Kodaikanal — ‘the summer retreat’, as the Tamils named it — is no longer an attraction limited to the hot months. This hill station in Tamil Nadu’s Palani Hills endures a neverending tourist season, weekends particularly big. Sterling Holiday Resorts’ recently renovated property — where I stayed for two relaxed days — is nicely positioned to cater to this influx of holidaymakers.
Driving into town after a five-hour ride up the Ghat roads, we curved around the contours of Kodai lake and slung off on a side road to Kodai — By the Lake: low white buildings strewn across many tiers. A warm welcome, a drink, a refreshing napkin… and then I was perched in the golf cart scooting towards my room. The cottage blocks are all named after flowers; I caught sight of Gerbera and Dahlia, and wondered about my address. It turned out to be a name I can’t recall without my notes, can’t pronounce anyway: Mesembryanthemum. The flower, I was told, grows in Sterling’s rather colourful though still young garden. A little post-assignment research reveals it to be a most pretty flower, and the name, in spite of its forbidding assortment of syllables, translates lyrically to ‘midday flowering’.
Sterling Holidays is a 26-year-old chain that started here in Kodaikanal. They were among the pioneers of the ‘vacation ownership’ concept and have eighteen properties across India — in Munnar, Ooty, Thekkady and also destinations as flung out as Manali, Darjeeling and Gangtok. The resorts used to cater mainly to the time-share market — you had to sign up for an elaborate membership scheme to benefit from these hill-station getaways. Not any more. Sterling has started to renovate, refurbish and reposition. Starting with this flagship property, they aim to become a ‘holiday lifestyle company’, with all properties open to non-members and floating clientele.
So Hotel Lake View then has become Kodai — By the Lake. It isn’t quite on the lake; it stands back a bit but offers scenic views of the water body nevertheless. The sun glints off the surface as you sit down to breakfast and, afterwards, a brief walk will take you to the lakeshore if you’d like to lean on the railings and wave to the boat paddlers.
But first to my suite, a predominantly white space with accents of moss green; a living area with a small dining table, a roomy lounge, a TV and a rocking chair.; then a small dry kitchenette; a small but neat bathroom; and the bedroom with a slatted cupboard. As for the mod cons, the fittings were elegant, two oil radiators provided the heat much needed by plains dwellers like me and I couldn’t figure out the microwave. The towel sculptures were charming, the rooms sunny and cheerful, large windows looking to the flowers and greenery outside. All good. The rooms aren’t best designed for privacy, though — if you choose to look out, passing guests or staff may look in.
I ordered a grilled sandwich right away and it arrived hot, appropriately succulent and well flavoured. For coffee, I turned to the in-room French press and an inviting jar holding some Jamaican blend. It was as fragrant and lush as promised. My coffee cravings for the next few days taken care of, I stretched like a cat with full rights to the cream pitcher. For dinner, though, I chose to go down to the restaurant for the buffet. A mix of South and North Indian, a dash of Continental, made up the menu. I particularly liked the kakarakaya vepudu (the Telugu name for a dry curried bitter gourd). For dessert, there was Rajasthani ghewar and moong daal halwa. My appetite didn’t do the spread justice, alas.
Breakfast was as good — bite-sized podi idlis, excellent upma, vegetable stew, mashed potatoes, stuffed parathas, toast and an array of jams and pickles. The coffee didn’t make the grade though.
For the restless, the resort has a few activities. Children have a play area to themselves with colourful swings and what-not. The indoor activity room offers table tennis, a pool table, video games, board games and many artsy-craftsy things to do. For go-getters, there is an ATV circuit with bikes on hire; it is also the site for raucous paintball shootouts. Kodi has many sites that make up a regular sightseeing circuit and the resort offers treks, night-time jeep safaris, overnight camping... and shopping. Ask the desk for help with taxis — there are no autos here by way of local transport.
I encountered quite a variety among my fellow guests. Young nuclear families, large joint families, groups of youngsters… but also older couples, holding hands as they climbed up the pathway, come to the hills for a change of scene. For all of these experience seekers, Sterling’s a solid, affordable option.
Location Gymkhana Road, Kodaikanal; nearest airport and most convenient railhead is Madurai (120km/4 hrs by road)
Accommodation 12 superior rooms, 24 studios, 42 one-bedroom suites, 24 two-bedroom suites
Contact 04542-242380-1, sterlingholidays.com