Friday, April 20, 2012

Hilly Sojourn: Coonoor- Ooty

The Mr and I had last undertaken a family trip almost a year ago! We were getting a bit restless as a rest, so we planned a quick trip to the nearest hill station- Ooty and its nearest satellite town Coonoor. Now, we had heard and read about all sorts of negative stuff about Ooty, that it was too congested, that the filmwallas had made the place too commercialised etc etc. therefore our plan was to hit the more serene Coonoor as soon as we could. We took the night bus from Bangalore at 10:30pm and reached Ooty bus stand bright and early (by 6am). It was freezing cold (the Mr had spoken to the Coonoor hotel which had informed him that it was warm weather there). We were wearing long sleeved clothes to ward off the bus ac, so we managed.Therewas a resourceful wollen cap seller near at hand, waiting for the likes of us unprepared folks so the Brat Girl got a cap for herself and we were off to Coonoor by the first available autorickshaw which demanded 450Rs!The ride was thrilling with tall pines and flowering trees all along the way and the refreshing smell of the mountains. It felt like the air of one of the Himachali hills stations that we were so used to while living in Delhi. The South Indian hill stations are lower, less cooler and exudes a diffrent smell an feel altogether!
We reached our hotel bright and early and after taking a look at the beautiful view of a section of a tea garden from the room balcony, we were all charged up and ready to explore the place.We changed into our new year finery (the day was poila boishak, the Bengali new year day)and set off on foot to the upper Coonoor market road (Bedford), we had breakfast and walked to the Coocoor Botanical gardens also known as 'Sim's Park'. It is a naturally terreced garden which had four tiers ending at the bottom in a small lake in which one can do some boating. There are beautiful gigantic trees and winding stairways on both sides that lead to the well of the garden where the lake is located. The mite in his excitement to reach the lake took a tumble on the pathway and stracthed himself above the lip. He remained whiney for sometime but by the time we were out of the gardens he had put it behind him. Thereafter we engaged an autorickshaw driver to take us to the various places of interest in the town for a price of Rs 550.Our first destination was 'Dolphin's Nose', on the way there we stopped at another view point 'Lady Canning's Seat' which is not favoured by tourists nowadays. The Mr had read about the place and hence made the reluctant auto driver stop for us. These are the times that the times that the love and respect overflows for the Mr, you can never say that he has not done the research on our travel destination! Infact he brings print outs from travel blogs and information sites and leaves them in strategic positions at home so that I am motivated to read them, but he highly underestimates my laziness in such matters!
Lady Cannings seat has a quaint concrete 'umbrella' much scratched with names of lovers and prior visitors. The view is sweeping and gives an instant sense of calm. What a nice way to unwind!
Dolphin's nose is a mountain face that juts out roughly in the shape of a dolphin's nose and affords great views on three sides- of Catherine's fall, of a toda village and hills and valley's all around. The telescope man has thrown in the view of a recently built water amusement park!! I think that park should pay the man for the free publicity!There are a lot of 'instant family photograph' fellows all over the place in this region with prices varying from Rs60 - 40, we were not tempted! However, there is a lack of any kind of information- maps, picture post cards and the like at any of the places we visited.
From Dolphin's nose, we set off to a tea factory one of the noted ones in these parts. We had a guide who had lost one of his hands to the large machines in the factory! He showed us how the leaves are sorted, dried, rolled and packaged. It was an illuminating tour. The place had a strong but pleasant smell of tea. We yearned for a cuppa but our auto driver had a special garden in mind for that exercise! After the tour of the factory we headed for another famous view point- Lamb's Rock. A short stone walkway down a hilly path leads to a sloping rock clearing from which there is a breath taking view of hill ranges and valleys. It is possible to spend an entire day here with a book, but we were yearning for masala tea!
Our last stop was the tea garden which is a property of the yesteryear actress Mumtaz and her husband. Slope upon slope of tea bushes greated us. There is a small shop which sells to products of Coonoor, flavoured teas, spices and medicinal oils. One of the shop assistants cam ewith us to explain about the tea pluckingetc. There was the mandatory instant photo person too. This time we relented and the Brat had her picture taken dressed as a traditional tea picker. Most of the tea pluckers we saw had pulled on a shirt over their saris and gotten down to business!!
At last we got to the tea shop and tasted chocolate tea and masala tea, the kids loved chocolate tea!
After the hectic sight seeing we returned to the hotel to a hot buffet meal of rice sambhar, 2types of vegetables, curd rice rasam and payasam, all for only Rs 60! Needless to say, we crashed out completely after that only to surface when it was nearly getting dark. We ventured out in the evening and took the route opposite to the one we had taken in the morning only to discover that the 'Figure of Eight' road led us to exactly the same spot that we had gone to in the morning by a longer circular path...these hill roads are crazy!The Mr discovered that he'd forgotten to get a key cable used to download pic from and charge our camera, he walked back to the hotel while the kids and I ambled about in the market buying biscuits and other necessities. The funny thing is that NONE of the shops had Coonoor flavoured tea on offer! you could buy as many tea packets as you want but no one will prepare a masala or chocolate or green tea for you. We finally had to settle for a Nescafe machine coffee from a local bakery. One could make a fortune from a Chai bar at the bedford market, seriously!
The Quality restaurant at Bedford is supposed to be good but there is only buffet dinner which we didn't feel up to at that time so we went to 'Dragon' a Chinese place in the main square. After a hearty meal we took an auto back to the hotel.
On the next day, we were up bright and early to catch the bus to Kotagiri. The bus service between Kotagiri and Coonoor is very good with buses at every half hour.We took the 8:30am bus and reached Kotagiri at under an hour. The journey was enjoyable, the bus was not overcrowded and the hills and valleys provided a great view. At Kotagiri we had to wait for some time to catch the bus to Kodanadu (our destination).I picked up beautiful and fragrant jasmine flowers for my hair. At only 10Rs for a hand's length they were a treat! At Coonoor we had encountered a flower lady who had actually asked for Rs 30 for a similar length of these flower garlands! We had finally settled for 20! In Bangalore its price ranges from 10 - 25 depending on the season, but the flowers here were larger and were strung on thicker thread. The fragrance is so enduring that I can still smell the flowers in my hair, even after shampooing!I wore the flowers throughout our stay even though the Mr called me 'Chameli Bai' for my troubles!
The Kodanadu bus arrived, this service is also very good and punctual and takes tourists right upto the famous Kodanadu view point. The bus had a lovely poster depicting Islam Hinduism and Christianity together laminated and hung up on the windshield. Not separate pictures but on a single sheet, maybe there are drivers of all three faiths driving this bus. Somehow it renewed my hopes of harmony and peaceful coexistence amongst faiths that is the essence of our national character...
Kodanadu view point is a pure thriller! Flanked by huge tea estates, nestled in a reserved forest area it provides a spectacular view of the mountain ranges and valley below. We finally got some decent masala tea at the outlet near the watch tower. There was a huge river winding its way across the valley below, there was also a quaint hillock with three prongs which looked dramatic amidst the flat land around it. We spent a good half hour just gazing at the scenery. We walked about half a kilometer back toward another viewing point and caught the return bus from there.We reached the hotel at lunch time where the scrumptious buffet awaited us! After lunch and some rest we set off on foot to lower Coonoor. There is a winding pathway which would land us near the Coonoor bus stand. It was a beautiful walk. From the bus stop e took an autorickshaw to the St John's church which is a grand structure visible even from our hotel in upper Coonoor. We spent some relaxed moments in the church and headed back to the hotel. The city was abuzz with the celebration of the Amman festival and there was dancing on the streets and the market area in lower Coonoor had great crowds thronging the streets. We would be heading back the next day to Ooty from where we had to catch the night bus back to Bangalore...No one could give us concrete information regarding the timing of the Toy Train from Coonoor to Ooty. If one wants to take this delightful train, it is advisable to enquire at the station beforehand. We learnt later that the train that originates in Coonoor leaves at 7:45 the next was at 10:45, for which we had to buy tickets at 10. This train originates from a station before Coonoor.Coming up in the next post (I am exhausted from all this rambling!)- mystifying Ooty.....

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