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Sunday, 25 August 2013


Even during the coolest time of the year, the temperature in the plains in the south of India can exceed 30 degrees Celsius. In summer, the sky's the limit! As the summer temperature soared in the plains during the 19th century, Europeans sought refuge from the heat in so-called 'hill-stations'. These included members of the American Madura Mission, who decided to set up their own hill-station in Kodaikanal. The Americans built their first church (illustrated above: picture from a 1909 guidebook) there in 1857. It was used for services until 1896 when a new church was built . By 1908, the original church had been demolished. Today, all that remains of this is an obelisk in the midst of the overgrown American Cemetery:

The cemetery is close to one of the earliest dwellings - if not the earliest - to have been built by the American Missionaries:

This building is still privately owned by some Americans and is, like the other remaining original building, built without foundations. The successor to the original church is the Union Church, which is near one of the entrances to Coaker's Walk:

We noticed a wall-mounted clock inside the church. It looked quite old, and had been supplied by a company in Madras, but had been made in the USA:

The Americans were not the only non-British 'Europeans' to settle in Kodaikanal. They were joined by Swedes and Germans. Scarcely anything remains of the Swedish settlement apart from an indication of its location on a map issued by Tamil Nadu Tourism at the rather basic tourist office on PT Road, which is almost opposite a small, super short-order  restaurant called Pot Luck.  The German Missionary Church stlll stands alongside its separate wooden bell-tower and is in good condition:

Two stone crosses surrounded by a circle of thorns stand near to the bell-tower. They are without inscriptions. Maybe, they mark graves. It is difficult to say whether this is the case.

A commemorative stone in the church's south wall reads as follows:


Sadly, I cannot find any information about this pastor G Lohmann on the Internet. This old church, which we were unable to enter, is not the only Lutheran church in Kodaikanal. There is another one opposite the main buildings of Koadikanal International School:

Within the grounds of Kodaikanal International School ('KIS'), which were priviliged to be shown around, we saw another of the town's churches. The construction of the school's chapel began in the 1930s. It is named in honour of the school's first  Principal Margaret Eddy (1848-1935)

The school was founded at the beginning of the 20th century by members of several missions. Roughly 50% of its about 600 students come from outside India.

The KIS is close to a complex of restaurants that includes a pizza outlet. There is nothing surprising about this in a town with so many students, but the pious exhortations on the signboard outside it are unusual:

Maybe, we should not be so surprised as  a missionary atmosphere does seem to pervade the town. 
We visited two other churches in the town. One of them overlooks the road that leads from Kodaikanal down the ghats to the plain far below.

This church, the Sacred Heart Church, is a Roman Catholic parish church built in 1910 to accommodate the growing Catholic congregation in Kodaikanal (For more information, click HERE ) . Here are some views inside:

The Sacred Heart was not the first Catholic church in the town. That honour goes to the Church of Our Lady of La Salette, which was built in 1866. This fine edifice stands high above the town close to the Doordarshan television tower and Hindustan Unilever's mercury thermometer factory, and also a compound whose rusting gates proclaim that they give access to the 'Oceanic Shrimping Company'.

Here is a picture of the steps leading up to the venerable church:

And here is a view of its interior:

We noticed something hanging in the church's porch. It looked rather like an embroidered Holy Icon:

We saw another of these at the Sacred Heart Church (mentioned above):

A statue of Our Lady of La Salette stands close to the La Salette Church and above its circular souvenir shop:

I have described the churches that we managed to visit in Kodaikanal. We would have liked to have investigated St Peter's Church, but it was closed each time we passed it. 

Although churches predominate the landscape of Kodaikanal, there are also mosques and temples. This mosque is in the heart of the bazaar area:

And this temple, the Kurinji Andavar Temple is on the edge of town close to Chettiyar Park:

Given that Kodaikanal was built in a position chosen by Christian missionaries, I will not dwell further on these non-Christian places of worship. 


Saturday, 17 August 2013


The former headquarters of the White Star Line in Liverpool

A Chinaman and a Jew are sitting together in a railway compartment.
After a while, the Jew gets up and hits the Chinaman.
“Why did you hit me?” asks the victim.
“For Pearl Harbour,” the Jew replies.
“But I’m Chinese”
“Chinese, Japanese it’s all the same to me.”

The train continues on its way.
Some hours later, the Chinaman gets up, and hits the Jew.
“Why did you do that, already?”
“For the Titanic”
“But I’m Jewish.”
“Iceberg, Greenberg, it’s all the same to me.”

This afternoon (17 Aug 2013), we attended a performance of Titanic at the Southwark Playhouse. It is a musical drama written in 1997. It is based on a book by Peter Stone. Its lyrics and music were composed by Maury Yeston (born 1945).

This music drama rivals any that the Brecht/Weill team wrote. It is dramatic, powerful, incisive, interesting, informative, and brilliant musically.  Titanic addresses the important social problems of the class system such that existed just before the First World War (‘WW1’), and still linger on today. The cast directed by Danielle Tarento sing and act beautifully. They mesmerised the audience with their energy, acting skills, and, not least, their beautiful singing. This performance of a drama with great political significance is all of the following: humorous, tear-jerking, exciting, moving, thoughtful, and realistic. As the drama unfolded, it was difficult to believe that we were not aboard that ill-fated liner.

The sinking of the Titanic in April 1912 serves as an unintentionally true-life allegory of much of the 20th century. The liner, built by Harland and Wolff in Liverpool for The White Star Line, was described as being unsinkable. As an Unknown Titanic crew member is supposed to have said to an embarking passenger, Mrs Sylvia Caldwell,
            “God himself could not sink this ship!” (see note  below)
Similarly, several years later, the words, “The war to end all wars” became well-known. Yet, this was not to be the case. Just as the captain of the Titanic failed to heed and act on the dangers posed by the icebergs towards which they were speeding recklessly, the leaders of the Western World and elsewhere failed to take seriously the clear warning signals coming from the likes of Hitler and Mussolini.

While we all live our daily lives distracted by trivial, yet important enough, problems and pleasures, we, like the passengers on the Titanic,  remain largely unaware that our world might be sailing towards yet another iceberg.

 Note: click here 

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Monday, 12 August 2013


This is the first of a series of articles that I intend to write about Kodaikanal.  If you should be fortunate enough to visit this southern Indian hill-station in Tamil Nadu, make sure that you buy a copy of Zai Whitaker's excellent guidebook Kodai Cocktail ( publ. by Ecumenical Book Services, Chennai, India: 2012). In it she refers to a guidebook published in 1909 by 'E.M.M.I.' and Lillingstone of Kodaikanal. I found a copy of this detailed book on the Internet, and bought it. The black and white illustrations in this article and others that I hope to write came from this venerable book. 

This article deals with our  journey from Bangalore to Kodaikanal by road in July 2013. We did not travel in a chair carried by local Indians as is illustrated in the picture above, nor did we travel in the superior successor to this mode of transport illustrated below.

These pictures were taken before  a 'decent' road , the Law's Road was opened in 1916. We travelled in a brand new Suzuki Dezire from Bangalore. After leaving our daughter at Bangalore's international airport at 4.30 am, our driver Hanumaya drove us southwards right across Bangalore toward the Karnataka/Tamil Nadu border, which we reached soon after sunrise. We stopped at the RTO 'check-post' at  Zuzuwadi, which is on the outskirts of Hosur, and after a long delay our driver paid the 100 Rupee tax that allowed us to drive in Tamil Nadu.

Hanumaya proved to be a bold driver. Between Bangalore and Dindigul, we travelled along a modern highway. Our speed never left the range 120-140 km per hour except at the numerous toll-booths that we had to pass.  Although it was not particularly congested with traffic, there was some. Hanumaya was determined that none of this would slow us down. We overtook and undertook. If two trucks were overtaking, Hanumaya would shoot through the steadily closing gap between them. If two vehicles were moving towards each other, he would squeeze between them, narrowly missing contacting either of them. His driving was truly a ride of the 'white knuckle' variety.

Soon after we had left Hosur, I noticed that Hanumaya was getting sleepy. The car was drifting - at high speed - from one side of the carriage way to the other. Hanumaya, who had picked us up at 3.30 am, must have left his home an hour earlier. I suggested that we stop at a roadside café, which was part of an hotel, in order that he could take a nap. While he was fast asleep, we had coffee, but before that we needed the toilet. The proprietor of the café unlocked one of the rooms of the hotel (see below), and  told us to use its en-suite bathroom.

We continued our journey after Hanumay had slept for 45 minutes. Every now and then, he stopped for a cup of tea. Here is a shop at one of these stops. Notice that its owner has placed mask-like rakshasas to ward off the evil eye.

After several hair-raising hours of dare-devil driving, we reached Dindigul, where we left the motorway. Had Hanumaya been less tired, we would have entered this town. We decided to visit it on our return.  We joined the road that led towards Kodaikanal. It was not a dual carrigeway, but this did not mean that our driver needed to reduce his speed; he did not. We drove on westwards until we reached the small town of Periyakulam in which there was a huge traffic jam because a festival was in progress:

We realised that we had missed the turning for the ghat road leading up to Kodaikanal, and made a u-turn in the midst of all the festive chaos around us. After an anxious 20 minute drive retracing our steps we saw the sign to Kodaikanal and began ascending the winding road that was to take us up to 2500 metres above sea-level. At first, the road was quite good. Every now and then we encountered troupes of monkeys sitting by the roadside. They scattered away as we sped towards them.

Further on, the road deteriorated in patches, causing Hanumaya to consider slowing down a bit.

We had the feeling that Hanumaya was not familiar with mountain driving. He took curves at high speed, swinging the steering wheel around violently using only one hand. I cannot recall how many near misses we had as we met vehicles speeding down the road in the opposite direction. 

We climbed upwards for the best part of an hour and a quarter until we reached a toll-booth where we had to pay a small fee for entering the district of Kodaikanal. Soon after this, a few hair-pin bends later, we arrived at  a wonderful waterfall called Silver Cascades.

The falls, were were informed, were less spectacular than usual on account of poor rainfall. Near to the falls, I saw something that looked like a parody of an artwork by Damien Hirst:

It was in fact a collection of balloons that formed a shooting range for visitors to test their skills as marksmen. There was a line of stalls near the falls. They offered a variety of things for visitors. We selected one of the many tea-stalls at random and bought cups of ginger tea. This is made with freshly crushed root ginger, milk, tea powder, sugar, and powdered dried ginger. After this lot has been boiled up, it is strained through a cloth filter, and poured into cups. Here is our tea being cooled:

The tea was so delicious that we made at least one special trip out of Kodaikanal to drink it at this particular stall. Its owner told us proudly that his son was a university student studying engineering. After refreshing ourselves with his tea, we continued driving upwards until we entered the town of Kodaikanal. The temperature was about 11 degrees Celsius  It had been well over 32 down in Dindigul. 

We booked in at the Kodaikanal Club, an ex-colonial institution dating back to 1887. We were given a spacious room in the new block. It was nearer the dining room and other club facilities than the rather more picturesque original Victorian rooms:

Before retiring for the evening, we took a stroll around Kodaikanal's bustling bazaar area. 

On our way to this we passed a few fancy shops selling spices, dried fruits, and locally made chocolate, something that I would not advise anyone to even consider tasting even the smallest of pieces!


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