Back to Stories

Hiking in Kodai


When I was in Kodai we were encouraged to hike nearly every weekend during hiking season, July-August. The goal: the coveted Thar pin, won through pain and sweat, sore muscles, sweating backs! OK, OK! Won by accumulating 100 points, where each point represented 1-3 miles, depending on the difficulty of the terrain. Winning the Thar pin twice is the only evidence I have of any athletic ability--or maybe it was just pure determination. In any case, the hiking created a life interest in wandering around the mountains, living in tents, and peeing in the woods.

Mom won a Thar pin at least once--a major accomplishment as it meant hiking 10-20 miles a weekend over 12 weeks. She either chaperoned a shorter hike or she and her pals (like Miss Putz--who climbed Mt. Kilimanjairo, by the way) would go on slower but longer weekend getaways. Mom was very proud of her pin while I, much to my discredit, was only embarrassed.

My favorite hike was Tope--accessed by the old coolie ghat to Kodai. This was the narrow, hairpin path by which coolies carried the missionaries and their children to Kodai until the main ghat road was opened and buses could take over that duty. Tope is a swimming hole 7000 ft. down the mountain, a formation of rocks and water that have created a series of water slides and swimming "pools". The pools were great fun but they also held some danger due to whirlpools--once Peter Fletcher, a 10 year old then, was caught in such a whirlpool, stayed under for many minutes, and was pronounced dead. His father, a doctor and hike chaperone, pulled him out and was able to resuscitate him--our main ghoulish interest was in his near-death visions. Another time a group of us senior girls hiked to Tope for an overnight stay along with some visiting college guys--sorry, no secrets to tell. We stayed up all night talking, feeling quite old and sophisticated discussing the meaning of life or whatever with the guys, who went to college in the States.

Every Fall we closed the hiking season with a long weekend hike and campout with our respective classes. My main memories are of hunting for orchids, following wild elephant noises, digging latrines, sleeping on bracken beds, hiking in monsoon downpours, drinking hot sweet tea, daring each other to drink foul water, and competing for "fastest" hiker. I made one 30 mile hike at 6 mph--but I can't say I enjoyed it. The advantage of hiking fast was to call "dibs" on the hot water for a shower when we returned. Only about 6 people got a hot shower--everyone else had to end a long hike, feet full of blisters, with a cold shower.


When I was in highschool at Kodai, there were four of us on a hiking team. We tried as many ways as possible to hike from Kodai to the plains and back in one day. We started with the coolie ghat, down from Kodai to Manjumpatti and then down to the tope. Down was harder than up, in many ways, because your legs got like rubber trying to slow you down, because we never went down by the path but by all the shortcuts under the highline electrical wires. Once coming up we ran out of water and had to put clorine pills in some of the most foul stuff someone going down gave to us. Another way down was to Villagubi and then down through the great shola below pillar rocks. The map showed a trail, but it gave out in a half mile and we were crawling through the jungle, much on hands and knees through bamboo thickets, till we got to the plains. Then up the next ridge which brought us up beyond Pillar Rocks. We got up near the top just as it was getting dark and it looked as if there were a sheer cliff of about 200 feet, which meant we couldnt't get up that way and would have to spend the night on the fern slope. But there was an opening around the side up a cleft and we got home to the dorm about midnight. Another time we hiked down the north side past Palni Falls, one of the most beautiful I have seen. Then on down to the village where we took a bus to Kodai Road and then another back up to Kodai. We spent the night on the plains that time. Often on these hikes we started at four in the morning, and the first couple miles were often on the tar roads. Unfortunately in the shade of trees we often did not see the "Kodai flowers" left by oxen, and would hear someone mutter in disgust as he stepped splat into one of them.

One other hike was memorable. This was when we were in India as missionaries. Steve Root took three others of us and we went to Kukal Valley. We packed our back packs for a three days' hike. The packs were sixty pounds plus. We drove to Kukal and then put on the back packs and started hiking. It was soon clear we were not in that kind of shape! We came to a village and hired two or three coolies who took the packs. We went into the valley where there were a lot of elephants, and spent a rather anxious night as we listened to them off in the distance. We found some paleolithic stone dolemans or menhirs on one of the hills where in ancient times people had buried their dead. Steve Root shot a big bison, but it ran off. We thought of chasing it through the tall grass, but Steve got worried that it might come charging or that a tiger might be in the grass without our knowing it. So we hiked around and then back up to Kukal. So much of Kodai hikes!


Hiking was a way of life in boarding school- at least once a month but usually two or three week-ends of a month. We started with Fairy Falls- close, easy, and pretty. I can remember gathering rolly poochies (spelling??) on the way and collecting moss for their homes in our window box in the end room of the dorm.

More memorable were the 30+ mile hikes that began on Friday afternoon. We hiked into the night following Indian guides. When exhausted we rolled out our sleeping bags on the ground or if we had enough light to gather bracken, we made a softer bed. Coolies carried the food supplies and bedding so we had it easy, come to think of it.

Mt. Paramal---Well, they said if you did not climb it once, you were a mule but to climb it twice, you were a fool. It was harder to come down because it jogged your inner organs to step down so much. Our legs turned to jelly and we would have to rest.

A favorite short hike was Coker's Walk. With luck we would see our shadow in the clouds below (brockenspecter was the name of the phenomenon, though I don't know how to spell that word either). One's shadow reached out for miles in the sky.

Pillar Rocks was a common outing for a day's hike. Names of many of the places escape me. One of them required us to go through a rainforest with lots of leeches. Once through, we poured salt on the ones that clung to us and watched them roll off. There were big leeches in the water where we swam. I will always remember hikes for the wild flowers we saw and for the cool mountain water that tasted wonderful....

As we got to be juniors and seniors in high school, these hikes were a way of pairing off in romantic duos and being able to sleep in sleeping bags next to one's current love. We thought it was wonderful.

Toileting was a pain for all - boys trying to get a peek, being careful that one did not squat in such a way as to wet one's clothes etc.

The most dangerous thing we did, as I look back, was swim in a pool right at the top of a very steep waterfall. It would have been certain death to be carried away with the flow. We would swing on a rope over this pool to get a grand view of the land below the waterfall. Good thing Mom did not know it.

There were all sorts of risk-taking episodes at night - short and long hikes. Ask Paul about his night excursion. Our night jaunts were usually for coconuts at the village market....

Mt. Paramal


When I think back to Kodai days, my thoughts often go to being out in the woods and mountains. I loved hiking and sleeping outdoors or in huts---these times made me a lifelong lover of mountains and camping.

When we were signing up for hikes, it was very important to get on the right hike. I always waited until I saw who had signed up for the various hikes and then joined the one that had David Lockwood's name on it--not that it mattered; I was so in awe of him that I rarely came within l00 yards of him. It was also important to hike with someone who had the same gait so we could sing and hike in step. Loey Thoms was the one I could hike with the best.

Like Betty, I remember seeing the brachinspector at Coker's Walk one time---it was so exciting. We jumped around and could see our shadows moving in the clouds with a rainbow surrounding the shadow. If I remember correctly, it had to be right after a rain had gone through and the sun shone from behind onto the clouds hanging beyond Coker's Walk. I could never find out anything about brachinspectors and began to wonder if they really existed other than in my mind, but then I read something about it in Steve's book Chasing the Monsoon by Alexander Frater.

Camping out was fantastic---singing around the campfire, eating smoky food that tasted delicious after hiking, gathering bracken to put under our sleeping bags, guarding the path to the girls' latrine so the boys wouldn't sneak over. I remember one time when we were sleeping in a hut, someone tied Bill Scudder's sleeping bag to the handle of a door that opened out. Whenever the door was opened, his sleeping bag was dragged along---but he didn't wake up. We had great fun inching him back and then dragging him along again. Strange what memories stick in a person's mind!

My favorite hike was Pillar Rocks. It was so scary going down the pole and into the dark cave. Phyl's story about the priest disappearing was still being told to us younger ones, and I walked very close to the center of the path. At the same time I felt like exploring those side caves to find out where the bottomless pit was. I remember Dad's taking us there several times, as well as other hikes when folks were up during the hot season.

I do have one question: did the older boys REALLY jump from one pillar to the other?


The MAIN events of each school year were the two hiking/camping trips we took each year. Each class picked a place they wanted to go to and we spent weeks planning each detail of the trip and looked forward to it for months. What to pack, what to wear, which boy to target for our attention, etc. The coolies carried our sleeping bags and food. We put our clothing and essentials into the sleeping bag and that was all we had for a four-day weekend. Once at the site, we cut bracken for our beds and settled in. The huts had no electricity or running water but it never occured to us to be bothered by this. It was all such fun!! Sometimes we hiked as much as 15 miles to our site.

I can't imagine chaperoning such a trip, especially once we hit seventh grade. Many of the camp activities involved flirting and carrying on with the boys. We must have given them gray hair.

At the other extreme were the short, 3-10 mile walks we took on Sunday night after vespers. The other students had dates and that involved walking side-by-side in the midst of all the others who had chosen to go on the walk. But it was dark so we even held hands sometimes. Those were special walks because vespers always made me very homesick and weepy but the walks always put me in touch with nature and I felt so much better.

I do remember getting into a great deal of trouble for sneaking off to Fairy Falls with Bill Cummings one afternoon. Of course, once we were there we didn't really know what to do so we sat around for awhile and came home. I thought at the time nobody else did such things but I suspect that was quite common; we just didn't talk about it.

I absolutely hated school but hiking was the one very most special activity that gave me pleasure in boarding school. I wouldn't exchange those memories for anything!


I NEVER was in mortal danger on Kodai hikes! The most daring thing I did was swing across a stream on those long dangling vines. Memories date back to early grades so are skimpy. I remember catching tadpoles in _____(begins with L) Stream; getting very hot and dusty trudging back from Dolphin's Nose wondering why we were doing this; rattan groves, hot bare hillsides, wearing those blue gym bloomers and topees (did we?), feeling grownup and important because we had canteens and backpacks slung across our shoulders and were wearing sweaters tied around our waists by the sleeves; sack lunches; hot feet.

I have a distinct memory of going through the cave at Pillar Rocks: first we had to slide down a pole, then walk along the bottom in damp muck, then crawl on hands and knees up a narrow rock-filled mucky chute until we emerged on a sunny hillside. Near the entrance to this cave was a hole they said a priest had fallen down (or was it three priests?) and never been found again...we gazed at it in awe. That's about all I can think of....