This year so many of us will experience a change in our holiday routines and celebrations. One year when that also happened stands out brilliantly in my mind.
In December 1991 on our bicycle odyssey we climbed up into the high elevations of Tamil Nadu, India to reach the town of Kodaikanal which sat at seventy-two hundred feet in swirling mists with thick pine and eucalyptus forests. Kodaikanal means “the gift of the forest” in Tamil. The hill station lies on the edge of the Western Ghats in the Palani Hills.
Minimal traffic circulated in the quiet town, and the fresh, cool air was pleasant after the high temperatures in the plains below. The town offered a delightful place to settle in for a few days of rest and exploration. We planned to spend Christmas in Kodaikanal, hike in the hills, and take day rides without the constraint of our gear.
During the colonial era, the English had ascended to higher elevations and established hill stations to escape the heat and dust of the plains in the summer. Many of the structures in the town had been built during that time period. The stone buildings, cottages with fireplaces, and old churches reminded us of Scotland. We found our own one-hundred-year-old cottage to rent. Fireplaces in both the bedroom and the sitting room provided cozy and comforting heat in the chilly mountain nights. Because of the eucalyptus forests, we could buy fresh eucalyptus and lemongrass oil. Almost three decades later, I still have the bottle of lemongrass oil. The aroma has stayed potent and transports me back to Kodaikanal with one whiff. We took hot, steamy showers and inhaled the eucalyptus oil to clear our respiratory systems. We cleansed and healed from our ordeal bicycling in the hot dusty plains below
A local resort offered a Christmas Eve buffet and we decided to attend. As we walked over along the lake that night, pangs of homesickness echoed through me. I missed our families and holiday meals together. I knew they worried about us. They received news of our whereabouts and wellbeing only once or twice a month when letters and postcards arrived. We, however, were on this great adventure. The homesickness usually vanished when I focused on the next experience. My thoughts of home melted away at the gathering, where we met people from different parts of India, who traveled to the resort while on holiday.
Before and after Christmas, we spent several days hiking and bicycling in the forest around Kodaikanal. We rode and hiked peacefully together in harmony with nature and each other. Deep in the forest, we experienced a side of India most visitors don’t have time to see and don’t even know exists. Our journey by bicycle connected us with the hidden, out-of-the-way places that held exquisite beauty and magic.
That Christmas broke with tradition. At first I experienced homesickness and nostalgia, but the new experiences and encounters filled me with joy. That holiday will always stand out in my Christmas memories. What about you? Do you have some unusual holiday memories?
You can read about my life-changing around-the-world bicycle odyssey in my book.
Bicycle Odyssey An Around-the-World Journey of Inner and Outer Discovery