own patch of garden ringed with flowering bushes, banana palms and other trees. In the evenings, the rain comes. It drives us into our rooms where wood fires warm us as we settle down to dinner. The hills look even more beautiful the next day. The fabled romance of mountains swirls in the air. It is enough to turn one’s head. By the time I wind my way down the twisting roads towards home, I am brimming over with sweet water, birdsong, contentment. Activities on offer include horse treks (INR 250/1 hr per person), short walking treks (INR 250 per person) and complimen
tary plantation tours and vegetable farm tours. Weekend adventure packages are available. Trekking into the forests is not allowed without a guide.
When to Go: March to June
Address: Elephant Valley, Ganesh Puram, Perumalmalai, Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu
Official Website: elephantvalleyhotel.com
By Annindita Sengupta
About the author: Annindita Sengupta is a poet and freelance writer based in Bengaluru. Her first collection of poems, City of Water, was published by Sahitya Akademi in the year 2010.