It is hard to feel festive when travelling through a hot, predominantly Hindu nation in December. So it is fitting we spent our Indian Christmas in one of the coldest spots in the south. We spent 4 days at Karuna Farm, a working farm with guest cabins perched above a terraced hillside near Kodaikanal, a hill station in the Western Ghat mountains. It was a unique Christmas experience and unlike anything else we’ve experienced in India.
The most memorable visitor on Christmas morning was not Santa Claus (who did leave us socks stuffed with fruit and chocolate) but a cheeky monkey who stole a bag of flour while I cooked Christmas breakfast (fresh chapatis) in the outdoor kitchen. The monkeys here are cute but terribly mischievous.
The farm is set in a tropical paradise, with buildings spread out in the dense vegetation. When we arrived the valley was cloaked in a dense cloud and it was impossible to tell how high we were and how big the farm was. Occasionally the clouds would dissipate giving a fabulous view of the peaks above or the valley below.
Karuna Farm is an interesting mix of permanent residents (some expats and some Nepalese farmers), volunteers, and guests. Every morning at 8:30 we had a yoga class lead by one of the residents. She is an excellent yoga instructor and every class focused on something new. The yoga studio is a gorgeous building with a stunning view of the valley bellow. Our yoga classes were the perfect start to each day.
We didn’t have much to do each day but relax. Our days consisted of yoga, cooking, eating, hiking the winding trails, talking to other guests, and sitting around. The mornings were usually clear and then the clouds would roll into the valley bellow, making it look like we were floating in the clouds. We found a great 2-hour hike up to a peak above the farm with views of the surrounding area.
There were a few nice places to sit and reflect. The Rock – outcropping near a terraced farm; and The Pool – a waterfall with a shady spot to sit.
In December it was cold, at least by Indian standards, especially when the sun went down. We had to wear all of the warm clothing we brought (fleeces, jackets, and socks). In some ways it was a welcome change from the heat of the coast, but we froze our butts off at night. Our little hut was very basic, a roof and 4 walls without any source of heat. A few warm blankets is all we had.
Information for other travellers:
– the restaurant serves good, cheap food (menu). Dinner is free but the timing of the food is erratic. We brought groceries with us and cooked breakfast and lunch, but there is no need.
– there is a big difference in quality of the cabins. We stayed in Shanti (not recommended) which was tiny and had a rudimentary outdoor kitchen and no source of heat. Jamune and Ganga are much nicer with indoor kitchens and fireplaces. All cabins have pit toilets. There is cold running water.
– the cabins are very spread out. Some are next to the restaurant and some are a 10 minute hike. See map with some cabins labelled.
– filtered drinking water is available in the restaurant.
– food is all vegetarian and alcohol and drugs are prohibited.
– there is basic electricity from solar panels, enough to charge a mobile phone. That said, cellular reception is sketchy. You can get a weak signal sometimes at the restaurant, or a stronger one if you hike up to the viewpoint.
– to get to the farm, we took an overnight bus into Kodaikanal and then called for a jeep to drive us to the farm (400 rupees). You can get to the farm by local bus and a 30 minute hike, but the bus only runs twice a day.