The earliest residents of Kodaikanal were the Palaiyar tribal people. The earliest specific references to Kodaikanal and the Palani Hills are found in Tamil Sangam literature of the early Common era. Modern Kodaikanal was established by American Christian missionaries and British bureaucrats in 1845, as a refuge from the high temperatures and tropical diseases of the plains. In the 20th century a few elite Indians came to realise the value of this enchanting hill station and started relocating here.
Tourism has been impacted by industrial pollution issues including the closure of a mercury factory owned by Unilever’s Indian subsidiary Hindustan Unilever after evidence of widespread mercury pollution. To date no proper clean-up operation has been mounted. The issue gained prominence in early 2015 when “Kodaikanal Won’t”, a rap music about mercury pollution in the region went viral globally getting more than a million views in 4 days.
The town of Kodaikanal sits on a plateau above the southern escarpment of the upper Palani Hills at 2,133 metres (6,998 ft), between the Parappar and Gundar Valleys. These hills form the eastward spur of the Western Ghats on the Western side of South India. It has an irregular basin as its heartland, the centre of which is now Kodaikanal Lake a 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) circumference manmade lake. A few kilometers away from Kodaikanal a small village named Vattakanal is located in the Dindigul District on the southern tip of the upper Palani hills in the state of Tamil Nadu, along the eastern coast of the Western Ghats. Vattakanal is better known as ‘Vatta’, which means Circle and by most or ‘Little Israel’ by the villagers that observe a large number of Israeli tourists who flock there from October onwards.
Meadows and grasslands cover the hillsides. Gigantic Eucalyptus trees and shola forests flourish in the valleys. Mighty rocks and cascading streams lie above the valleys. There are many high waterfalls and ubiquitous gardens and flower beds in bloom.
Pine Forest in Kodaikanal
Kodaikanal is known for its rich flora. Of the big trees, cypress, eucalyptus and acacia are the dominant varieties. Pear trees are numerous and the fruits are of high quality. Competing with the fruit trees are the flowering ones – mainly rhododendron and magnolia. Large dahlias of different hues are the main attraction of Bryant Park, situated close to the Kodai lake. Water lilies in the park’s pond are another pleasing sight. The town abounds in a kind of beautiful yellow wild flowers.
North of the town, high hills that slope down into the villages of Pallangi and Vilpatti stand guard. On the east the hill slopes less abruptly into the lower Palnis. A precipitous escarpment facing the Cumbum Valley is on the south. On the west is a plateau leading to Manjampatti Valley, Indira Gandhi National Park, the Anamalai Hills and the main body of the Western Ghats of Kerala border.
Morning Mist in Kodaikanal seen at Sunrise.
Kodaikanal has a monsoon-influenced subtropical highland climate (Cfb, according to the Köppen climate classification, with a Cwb tendency). The temperatures are cool throughout the year due to the high elevation of the city.