There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..

Saturday, 27 February 2016

The Road to Ooty: Part 4 of India's Deep South

The mist had cleared long before we left Kabini for Ooty, heading south towards the apex of the Deccan Plateau. Some 600m high, the Deccan is an inverted triangle within the larger inverted triangle that is southern India. Two mountain ranges, the Eastern and Western Ghats separate the plateau from the coastal plains. At their southern tips they almost meet.

A last look at the Kabini River
We passed through agricultural country, rice, sugar cane and cotton being the predominant crops. A temple under construction caught our eye near Gundlupet. The town, with 27,000 inhabitants, was the largest of the morning.

Temple being built near Gundlupet
We paused for lunch at Coffee Day, one of a chain of smart, clean and relatively expensive coffee houses that lurk beside main roads in the places you might expect them - and in several others besides. Lynne had a cheese and chilli toastie while Thomas and I shared some vegetable samosas.
Todyas journey: Kabini to Ooty

After lunch we crossed the Bandipur and Mudumalai National Parks. At the park entrances we registered and received a list of instructions including 'do not park and get out of the car.' Apparently the tigers might mistake us for a packed lunch.

In the event we saw no tigers, nor leopards nor even elephants, though we did see piles of elephant dung - when elephants do a pile they really do a pile. The only animals in sight were the inevitable monkeys and some domestic cattle. 

Langur, Mudumalai National Park
We did, though encounter several jacarandas in full bloom. Easier to spot than tigers and less likely to run away they are nonetheless a spectacular sight.

Jacaranda near Gudalur
The road rises gently through the parks and had climbed to 1000m before we emerged at Gudalur. The remaining 50km to Ooty involved 36 hairpins as we climbed a further 1,200m into the Nilgiri Hills. Etiquette on hairpins in India is not the same as in Europe. Trucks and buses have to take the bends wide so come over to the right hand side of the road for a left hand bend, cars going the other way just swap over and drive past them on the right. It works fine – provided no one is undertaking on the blind bend.

Up the hairpins to Ooty
At the top we stopped to photograph where we had been….

Looking back down towards the Deccan
….and an even higher village. The houses, built on terraces and painted in pastel colours are typical of the Nilgiri Hills. Green tea bushes covered some of the agricultural terraces, though most were brown and uncultivated; the Ooty tea industry is struggling.

Village in the Nilgiri Hills
Outside Ooty Thomas stopped at a check point. We had entered Tamil Nadu some miles back and he needed to register that he was taking a commercial vehicle from one state to another. The check point stood beside a cattle pasture with a noticeably alpine look.

'Alpine' field beside the Tamil Nadu check point
We soon reached Udhagamandalam, formerly called Ootacamund, and generally known, even on road signs, as Ooty. A hill station and tea production centre, though the fertile soil produces many other crops, Ooty was founded by John Sullivan in the early 19th century and soon became known as ‘Snooty Ooty’, the Queen of Hill Stations. The Club, the social centre for sahibs and memsahibs escaping the sweltering plain, may no longer be Europeans only but standards are maintained - gentlemen dress for dinner and ladies do not enter the bar. Last year we stayed in the Hill Club in Nuwara Eliya, the Sri Lankan equivalent and found it an interesting experience, but not one we needed to repeat. Why some Indians and Sri Lankans feel the need to perpetuate a British way of life the British themselves abandoned over half a century ago is a mystery.

We drove through Ooty's centre known as Charing Cross...,

Charing Cross, Ooty
….past a not very attractive hotel with an interesting name….

Weston Holiday Inn, Ooty
I think its one of the Sheratin chain
....and St Stephen’s church, built for the British community in 1830, using timbers looted from Tipu Sultan’s palace.....
St Stephen's Church, Ooty
Church of South India (an alliance of Anglicans, Methodists, Presbyterians and Baptists)

….before reaching the colonial quarter.

Ooty, colonial quarter
Our guesthouse was in a British built nineteenth century house along a street which could have looked English but somehow did not.

Guesthouse, Ooty
It was a fine old building and we were given a cup of tea as we sat in the entrance hall, before being shown to our room.

A cup of tea in the hall, guesthouse, Ooty
The door in the far wall opened onto our room
 The House may have been nineteenth century, but the decor, plumbing and electrics had clearly been updated – in the late 1940s or early 50s.

Our room in Ooty. The television apart nothing has changed since the 1940s
We did little more than park our cases before driving the short distance to the Botanical Gardens.

India in flowers, Ooty Botanical Garden
Laid out by experts from Kew, the gardens were also a 19th century British creation, but one that has been well maintained and updated.

Ooty Botanical Gardens
Walking up the hillside laid out with a variety of gardens was good exercise but much easier than it would have been in the heat of Mysore or Kabini. Late afternoon in Ooty was like the end of a fine English summer’s day.
Ooty Botanical Gardens
Indian authorities love ‘do not’ signs, ineffective and sometimes counterproductive though they may be. Without the sign Lynne would not have thought of touching the hedge, but behind her back…..

Rebellious Lynne surreptitiously interferes with a hedge

And these guys cannot even read, though they would take no notice if they could.

Can't read, don't care anyway, Ooty Botanical Garden
The gardens are a popular Saturday afternoon excursion and was teeming with visitors. Sometimes in India the crowds are as colourful as the flowers.

Ooty Botanical Gardens
 After the gardens Thomas drove us down to Ooty Lake, the drive giving us a good view up from the lower part of town. The soil and climate suit market gardening very well.

Ooty from near the Ooty Lake
The boating lake is a centre of family fun, while horse riding is popular among those who can afford it. Neither were of great interest to us as the sun started to set and the temperature seemed set to plummet. We did, though, like this stall selling palm nuts. Closely related to coconuts, these are the fruit of the palm from which toddy is tapped. We encountered toddy in both its fermented and distilled form in Myanmar while arack, a more sophisticated bottled distillation is the national drink of Sri Lanka.

Palm nut stall, Ooty
Finding no alternatives in the immediate surroundings we choose to eat in our guesthouse, as did the two other couples staying there. At 2,240m (7,350ft) the warmth of the day soon leaks away and the unheated dining room became uncomfortably chilly. We chose the 'non-veg platter', a variety of curries that turned out to be very good. Although the food was hot, both in temperature and spiciness, we were shivering by the time we finished. The only drink offered was water and we retreated early to our bedroom for a nightcap of Dubai Airport Duty Free.

Lynne eventually retreated to bed wearing her fleece. I thought the blankets were adequate for the temperature, but did not particularly enjoy lying on a bed as hard as a door.

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