Ian Lockwood


Archive for the ‘Kodaikanal International School’ Category

Kodaikanal: Vanishing Heritage of an Island in the Sky

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Cover of newsly published book on Kodaikanal featuring a classic lake scene by the great G.D. Paulraj

Cover of newsly published book on Kodaikanal featuring a classic lake scene by the great G.D. Paulraj

Last week Kodaikanal International School hosted the launch of a landmark publication on the town’s history, architecture and ecology. Kodaikanal: Vanishing Heritage of an Island in the sky was officially released at the KMU by principal Corey Stixrud and the team that put the book together. The book is the result of a collaboration of different authors, photographers, architects and the Kodai chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH). It was edited by Pradeep Chakaravarthy, Anil Choudhry, Jayashree Kumar and Girija Viraraghavan – all members of the Kodai community with a variety of important talents and interests.

The title reference to “sky islands” pays tribute to an idea proposed by Robin Vijayan and now widely used amongst many of us working in ecology and conservation in the southern Western Ghats. Bob Stewart and Tanya Balcar of the Vattakanal Conservation Trust contributed the chapters on the natural heritage of the area. Pippa Mukherjee supported this with important natural history contributions.

One of my favorites aspects of the book is the fine architectural drawings of the older bungalows and buildings in Kodai. INTACH commissioned these drawings and sent a team of young architects to make the drawings on site in 2013. The details and presentation of the drawings makes for interesting reading (though you may need the help of a magnifying class as they have been shrunk down to fit the 10” x 10” pages). The chapter on Poombarai village, with its rich illustrations and narratives, illuminates the early, pre-colonial agricultural settlements in the remote Palani Hills. Like many other chapters in the book, it brings forth facts and details about the town and hills that are otherwise not well known.

In general this is a must-have book for anyone interested in Kodaikanal, its history and location in the Palani Hills. As a contributor (of several landscape and wildlife images) I am slightly irritated that the individual articles and images in the book are unacknowledged (a decision made by the printer, apparently). The quality of maps is  disappointing, given the options available. Aside from these minor quibbles, this is a book worth having on your coffee table.

Screen shots of some of the opening landscape images. In the final print editon they are slighly different and do not include the copyright stamp and author acknowledgement.

Screen shots of some of the opening landscape images. In the final print edition they are slightly different and do not include the copyright stamp and author acknowledgement. These were mainly taken from my September 2013 visit to Kodai and then processed as HDR images..



Lockwood, Ian. “Palani Hills: Then and Now.” Ian Lockwood blog. September 2013. Web.

“             “Up Close and Personal with Trimeresurus macrolepis.”Ian Lockwood blog. September 2009. Web.

Mitchell, Nora. The Indian Hill Station Kodaikanal. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972. Print

Niyogi Book webpage on Kodaikanal: Vanishing Heritage of an Island in the sky. Web.

Wyckoff, Charlotte Chandler. Kodaikanal 1845-1945.London: London Mission Press, 1945. Print & Web.

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2015-05-19 at 9:20 pm

Postcards from the Palanis 2014

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Looking east from Coaker's Walk.

After several weeks of rain, looking east from Coaker’s Walk.

Last year’s postcards highlight familiar Kodai landscapes as well some places from the neighboring ranges. Most of these images were taken in the winter (December 2014- January 2015). Our family’s recent visit to the hills came on the heels of an extraordinary north east monsoon season that filled tanks, recorded more rain than usual and broke the spell of the “failed monsoon” that had cast a dark shadow over much of southern India for the last 3-4 years.

Lake, Boat house, Caelton Hotel & school on a chilly December morning.

Lake, Boat House, Carleton Hotel & KIS campus on a chilly December morning.


Kodaikanal lake reflection, December 2014.

Kodaikanal lake reflection, December 2014.

Stobalanthes sp. and Cyanthia sp. at Shelton Cottages' garden.

Strobalanthes sp. and Cyanthia sp. at Shelton Cottages’ garden.

To the west, over and across the hills....

To the west, over and across the hills….a glimpse of what the Kodai lake basin must have once looked like.

Evening light  on Eravikulam in the midst of the North East monsoon.

Evening light on the Eravikulam plateau in the midst of the North East monsoon.

(Left) (Right)

(Left) View from Coaker’s Walk looking south west to the Highwavy Mountains.(Right) Looking east from the summit of Perumal Peak

Agamalai range from the southern escarpment of the Palani Hills.

Agamalai range from the southern escarpment of the Palani Hills.

Looking west from Perumal Peak towards Kodai and the Agamlai range in the far distance.

Looking west from Perumal Peak towards Kodai and the Agamalai range in the far distance.



A Frosty Dry Winter in the Palani Hills

Postcards from the Palanis 2012

Postcards from the Palanis 2011

Note: In this and other posts I have used the spelling of “Palani” based on linguistic recommendations made by Dr. Clarence Maloney. Other organizations such as the PHCC and individuals continue to use the “Palni” version. I’m not aware of an ultimate authority on the correct English spelling of Tamil locational names, but the town of Palani is so named and Dr. Maloney is quite adamant that this represents the closest English translation of the name of the hill/mountain range.

Steve McCurry in Kodaikanal

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Youth Magazine Cov

Cover and back page from Youth magazine August 1978. On the back cover are Salim Belhany, Audrey and Oshien Khatchlklan  in the Budge (Class of 1978). Yongyut Vutthisisisart (Class of 1979) is on the cover. Images by Steve McCurry.

The documentary and fine art portrait work of the American photographer Steve McCurry is legendary, as is his deep interest in South and South East Asia. I have been one of many anonymous fans who grew up learning about the world and India through his photo-essays in National Geographic magazine. While on our recent family journey following the monsoon across eastern, northern and southern India I had a chance to purchase a copy of McCurry’s splendid new book Untold: The Stories Behind the Photographs published by Phaidon in 2013. This large coffee table book reproduces McCurry’s classic images along with commissioned essays on each of the major assignments (it’s not clear who the author of these is). The narratives behind his classic work on the Indian Railways, the monsoon, Afghanistan -where he photographed the iconic “Afghan Girl” – and other locations paint a vivid backdrop to McCurry’s spell-binding images. What caught my attention was the role that the once obscure Indian hill station of Kodaikanal played in McCurry’s pathway to success as one of the world’s most respected photojournalists.

In 1978 before he made a name for himself with major publications such as the New York Times National Geographic, and Time, Steve McCurry shot a photo essay on Kodaikanal School for Youth magazine, a publication of the United Church Press in Philadelphia. It was published in August 1978 and includes 16 black and white images of the school, its students, teachers, the setting and more. The article was written by Laruen Stockbower and it highlights the school as a unique, idealistic experiment in international living. For those of us at Kodai during that age (I arrived as an eight year old 3rd grader in July 1978) there are images of KS/KIS friends, and places that many of us know well. The opening shot shows Daivu Dhanapal modeling Tamil script to one of Kodai School’s students. She was an unforgettable teacher and bridge to the town’s Tamil speaking community. A small image on page 10 depicts principal Frank Jayasinghe and his assistant Neal Stixrud, who’s son Corey is the current KIS principal. There are a few images of students in the “budge” and the article mentions the uniquely Kodai consequence of “dorm pounding.” The ritual of canteen is highlighted in the article has are excerpts from Wendy Riber, Lyn Krause, Bob King. Mr. Sathi and others who were mentors to many of us. Portraits of Salim Behlany, Joe Thomas and others hint at McCurry’s unique ability to capture the essence of people in his images. My older fellow alumni who lived though this early golden age of the school –the ones that were the “big kids” while we were running around spying on them- will be able to recognize other friends, places and anecdotes.

Selected scans of pages form the 15 page Youth magazine article on Kodaikanal School (August 1978). Images by Steve McCurry.

Selected scans of pages from the 17 page Youth magazine article on Kodaikanal School (August 1978). Images by Steve McCurry.

What wasn’t obvious in the Youth article is that Steve McCurry got very sick while in Kodai. It was a time of a severe drought and water in the tea shops frequented by students and staff was suspect. Several students had contracted water borne diseases and issues of rabies with stray dogs caused significant pain to a number of students. Anyone who was a student at Kodai during this time will have memories of the warnings about water and drinking tea or eating out in the Budge. Rabies also seemed to be a reoccurring issue in Kodai and I remember long lines at the Dish (school dispensary) waiting for rabies shots and cholera inoculations.

Cover of Steve's McCurry's  Untold: The Stories Behind the Photographs (Phaidon 2013)

Cover of Steve’s McCurry’s Untold: The Stories Behind the Photographs (Phaidon 2013)

Here is the opening paragraph to “India by Rail” in Untold: The Stories Behind the Photographs (p. 27)

“Steve McCurry’s fascination with the vast network of trains that criss-cross India was originally inspired by ta classic tale of travel, Paul Theroux’s The Great Railway Bazaar (1975). Paradoxically he came across it during a period of enforced immobility. In 1978 at he age of 28, McCurry had been working for two years as a staff photographer at a suburban Philadelphia newspaper when he decide to indulge his dream of travelling the subcontinent. “As a student I had travelled through Africa and Latin America and lived in Europe for a year and felt like it was time to go. I’d saved some money, so I bought a couple hundred rolls of film and headed off to India.’ He had only been in the country for about two weeks ‘in a place called Kodaikanal, in the south, I came down with amoebic dysentery, in addition to having to go through a series of anti-rabies injections because I’d been exposed to an infected dog. While I was recovering I started reading Theroux’s book about his four-month train ride across Asia.’ Five years later McCurry would undertake a similar journey, but he would record it in pictures.”

The Youth magazine article, small in print but large in significance, presents the ideals of KIS’s experiment in international understanding and multicultural living. It is an ongoing story as the school has grown and evolved with the changing times. For anyone interested in the future of the school, the article is certainly worth re-reading (sePDF link below). Lauren Stockbower, according to my research, has had a rewarding career in editorial and photographic work and currently works out of the Corcoran College of Art + Design in Washington DC. You can follow Steve’ McCurry’s ongoing work on his blog and website. It would be great if we could have them revisit the school and re-report on it 34 years later!

Youth Magazine (1978)

Written by ianlockwood

2014-08-02 at 6:27 am

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