Some days, I wish I were the ‘jeep guy’. Originally from Sweden, this mysterious, white-haired man is a familiar figure in Kodai (no one knows when he first appeared). He lives in his trash-filled old jeep, has no designated address, and parks his home-on-wheels at different places, looking for paranormal life. He hasn’t checked his mail in three years and has no phone, he tells me, when we finally speak, one day. He alone follows the right path, he says. Such confidence is enviable.
I remember how long it took me to find my place in Kodaikanal, when I returned to my hometown from Bangalore. At the time, I had more questions than answers: Could I find a way to be in the larger world, while living in my mountain abode? Would I find a place for culture in this more liminal space? Like many that have escaped the city for the solace of the hills, I found myself wondering if I was aware and engaged enough with the world around me, especially my natural habitat.
I received lots of advice. Come to our hotel and talk to the tourists about the perils of littering. Join our organisation and forward our cause. Eventually, I founded The Kodai Chronicle as a way to interact with my environment, with like-minded Kodaiites, near and afar. Our vision was to create a magazine that could play the part of steward, for this unique biodiversity hotspot. Like many towns, Kodaikanal is up against change, in many avatars. We have a history of projects that have been undertaken and halted here: a toy train, a proposed fishery on the marsh—stopped by the United Citizens Council of Kodai, the Palni Hills Conservation Council and others in 2016.
Like many towns, Kodaikanal is up against change, in many avatars. We have a history of projects which have been undertaken and halted here: a toy train, a proposed fishery on the marsh stopped by the United Citizens Council of Kodai, Palni Hills Conservation Council and others in 2016). Over the last few years, there have been reports of other proposed developments: a heliport project, a cable car from Palani; a road to Vellagavi, an isolated village which has been protected till now by the lack of motorable roads.
Developments like this are no doubt inevitable—and some may even be desirable, as those who argue that the cable car will reduce traffic in Kodaikanal will maintain. But what is missing is a larger vision for Kodai, which will be impossible to implement without proper expertise, consultation and mindfulness. We have only to look at overdevelopment in Joshimath or, closer home, in Ooty, to understand that development here is not the same as elsewhere. Mountain ecosystems are simply more fragile, and, as we repeatedly stress, impact us all. We need to calculate a carrying capacity and work from there, experts say.
Whom do these mountains belong to, if at all they belong to anyone? Many of the original inhabitants, the indigenous Puliyans and Paliyans, don’t always have agency in what is happening here today. ‘Newcomers’ say it takes years before they can claim the hills as home. Tourists occupy the streets and forests confidently, even if visiting for a day. Displaced bison and elephants stroll along human settlements and long-term residents spend time in the shola forests, with results that are both worrying and wonderful. All of us have an impact, a footprint that sometimes reaches far and wide, and each one of us has a right to be here. But what of our responsibilities?
We explore some of these equations in this issue. These are personal takes, limited by resources but empowered by lived experience. An account of unique hill-based community needs by a social development professional who set up a collective of honey collectors; the Malabar giant squirrel’s creative approaches to survival, by naturalist Sanjay Prasad Ganguli; a lyrical essay on making like moss from former resident Richa Kaul Padte. I too reported, explaining how eco-sensitive management of the town’s man-made lake is only the tip of this hill station iceberg. As you read, we encourage you to consider your own habitats and your relationship with them.
This is also the last print issue of The Kodai Chronicle.
For the last two years, we have put together issue after issue, with the time, talent and energy of countless volunteers, staffers, advisors and well-wishers. It has been an exhilarating journey, with steep learning curves. Now, it is time to take a breather.
Due to a lack of resources and limited readership, we have taken the decision to discontinue our print edition, and hit pause so we can reassess where we stand. We believe in the value of The Kodai Chronicle, the value of storytelling informed by lived experience in the mountains, and the importance of this perspective in any conservation effort. But we can no longer continue in our current format, given the mounting challenges: the expense of print as a medium, and the inability to pay employees in an equitable manner, to name a few.
We began amidst the pandemic, as a community newspaper, driven by a passion for nature, connection and community. Along the way, we have grown into a full-fledged magazine, an eco-publication that celebrates and protects the wonderful worlds around us, and the Palani Hills in particular. We are grateful for the gift of this time, to have been able to work on this project, and to reflect upon our own relationship with the mountains and Kodaikanal in a new light. We have been able to put together ten wonderful issues, thanks to crowd-funding from supportive readers like you.
Till we find our way forward, here’s to Kodai, to this time we have had together, and to these glorious, green mountains that sustain us all. We couldn’t have done it without you
Rajni, with the TKC team