In the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, we often neglect to pause and reflect upon the journey we have traversed. If we dwell too much on the past, we unknowingly steal precious moments from our future. However, there is immense value in drawing upon the lessons learned from our past experiences, as they can propel us toward a higher state of awareness and enlightenment. Occasionally, it is gratifying to rewind the tape of our childhood memories and reminisce about the places we called home, the schools we attended, our beloved sports and games, our friends, and even the naughty escapades we embarked upon. I have seen my past as a wise teacher, guiding me through life’s various stages. As I have recently crossed the milestone of 50 years, I have felt compelled to embark on a journey to Madurai to reignite the flames of my Malgudi days.

The first half-century of our lives often demands that we establish ourselves in our careers, social circles, and spiritual pursuits. However, once we cross the threshold of 50, a shift occurs. We are called to live not just for ourselves but also for the legacy we will leave behind. It is crucial to be mindful of what we pass on to others –our knowledge, character, behaviour, acts of charity, kindness, or other profound qualities that inspire those around us.

With a well-orchestrated itinerary in place, I embarked on my planned journey. As the clock struck 5:00 am, I set ablaze with my trusty Thar and hit the road, following the NH 45 route towards Trichy. April welcomed me with its scorching heat, a reminder of the season’s arrival. Navigating the national highways during the early hours requires a patient approach, as the lorries are in full swing. After crossing Thindivanam, I made a pit stop to savour a cup of our traditional filter coffee, which instantly uplifted my spirits. The rich aroma and flavours painted vivid images of the days ahead, where I would embark on a meaningful journey to rediscover the past.

The drive from Chennai to Trichy took approximately five hours. The roads stretched out before me like a silky ribbon, providing a smooth and delightful experience. My plan entailed picking up my friend from the Madurai airport, scheduled to arrive from Bangalore. It was around 11:30 a.m. when I reached Madurai, granting me a generous 45 minutes before the anticipated landing time of the flight.

After residing in Madurai for 25 Years, it’s astonishing to witness the complete transformation of Avaniyapuram into a quaint little town. I picked up my friend and drove to our accommodation, The Heritage, near Kochadai. This property spanned 100 acres and was utilised by Britishers working at the Madura Coats Mills in the 1900s.

The layout is adorned with lush greens, and the buildings are constructed with large stones. The rooms are generously spacious, with the bathroom standing out with its ceiling fan, while the furniture exudes an antique charm.

After freshening up, we were eager to taste a carnivorous lunch at the renowned Kumar Mess, only to be taken aback by the bustling crowd on a Tuesday! Our order included a satisfying meal with side dishes like brain fry, shell-less crab flesh, and delectable mutton chukka. We relished a large bowl of curd alongside. Subsequently, we drove to Harvey Nagar, the neighbourhood of my childhood, where I captured a few photographs of the unchanging beauty of our tiny old house, which remained unchanged even after 35 years.

I felt compelled to visit my school, and upon arrival, we encountered a scaled-down version with more bricks, fewer trees, and a smaller playground. This nostalgic renewal enchanted happiness, making me feel like a child again. As the day ended, we retired to our room and ordered curd rice to support our gut microbiome.

The following morning, with a limitless reservoir of energy and enthusiasm, we started our journey towards Kodaikanal, the “queen of hills.” While waiting for a small restaurant after Bathalagundu, I stumbled upon a charming eatery that offered a delectable rural breakfast. We delighted in devouring hot idly, accompanied by sambar and coconut chutney.

Having breakfast with the picturesque sight of vast green fields before us was a rare and uplifting experience. Filled with a sense of contentment, we continued our journey towards the foothills of Kodai. What makes the road to Kodai unique is its scarcity of hairpin bends, a testament to the engineering brilliance who constructed these roads during the British era.

After spending about 15 minutes at the falls, we resumed our journey and arrived at our hotel adjacent to the prestigious Kodai International School. Our room granted us an awe-inspiring view of the star-shaped Kodai Lake, which left us in utter admiration. This magnificent property has become an emblem of hospitality in Kodaikanal. As we entered our appointed room, its freshness defied its age, indicating the management’s dedication to preserving its youthful allure. Upon opening the balcony door, a gentle touch of the cold wind and refreshing air enveloped me, soothing and calming my soul.

The cobble-stoned pathways, verdant lawns, and vibrant displays of fascinating plants and blooming flowers were a visual treat for the senses. With lunchtime approaching, we decided to dine at the hotel restaurant. Our order consisted of a delectable lamb curry, accompanied by warm tandoori naans, and concluded with a delightful dessert. Afterwards, we took some rest to replenish our energy for an exploration of the lake in the evening.

A complete lake circuit spans approximately 4.8 kilometres, and we embarked on a leisurely hour-long stroll to reach the starting point. The sun began its descent, painting the backdrop in shades of deep orange, while little lights gradually illuminated the surroundings as darkness draped the area. Later, we went for our dinner, and the spread was fabulous and thoughtfully curated, with a harmonious balance of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. The lavish array of desserts beckoned, promising to unleash a surge of dopamine. When in bed, I recollected the first trip with Regi to Kodai and felt sad.

Day 2 in Kodai – Our plan revolved around visiting Berijam Lake. Taking the observatory road, we passed by the government rose garden and the Kodaikanal Solar Observatory Museum before reaching Moir Point. However, to our disappointment, we learned from the forest officials that more than five adult elephants and a few young ones were spotted the previous day, prompting them to restrict public access. Nature had its way, and we redirected our journey towards Pine Forest.

The towering, ancient pine trees stood in all their majestic glory, commanding the area. After spending a serene 15 minutes among the pines, we proceeded towards Guna Caves. The snarled mesh of tree roots, created by a hundred intertwined trees, added a unique charm to this spot. With the sun shining brightly, our next stop was the pillar rocks. The shifting clouds created a captivating display as the twin pillars intermittently appeared and disappeared. The sun bestowed its vitamin D upon us, and nature generously offered pure oxygen free of cost.

On our way back to the hotel, we visited Saleth Matha church. The view from the church was breathtaking, and bidding farewell to Mother Mary, we resumed our journey towards the lake. Our lunchtime craving led us to Cloud Street, a small restaurant with a relaxed ambience across from the government tourist office. We indulged in a chicken thin-crust pizza and the day special, “Mongolian Beef.” Cloud Street was one of the few places in Kodai that served delicious pizzas. Feeling the weariness of the day’s explorations, we yearned for rest to calm our minds and prepare for our evening walk. As evening descended, we sought relaxation through spirits to complement the pleasant Kodai weather. While savouring our chosen malt, we devised plans for the upcoming hiking adventure and made a mental note to visit the dolphin nose at Vattakanal.

On the third day, we started with a leisurely breakfast before driving to Vattakanal, a charming little village fondly known as Little Israel due to its popularity among Israeli tourists. This place attracts many visitors from Israel from October to March, and the local cafes serve delightful Israeli delicacies. Vattakanal is a haven for backpackers, boasting awe-inspiring cliffs and dense forests.

As we descended the hills, I quickly realised it would test our physical endurance. The trek path was relatively straight but only partially even, featuring large rocks that required patience while walking. Along the 3-kilometre trek, we encountered a serene stream leading us to a remarkable natural formation known as the Dolphin Nose—a prominent jutting rock. The climb back up to the top presented a greater challenge, especially for those unaccustomed to walking or hiking. Surprisingly, I witnessed older adults bravely taking up this challenge, driven by their desire to experience nature at its finest.

Upon returning to the hotel, the remainder of the day was dedicated to relaxation and sleep, preparing us for an early morning check-out as we set our sights on Sirumali. Located 40 kilometres from Dindigul, Sirumali is an offbeat, relatively undiscovered hill station promising new adventures and exploration. Upon arriving in Dindigul, we were greeted by a signboard at the foothills of Sirumalai, indicating the presence of 18 hairpin bends leading to the mountain’s summit. Navigating through the hairpin bends becomes a mini-adventure in itself, and be sure to relish the breathtaking bird’s eye view of the hills and a panoramic vista of Dindigul town, including the magnificent Dindigul Rock Fort, from the 3rd and 5th hairpin, bends. On the seventeenth hairpin bend, you’ll discover a tower that serves as a much-needed rest spot. Take a moment to pause here and indulge in the awe-inspiring scenery that unfolds beneath you. It’s a sight that will leave you breathless.

The final hairpin bend leads you to a serene and picturesque village known as Sirumalai Palaiyur. It’s worth mentioning that Sirumalai is renowned for cultivating the Sirumalai banana, which was once a vital ingredient in the world-famous Palani Panchamirtham. This fact adds to the cultural and historical significance of the region. After checking into our modest accommodation and settling in, the heavens opened up, and rain poured for nearly an hour. Seeking solace in the cosy atmosphere, we requested the cook to prepare some piping hot baji (fritters) and tea to savour the weather. Once the rain subsided, we eagerly ventured out for a stroll through the enchanting woods. As we meandered along, a friendly chocolate-coloured Labrador with a glossy coat approached us, radiating good health and cheer. We spent some delightful moments with this furry companion before continuing our walk to witness the sun gracefully sinking behind the hills.

However, our pleasant encounter with nature took an unexpected turn when we realised that friendly, albeit persistent, leeches had attached themselves to our skin. Carefully and urgently, we removed them, inadvertently donating a small amount of our blood. As night falls, the view from the hilltop becomes even more enchanting. Gleaming lights twinkle in the distance, reminding us of the stark contrast between man-made structures and the untouched wonders of nature. Even on a typical summer day, the Sirumalai hills never fail to astound, offering a chilly atmosphere that feels like a divine gift to the town of Dindigul.

The village of Sirumali is truly a haven of breathtaking natural beauty. Vast stretches of lush green fields extend as far as the eye can see, adorned with vibrant wildflowers and swaying palm trees. The surrounding hills add to the picturesque setting, lending an aura of serenity and tranquillity to the meandering trails that wind through them. Although small, Sirumali is a treasure trove of natural wonders and a repository of a rich cultural heritage. It serves as a gentle reminder of the simplicity and beauty found in rural life, where a profound connection with nature. A visit to Sirumali is akin to stepping into a tranquil oasis, far removed from the hustle and bustle of the modern world and embracing the serene authenticity of a bygone era.

As the realisation of my impending return to Chennai set in, a tinge of sadness crept over me. However, amidst that melancholy, I found solace in the abundance of happiness, laughter, delectable cuisine, and the wonderful people I had encountered throughout this journey. I reminded myself to cherish the joy created during these precious few days. This journal will serve as a lasting testament, capturing the essence of my endeavour to bridge the gap between the past and the present. It will forever stand as a cherished memento, enabling me to revisit the memories and experiences that shaped this unforgettable journey.