Located in Tamil Nadu’s Dindigul district, on the southern upper Palani Hills, 7 kilometers away from Kodaikanal, the village Vattakanal or ‘Vatta’ is a place abounding in genuinely natural nature. Palani Hills are Western Ghats’ eastward extension – East-West Length: 65km, North-South width: 40km, Area: 2064 sq. km. This range has been labeled as one of the top 25 bio-diversity hotspots of the world in the article Biodiversity Hotspots for Conservation Priorities by Norman Myers et al. published in the journal Nature, Vol. 403, on 24th February, 2000.
Vattakanal belongs to this range. It is a small village, approximately 400 meters long. Around 50 families might be residing there. Tourism is the major source of income for Vatta’s inhabitants, it plays host to a large number of Israeli tourists every year along with regular Indian visitors. Vattakanal’s spirit of nature is pure. It has no ATM. It has minimal network connectivity. It has no five-star hotels or guesthouses with high security. It doesn’t have cctv-cameras recording anything anywhere. It does not have a police station. Yet, Vatta is an extremely safe place. Safe from all the suffocating confinements (both mental and physical) you might have to deal with when in a city. Safe from the crooked definitions of culture and righteousness coined by aged perverts under their coats of ignorance and their cloaks of pseudo social-responsibility. It’s a place where liberty grows with its proud mid-finger ring, slender stalk, sensitive gills and a confident cap.
Reach Kodaikanal. After an hour and a half’s ride in a cab (Rs. 250-300) on twisting, straightening, elevating and falling roads, narrowed by trees, rocks, climbers, brooks, shrubs and sometimes by a troop of monkeys, you would get to Vattakanal. After reaching Vatta, if the driver asks where to drop you, there is only one answer, which also is the best answer, Altaf’s Café.
Altaf’s Café is the heart and brain of Vattakanal’s tourism. If you are in Vatta to witness its wonders, Altaf’s Café is the lens that humbly serves your perception. Delectable dishes, references for local rooms for staying, travel information and suggestions, internet-browsing, mesmerizing music, picturesque landscapes and the spirit of brotherhood are amply available at their place.
We (me and Varun) reached Kodaikanal (Hotel Mount View) at around 6:30 A.M, October’s end. We had breakfast at an adjacent restaurant, Varun bought few lumps of homemade chocolate, and then we took a cab to Vattakanal. Few stops in between, the driver got down for a couple of things. In an hour and a half he dropped us on a narrow road saying we’ll have to walk a few hundred meters to reach Altaf’s Café. We ambled ahead, gazing at lofty trees bearing monkeys, overwhelming greenery, magnificent mountains partially visible through the fog, and their steep and deep valleys. We reached the road’s end and after cautiously getting down a steep natural rocky stairway dampened and rendered slippery by morning rains, we landed in Altaf’s Café.
Altaf’s café has kitchen to the left, tables to the right, separated by a wooden wall on which hang many interesting drawings along with the map of India.
The café extends on the other side into the open-air with vast grass dells like a mystical portal. There’s a raised platform with few tables in the open-air. We sat there, had lemon tea and dissolved our eyes in that landscaped vista for around twenty minutes.
One of the waiters led us to a house (Rs.300 per night for both of us). It had a hall with a bed, a fireplace, a T.V., a kitchen with some utensils, a bedroom with huge windows, a bathroom with many holes on the roof which let in few beams of sunlight when the sun came out of its slumber (a rarity).
The experience was amazing. In the words of my other friend Wasif, in Vatta, in mornings, fog comes and knocks on your door; and when you open it, it embraces you gently in its cold warmth, absorbs you into itself and establishes a connection between you and nature.
We sat in that house till 4 P.M., venturing into local ceremonious endeavors, listening to Delicous Insects, Unusual Cosmic Process, Ozzy Osbourne, Metallica, Maitre Soda, Led Zeppelin, Hello Mellow, Leoboris, Wylhelm;
Feeding on Dairymilk Shots, snickers, bananas and homemade chocolate; discussing games, songs, Super Mario, buoyancy, aero-dynamics, infinite loops, bollywood cinema and geometry (mostly circles with increasing diameters that demand calculus for comprehension).
We went back to Altaf’s café at 4 P.M. I love clouds and my friend loves greenery. So I stared at the sky and he down the hills for almost an hour.
Altaf’s café serves great Middle-East food. Subshouka is a dish one shouldn’t miss there.
Fortune sided with us that night. It was Diwali night. As we were eating, the valleys down twinkled at par with the stars above. Sounds of crackers from far away, which were adequately fainted by the distance, got accepted and imbibed by the benevolent beats of the music at Altaf’s Café. Beside me an Israeli couple was playing chess on a wooden board and the man’s knight killed the woman’s pawn and the woman’s bishop crossed a white pawn and both were equally confident after their moves. I felt a perfect union and a complete intersection in everything within and around me.
We returned to the house. I looked with profoundness into the yin-yang that was drawn by someone on one of the walls. Then I fell into a scaringly peaceful sleep. Next morning we woke up, began our journey back, returned to the chaotic currents of Bangalore traffic and somehow found our way to the places where we stay but which are far away from being called ‘Home’.