Have You Been to Little Israel' in Kodai

Altaf's Cafe is the hidden gem of India's 'Little Israel'
Waterfall at Vattakanal, near Kodaikanal
Waterfall at Vattakanal, near Kodaikanal

Better known as Vatta among backpackers, Vattakanal is a small town a little ahead of Kodaikanal, a serene hill station in Tamil Nadu. It is also well known as the 'Little Israel of India' because of its heavy Israeli tourist population. About 5 kilometres from Kodai, travellers can easily be seen hitchhiking and walking to the destination via two routes, one by road and another via a narrow lane through the woods. Vatta was a backpacker&rsquos attraction earlier, unlike its neighbour Kodaikanal.

The only existing hostel was a green youth hostel and its first café was the famous Altaf's Café. Today, Bhaskar, who is originally from Rishikesh, another hippie hotspot in India, runs the place. Bhaskar opened this café (along with friend Altaf) around seven years back. It focuses on&nbspMiddle Eastern and Italian cuisine&nbspThere are various affordable backpacking hostels in this town and several other pocket-friendly cottages to accommodate budget travellers. 

Both tourists and slow travellers can experience this peace-loving town in their own ways. There are various tourist attraction spots within reach from here, Dolphin&rsquos Nose and Pine Tree Forest being the top visited places by tourists.

For a slow, chilled out experience, Altaf's is great.&nbspYou can have some authentic tahini and falafel, with some amazing ginger lemon tea, and a beautiful view of the mountains. Or go find a corner at Manna&rsquos Café, read a book (or do some journalling) as you see people heading to Dolphin&rsquos Nose below with the mountains far away through the lush trees.

Most hostels arrange for a bonfire every night as the cold in Vatta can chill a city person to the bone. Backpackers from around the world and India live as a community in these hostels and cook meals for each other, maintain the hostel property, and arrange group tours to sunrise points in the village.

If travelling and seeing places is not your cup of tea, you can also enroll yourself in rejuvenating yoga and meditation classes organised by the locals or foreigners who settled here.

Logistics can get a little tricky though if you do not know how to bargain. There is a taxi point right near Altaf&rsquos Café where the charges per ride are said to be fixed (around Rs 400 one way to Kodaikanal town) but are negotiable. What you get charged depends on whether you are an Indian or a foreigner. If you want to go easy on your pocket, a solution could be to find a group of people who plan on heading to Kodaikanal at the same time as you and split the bill. Most travellers prefer this. Or you might just get lucky if you know the local language and know how to socialise with the drivers.

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