With Reena Raghavamoorthy
Want to take home a little mountain magic with you? We’ve rounded up the best goodies the Kodai community has to offer, from organic coffee and eucalyptus oil (grown and processed in these hills) to feminist dolls and home-made chocolate. Many of these products are earth-friendly and made in Kodaikanal, which means your purchases contribute towards empowering the local community and preserving the landscape at large.
To walk around Kodai is to walk amidst towering eucalyptus trees, with their smooth, pale bark and lusciously scented leaves. Introduced to the hill station by the British in the 1800s, eucalyptus trees have become synonymous with Kodaikanal, so it’s no wonder that eucalyptus oil is sold on every corner.
But not all eucalyptus oil is created equal. Some are mixed with other carrier oils to reduce the price of the product, and as a thumb rule, pure eucalyptus oil is generally available in shops that run their own distillery unit. The good stuff has plenty of medicinal properties: it helps relieve congestion and cold symptoms when taken during steam inhalation, and has anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, antifungal, antiviral and antibacterial properties.
Available at Lord’s Spices in Bus Stand Complex (94880 56982). Open 9.30am to 9pm. Rs 235 for 100ml, Rs 460 for 200ml. Also available at Eco Nut Organic Grains and Grams on PT Road. Rs 280 for 100ml. Open Mon-Sat 10.30am to 6.30pm.
There’s nothing quite like the smell of freshly brewed coffee, is there? The hills around Kodai have many coffee estates that are organically managed and home to wildlife ranging from porcupines and barking deer to giant squirrels and rare birds. This wealth of biodiversity produces wonderful coffee too: rich in flavour, aroma and complexity. The kind of brew that uplifts our mornings and reminds us of the treasures of living in harmony with nature. Brands like One Big Farm, Adisarai, Nandanvan, Cariappa and Poz Cafe sell coffee powder and whole beans in medium and dark roast: the medium is fruitier in flavour, while the dark tends to have more nutty notes. For a cup of coffee brewed just right, make your way to Cafe Cariappa on PT Road.
Birds of Kodaikanal memory game
As a biodiversity hotspot, Kodai is home to a spectacular number of birds. You may have spotted them while on treks, meandering walks or about town, uplifting us all with their beautiful songs. This beautifully illustrated memory game pays tribute to Kodai’s avian community, featuring 20 species of birds, including the Malabar whistling thrush, the yellow-browed bulbul and the jungle myna. It is suitable for all age groups and is a great way to test your memory.
Available at The Hoopoe Shop, PT Road. Rs 450. Open 11am to 7pm.
Wild forest honey
Purchasing wild honey is tricky as it is often adulterated or unethically sourced. This is where brands like Malaivalmakkal and Hoopoe on a Hill differ: both are based in the Palani Hills, sell forest honey gathered by Adivasis and work towards securing rights for these indigenous communities. Adivasi foragers have a deep understanding of the local ecology and harvest honey in a way that doesn’t impact the health of the bees. There are numerous varieties to choose from: eucalyptus, kurinji, multi-floral and a special kind made by the stingless dammer bee, which is considered especially medicinal.
Available at The Hoopoe Shop, PT Road. Honey from Rs 450–650 for 500g. Malaivalmakkal Dammer bee honey Rs 2000 for 300ml. Open 11am to 7pm.
Beeswax wraps, lip balm and candles
Beeswax is the waxy substance secreted by bees when constructing their hives. This is collected by Adivasi people when they gather honey, and it is used to make environmentally friendly candles, crayons and lip balms. If you’re into DIY, the Hoopoe Shop also sells bars of beeswax, which can be used to make your own products. Of late, the beeswax is also used to make beeswax wraps: an eco-friendly alternative to plastic cling film that is reusable up to 100 times or for six months. It is ideal to wrap cheese, bread or rotis, or to cover dips and cooked vegetables in the fridge.
Available at The Hoopoe Shop, PT Road. Beeswax wraps Rs 450; beeswax candles Rs 125 for a pair; beeswax lip balm Rs 200; beeswax bars Rs 140 for 100g. Open 11am to 7pm.
The streets of Kodaikanal are lined with shops advertising home-made chocolates, but it’s hard to know which one to pick. Resident favourites include Caesar’s, named after the chocolate-maker’s pet dog and made in the kitchen of Manna Bandrawalla since 1999. Caesar’s has 11 flavours, including orange zest, mint and marzipan, all made at home and available at local stores. Cocoa Bean, Organic Grains and Grams (previously The Eco-Nut) and Meltiez sell good-quality chocolate, from milk chocolate with toasted nuts to dark chocolate with a balance of sweet and bitter, all made in their respective units.
Caesar’s available at Cafe Cariappa, Earthen Works, The Hoopoe Shop and Linen Plus, all on PT Road. Cocoa Bean and Meltiez both on Bazaar Road. Eco Nut Organic Grains and Grams on PT Road. Chocolate is Rs 80–160 for 100g.
Thadiyankudisai tote bags
Stitched by rural women in the village of Thadiyankudisai, these cotton cloth bags are light, washable and feature an image of our friendly neighbourhood bovine: the mighty Indian gaur, standing in front of Pillar Rocks, an iconic spot in Kodaikanal. Gaur are magnificent wild creatures, but it’s become common to see them around town—a reminder that Kodaikanal is, after all, located in a wildlife sanctuary. Big enough to fit a notebook, your water bottle and some groceries, the bags are a great purchase, especially since plastic bags have been banned in the hill station.
Available at The Hoopoe Shop, PT Road. Rs 60 per bag. Open 11am to 7pm.
Pepper and turmeric
Amidst bio-diverse coffee plantations, you will generally find pepper vines creeping up the trees and luscious turmeric plants nestled amongst the bushes. These aromatic and highly medicinal spices are most potent when grown in vibrant ecosystems and procured close to their source, and Kodai has some of the best to offer.
Pepper and turmeric available at Eco Nut Organic Grains and Grams on PT Road. Open Mon-Sat 11am to 6.30pm. Pepper Rs 110 for 100gm. Turmeric Rs 200 for 250gm.
Among Kodi’s newer businesses is the Smritsonian, a venture by resident Smriti Lamech, who sells handcrafted dolls of female icons such as Phoolan Devi, Savitribai Phule, Frida Kahlo, Maya Angelou and Kalpana Chawla, made from cloth and crafted by hand. They are stitched by women from self-help groups including Prowess and India Nirman Sangh, and all proceeds encourage women to channel their creative skills and earn a living. They’re colourful, beautiful and plastic-free, and they make for great gifts for adults and children alike.