Ooty – Tuesday 2 – Sunday 7 June 2009
Udhagamandalam was a hill station established by the British in the early 19th century as a summer head quarters for the Madras (Chennai) Government and renamed Ooty to make it easier for the English to pronounce - which was a relief to me when I had to ask directions!!
Once more the camping gods were smiling on us - we had been given a hotel name as a potential camp spot by the last hotel we stayed at and we quickly spotted the signs to the Darshan. We were greeted very warmly by the manager John Allen - a very charismatic gentleman - and shown to a very nice camping spot in the hotel grounds. We ate in their restaurant several times and the food was excellent. Being up on a hill the hotel also boasts an excellent view of Ooty's boating lake - have a look on their site - www.darshanhotel.com
The first thing that struck us about Ooty was the change in climate - for the first few days anyway - it was beautiful, sunny and warm days followed by cool nights - making it easy to sleep. Like the Brits before us we enjoyed escaping from the heat of the plains!
We have become accustomed to seeing all sorts of animals roaming the streets of India at will- goats, dogs (holy!) cows - but now horses! Ooty is a big horse riding centre. Many of these horses are obviously really well bred and were brought here by the "huntin' shootin' fishin'" Brits of old and the local Maharaja of Mysore (about whom more later) who was a keen rider. They are used to take tourists on rides - but when they're not working they seem to be just turned loose- where they wander the streets dodging traffic and scavenging in bins. It was quite upsetting to see these magnificent animals being treated like this. We took to going round with fresh carrots (sold locally) and bread to feed them - like the dogs in Thailand -though dog food then!
As we said Ooty is very English in parts and there are quite a few foreigners in residence. There is a very good international school, Higginbottoms an English book shop and Kings an English confectioner selling very nice local chocolates.
We took a trip out to Fernhills Palace to get a feel for the days of the Raj! Now a hotel this was the summer residence of the Maharaja of Mysore and it was magnificent. Dating from the 19th century it was beautifully restored with antique furniture oriental rugs and teak panelling. The suite rooms were amazing - and at 7,500 rupees a night (approx $200 Aus) not too bad a price for the quality though definitely not for us at the moment! They have apparently had several lots of overlanders stay there - but you have to take one room at least so we won't be camping there! We're very happy at the Darshan!!
Our plan had been to have an evening G & T in the bar, but they didn't have an alcohol license for the bar though in the restaurant they could sell us a (luke warm!) beer. The rooms were also a bit chilly with no fires lit. Probably it was timing but there were only 2 other lots of people staying and the dining area sort of lacked atmosphere. We noted that the people there - obviously very wealthy - didn't seem very cheerful compared with the mass of "ordinary" Indians who are invariably smiling away. Anyway maybe I'm reading too much into that - perhaps they were cold! - It was a stunning building. The old photos throughout the rooms were amazing, mostly of the Maharaja himself in polo gear, with hounds and on various gorgeous horses - the descendants of whom are no doubt currently picking through rubbish! Later on we visited his main palace in Mysore - more to follow on our next page when I get around to it - but I have to say the Maharaja certainly knew how to live!!!
As mentioned this is a big area for "English vegetables" and as well as cabbage fields we went past several huge teams of carrot washers - this is done by large machine and seems to also be pretty labour intensive! As noted on the whole the carrot washers seemed much more content with life than the palace dwellers!
We then took a drive out to the tribal research centre. You don't really see many tribal people in India. They are given education and every company (government ones anyway) have to employ a quota - which is obviously great - but it does mean they sort of disappear as their traditional ways are diluted as the young ones integrate. The museum was very interesting, giving information about the 6 local tribes - the Todas (most predominate their existence revolves around the buffalo) the Badaga, the Kotas, the Kurumbas the Irulus and the Paniyans who supposedly are descendants of ship wrecked African slaves. It was all really interesting.
We later took a drive out of town to see the sunset and though that was a bit disappointing we did see a Toda man on his horse- looking just like the pictures- though in modern dress!
The next day - supposed to be our last in Ooty- we took in some more local sites. First the amazing thread garden - you couldn't really go past the OTT sign and miss the "miracle" of this. Whilst not living up to the hyperbole it was quite interesting - the creation of a Keralan artist an entire garden created out of thread (using no needles) using 60 million metres of thread and taking 50 ladies 12 years to complete. The lady in our picture looks a bit peeved - maybe 12 years winding thread around canvas does that to you! Seriously though it was impressive - if a little strange!
We also took in the Botanical Gardens for some "real" flowers. These were very beautiful - created by the British in 1848, and containing some lovely trees and gardens as well as an ancient fossilized tree stump and the odd English cannon. We were a bit of an attraction too and it took us ages to get anywhere as people kept stopping us to take our picture - maybe out of towners from areas yet to experience foreigner fatigue!
St Stephens's church built in 1829 was one of Ooty's earliest buildings and the helpful warden was happy to show us around. According to our LP John Sullivan the Englishman who actually founded Ooty is buried here - but not so - he is buried at a bungalow somewhere - we never actually tracked him down. We saw graves of various other pioneers here though including Sullivan's wife and daughter - neither of whom made old bones - 36 and 16 years respectively. Tough conditions then!
Talking of tough conditions we then delayed our departure by 24 hours as Andrew got sick - he blames the (not so) hygienic chicken - but who knows. Old iron guts was fine - fingers crossed!! Our final day in Ooty really felt like England as the weather turned and it became very wet and cold.
We spent the day dodging the down pours firstly we went to the highest tea plantation in South India. This had an interesting display on the history of tea - apparently the history of tipping began with the early tea houses - a tin marked TIPS or "To Insure Prompt Service" - was left on each table. If you wanted to make sure you got a hot cuppa you placed a coin in it and your tea was ferried across speedily - you live and learn!
We also had a look around the damp wet markets -have to say the vegetable stores looked more tempting than the meat or fish! Though it was Sunday there weren't many takers for horse riding or boating on the lake! On Sunday 7 June - with Andrew feeling ok again - we left Ooty and took the road to Mysore.
For the very last time (this trip anyway) we left Tamil Nadu but not before we passed through a couple of National Parks. In the Bandipur NP whilst not expecting anything we actually saw a chital - or spotted deer when it nearly went through the windscreen! - no time for a picture then but we did see another herd grazing later. We also saw a few wild elephants in the Mudumalai NP. We came upon a small group -3 youngsters and 2 females. They seemed to be ignoring us as we snapped away when suddenly one of them whipped around very angrily and threw a load of dirt at us. Just shows you have to go very carefully as she could have got to us in one stride. We headed away so we didn't upset her further.
On the road once more we hit a patch of very bad weather - you couldn't see the eucalyptus trees for the downpour! On a chilling note we saw a particularly awful accident- a man had had both his legs amputated by a car and was lying in the middle of the road. It had obviously happened just seconds earlier. We couldn't really help and there were loads of people who had stopped but it was pretty distressing. We didn't see how this particular accident happened but people do drive out on the roads without looking and we have nearly hit people so many times - it does make driving here a bit stressful though Andrew seems to cope well. A few days before in Ooty we came across the aftermath of an accident and later found out a family of 3 had all been killed when knocked off their bike. The roads here are pretty scary at times but we go very carefully.
Finally we crossed into Karnataka state where the sun was once more shining. First impressions were that considering this is the state where a lot of IT big business and bigger money is situated it seemed very rural. It was early evening and everywhere men in traditional dress were herding sheep and goats or driving bullock carts home after a hard day in the fields.
So on the evening of Sunday the 7th June we hit the regal historical city of Mysore - now to find a camping spot!