Thursday, April 26, 2012

A Memorable and Eventful Day in Ooty....

After the two adventurous days in Coonoor, we started planning for the optimum utilisation of our last day at Ooty before boarding the night bus back to Bangalore from there. The Brat Girl had treated herself to one of those green mangoes from one of the makeshift stalls at Lamb's rock with lots of the red masala on it and was paying the price by having to frequent the toilet at regular short intervals! She also managed to throw up the light dinner of bread and butter. We thought that we won't be able to leave Coonoor before noon. However, things started moving pretty fast after I got up by seven and had a long rejuvenating bath!! That gave me strength to quickly wake the kids and have then bathed and raring to go by 7:45. We had heard that there was a toy train at 8:30 or 9:30 ( different people had given different timings). We reached the station by 8:30 ish and was informed that the next train ( the 7: 45 one had left) would leave only at 10: 40 and the ticket counter for that would open at 10!! We decided to wait in the picturesque Coonoor station. We had breakfast and made ourselves at home on the bench next to the ticket counter. You can't buy the tickets of the toy train before hand, you have to get them half an hour before the departure of the train. We had breakfast there and watched the capers of a sparrow family who'd made their nest right above the ticket counter! A group of army cadets joined us in the wait a little later. The Mr got talking to them, they had missed the train ride on the day before because of no seats. The Mr suggested that they can easily take the bus to Ooty and that we were bothering with the train as we have kids who want to take the of the boys answered.." hum bhi thoda dekh lein....." I felt a pang for the young men, who had been children only a handful of years ago, they too were eager to take the toy train ride...
Closer to 10, three Fench tourists also joined the motley crowd outside the closed ticket counter. They were flammoxed by the train charts which had the name of the station as 'Udhakamandalam', the Mr assured the alarmed elderly gentleman that this unfathomable name was actually Ooty! Well, the counter finally opened only after the train chugged in! The armymen travelled second class (tkt Rs 3) and the foreigners and we took the first class tkts of Rs 80 + 100 Rs reservation fees! Two coaches were added to the 2 coach train that had arrived and we all setteled in! The ride is soothing with sweeping valleys and hill ranges on both sides and stretches of forest too and quaint little stations with their sweet names. While crossing the Coonoor station platform, something caught my eye, the pictures of a gentleman and a lady on the wall of the gents and ladies toilet respectively! These were actually pictures of a very English gentleman, complete with top hat and necktie, and a lady in a gown holding a parasol! I checked all the loos in the stations that came along and the same 'English' representation continued till Lovedale, I think and then a very Indian lady and gent's face replaced them till Ooty. The train journey became quite thrilling on the outskirts of Ooty where the train halted abruptly and we were informed that a man was lying on the tracks! At first we heard the man was dead, then it was slowly revealed that he was alive though bruised a bit. The Mr got off and took some pictures of the hapless man! Finally an ambulence was called and the man was removed from the tracks and we breezed into Ooty at 12 noon.
At the station we made a beeline for the first book shop we'd seen in these 2 and a half days ( although it was only a station push cart)! We got some picture postcards and a tourist map of Ooty and adjoining areas and a booklet on the Nilgiris. Then we took a room at a nearby hotel and after freshening up we set off to explore Ooty. We were wondered out of the lane aimlessly hoping to engage an autorickshaw to take us around ( the french tourists had also informed us that they'd take a 'tuktuk' around town that day) when we were accosted by a taxi driver who said he'd take us around for a very reasonable sum (Rs 600). We engaged him as we knew that the Brat Girl was a little wobbly and we were too tired to haggle. We stopped on the way for lunch and headed for the Botanical Gardens first. We took a leisurely after lunch walk through the place. It was beautiful. The speciality of these gardens in the hills is their terreced gardens . A section of the Ooty gardens was also terreced which was specially eye catching. Near the exist there was a shop built in the likes of a Toda hut selling different Nilgiri products. We were amazed to see in the market outside the gardens that the Ooty apples (plums) that we had bought in Coonoor were costlier here (Rs 25 to the coonoor 20) and later we found that they were not as sweet as the Coonoor ones either! There were fresh carrots too, attached to their leaves @ 10Rs for four!
We informed the taxi man that we'd like to see a few out of the way (and hence more interesting) spots too and miss some of the regular points in the standard itinerary, like the tea factory or boating at the lake. We'd already had a glimpse of the lake when we entered and we had already visited a tea factory and tea gardens at Coonoor. The taxi man offered to throw in a few exciting points like the earliest Toda village from which Ooty got its name, and the 9th Mile point if we paid 500more, we readily agreed. The next stop was the Doddabetta peak which is the highest view point in Tamil Nadu and affords a view of almost all the towns around Ooty. The place really had a great panoramic view of the entire region we had just visited. We had an invigorating cup of lemon tea and gazed at the great expanse of the valleys and ranges around. a light drizzle started while we descended from the peak. The cab man took us next to the Ooty rose garden inaugurated by Jayalalitha about 7years ago. The garden was in 4tiers and there were more than 2000 varieties of roses. It was a joy walking through bed upon bed of this captivating flower in all colours and sized imaginable, and it wasn't even the season for them! While returning  from the garden, our cab driver asked us how we liked the garden. We said it was very beautiful and extremely well maintained. He expressed satisfaction in our response. He lamented that mostly Indian tourists were less than impressed with the garden, they'd say that visiting it was a waste of time! One tourist had said that he had a garden better than this at his home. I laughed that this person was some kind of a 'Maharaja' perhaps! On the other hand, the driver continued, European tourists were always very impressed with the gardens! Surely many beautiful gardens adorned their countries, but they always found words of praise for this one, said the driver. While our own Indian tourists were the hardest to impress!
Thereafter, we took a path less trod to go to a Toda village. The village lay on a slope, the cab man instructed us to leave our shoes near a tree and then approach their temple to which he vaguely pointed us to. For the life of us, we could not figure out which the temple might be, it seemed like a cluster of ordinary houses. There was a man ambling about near the tree, he seemed reluctant to allow us to wander into that area. When our cab man cajoled him, he relented. He made us open our shoes and he lead us to a typical hut like structure some distance up the slope. I noticed there were a couple of stone slabs stuck into the mud a few metres from the tree, I wondered what they were for... The kids tread cautiously over the wet grass of the slope strewn with what looked like crumpled buffalo dung and bits and pieces of tree barks. We were not allowed into the temple, even the Todas are not allowed inside, we were told by our guide, only the 'priest' may enter, that too in traditional gear. the others dance around in front of the structure, made entirely out of natural stuff, not even ropes are used as they are man made! The women can come no further than the stone slab on the ground! ( Ahhh! that figures! Women are always at the periphery of organised religion, and bear the brunt of religious sanctions). The temple appeared to be a place where the men could dance and be merry away from the preying eyes of the women folk, an exclusive men's club of ancient times! The guide quickly added that the women of his clan were highly educated, infact his mother, said he, was the first Toda woman graduate! We were also shown the bufallo pen made of natural materials near the temple. He told us about the antiquity of his tribe and said that the name Ooty came from a tribal name which meant 'Man with one arm..' ( ofcourse, a different meaning is given in the tourist book!) which later became Udhakamandalam, then Ootacamund and lastly Ooty.... All the lands around the place were owned by the tribe, however the local potentates swindled the tribe and took over most of their lands before the British passed a law forbidding them to sell the land off! While coming down from the slope the Mr was invited into a Toda hut by an elderly woman who showed us pictures from a brochure which depicted the participation of the Todas in cultural functions. By this time our cab driver was calling frantically for us and the first Toda lady gradute was walking up the slope, returning from her evening walk. We took our leave from the elderly woman, she asked for some money, the Mr handed Rs 10 to her, she seemed pleased! I felt sorry for the woman, living alone in the small traditional hut shaped house, an accomplished performer, perhaps, in her hay day...We met our guide's mother, she spoke in flawless English, showed us the famous Toda buffalo, so sacred and indispensable to the Todas, would have loved to stay with that lady for an entire day, but alas...They had four buffalos in their open air shed, two babies and two adults, each had a name, the buffaloes listened attentively to our conversation. They were not as black as the buffaloes in the plains and a brownish downy hair covered their bodies. While leaving, I wished that they got many more buffaloes! The lady siad that was a very good wish....
Next, we stopped by at the Gymkhana club and the adjescent golf course where Hum Aapke Hain Kaun was shot, it seems. The Mr took pictures, I remained in the car with the mite, i was too overwhelmed by the Toda village! Thereafter we stopped at a majestic dam, our cab man lead us into the dam area through a gap in the wired fencing and told us to cross the dam by foot and try the echo point at the other end and meet him there. We ambled on to the dam and walked lazily down it. The valve on the other side of the dam was open and a water was coming out in a gushing force and was being lead out through a canal. We all tried the echo at the other, the mite was highly thrilled that he got an echo of his tiny voice too!
We sped off next to a secluded section of the pine forests of Ooty, where Roja was shot, we were told. We trudged off into the small wood, picking up pine cones and branches and pine needles. We fooled around a bit, then headed back hearing the plaintive cries of our cab man who was plagued by his passengers' propensity to vanish into whatever place he unloaded them on to! It was really difficult to tear ourselves from the pine forest, though! We headed off, next to another spectacular view point called something -something..Ninth Mile ( try as we may, we cannot remember what preceeded 9th mile!). This was a lightly inclined hillock which afforded a view which had pristine ranges and valleys and unadulterated woodlands on all sides. There was no town, no city, no cultivation and no sign of habitation all around, the sun was setting fast, or else we would have liked to spend more time here. I got a message on my cellphone welcoming me to Kerala! so this must've have been near the Kerala border somewhere, it was a grand end to our adventurous tour.
We headed back to Ooty town we stopped at the lake as our driver had promised to take us to a tea n natural oils shop near the lakeside. the shop was closed, we then headed back to the bus stop from where we had boarded our taxi. The Amman festival procession was due to arrive at any moment, we stopped at a shop near our hotel and bought teas and natural oils and chocolates. We staggered off to the hotel freshened up and hurried to the main road again to catch a glimpse of the procession which had men dressed up as Nag devta, Saraswati, and a mother goddess similar to durga, Amman. We had a hearty dinner at a Chinese restaurant which had the unique system of having the customers write out their order on a small pad, to avoid hapless waiters from getting thoroughly confused by the indecision of  fumbling diners, I am sure!

We boarded the night bus happy, contented and completely satiated. However we do hope to go back to Ooty again, it is the closest the South will have to a classic North Indian hill station. The town is congested but there are still numerous wonderful scenic places to be explored and enjoyed. 

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