There are few more refreshing Tamil Nadu moments than boarding a bus in the heat-soaked plains and disembarking in the sharp pinch of a Kodaikanal night or morning. This misty hill station, 120km northwest of Madurai in the Palani hills, is more relaxed and intimate than its big sister Ooty (Kodai is the ‘Princess of Hill Stations’, while Ooty is the Queen).
This big business and junction city – Tamil Nadu's second largest, often known as the Manchester of India for its textile industry – is friendly enough and increasingly cosmopolitan, but the lack of interesting sights means that for most travellers it's just a stepping stone towards Ooty or Kerala. It has plenty of accommodation and eating options if you're spending the night.
Coonoor is one of the three Nilgiri hill stations – Ooty, Kotagiri and Coonoor – that sit high above the southern plains. Smaller and quieter than Ooty, it has some fantastic heritage hotels and guesthouses, from which you can do exactly the same kind of things as you would do from bigger, busier Ooty.
Anamalai Tiger Reserve (Indira Gandhi Widlife Sanctuary and National Park)
One of three wildlife sanctuaries in the Western Ghats along the Tamil Nadu–Kerala border, this cool, misty mountain park covers almost 1000 sq km of mostly teak forest and evergreen jungle. It’s home to elephants, gaurs, tigers, panthers, spotted deer, wild boars, bears, porcupines and civet cats, and the Nilgiri tahr – commonly known as the ibex – may also be spotted.
Mudumalai Tiger Reserve
In the foothills of the Nilgiris, this 321-sq-km reserve is like a classical Indian landscape painting given life: thin, spindly trees and light-slotted leaves concealing spotted chital deer and grunting wild boar. Also here are around 50 tigers, giving Mudumalai the highest tiger population density in India – though you'll be very lucky to see one.
The Isha Yoga Center, an ashram in Poondi, 30km west of Coimbatore, is also a yoga and rejuvenation retreat and place of pilgrimage. The centrepiece is a multireligious temple housing the Dhyanalinga, believed to be unique in embodying all seven chakras of spiritual energy. Visitors are welcome to meditate or for yoga courses, which you should book in advance.