International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year:Tranquil India
& Ooty delightful relics of the Raj.
Marianne de Nazareth
become chaotic, with traffic and crowds and pollution everywhere,
making a break from the city, mandatory every month. So after a
hiatus of five years, we decided to hit the road and do
Ooty (Ootacamund) and Coonoor for three days.
Taking off very
early at 5am in the morning from Bangalore, we hit the Mysore Road before
the traffic jams of office goers choked the area with their vehicles.
The Mysore Road is a dream and besides the horrid speed breakers erected
by villagers around their habitation on the way, it is a ribbon of a
road, and a delight for a motorist. The flowers blooming in the centre
of the 6 lane highway make the whole experience different from the drudge
it was when we were kids. On the way there are Baristas and McDonald
cafes serving the usual fast food fare which I detest. Instead we normally
stop off at Kamaths with its local fast foods of Dosas
and idli/vadas to be savoured dunked in sambhar and washed down with
piping hot filter kapi.
Mysore was ablaze with the Gulmohur avenues in different shades of crimson
and deep orange. They say its the minerals in the soil that give
the flowers their different colour. Something like the trees in the
west in Autumn with their differing shades of red and yellow. The city
is still pretty laid back with its wide avenues and the central show
piece--- the glittering Maharajas palace.
Soon we were out of the city heading for the Nilgiris hills where Ooty
and Coonoor are located. These hill stations as they are called were
discovered by the British and where they fled to escape the heat of
the plains in the summer. Here they built their colonial summer residences
some of which are maintained as heritage hotels like Glyngarth Villa.
This is a boutique hotel run by Shahid Sait which he has refurbished
to give his guests the true blue feel of what it was to live in these
homes in days gone by. Until recently even the bathrooms were maintained
like in the days of the Raj with bucket baths and little stools to sit
on while you poured the water over you. Your valet brought in hot water
heated on wood in the garden through a little staircase which ran through
the turrets and out the back! "Today my guests demand tiled baths
with fancy shower cubicles so I have had to do away with the old bathrooms,"
reveals Shahid regretfully. However the tall and brooding Cypress trees
still stand sentinel around the property and were probably growing there
before the 150 year old mansion was constructed.
in Ooty is plentiful in the Upper and Lower Bazaar Road. However
the Co-operative Supermarket just off Charing Cross sells all the
spices like cinnamon, cloves, pepper, cardamom and fresh honey and
tea. Pick up all your gifts to take home from here as the prices
are the best and the quality too- top of the line. If you are looking
for serious shopping then head for the stores selling Toda tribal
jewellery in silver and embroidered shawls which are not inexpensive
but worth investing in.
All along the road
which is what we considered a shopping mall in the old days, one can
find shops selling a variety of Ooty chocolates. They are meant for
the Indian palate gooey and milky with different additions like
nuts or raisins. Absolutely divine!Ooty has a botanical garden which
is filled with rare trees and flowers and May is the season when the
flower shows abound. Entry to the gardens is inexpensive at Rs.5 and
adult and Rs 2 for a child. Still cameras are charged at Rs 25 but its
worth taking them in as the flower show is spectacular. A legacy of
the British, the gardens were laid out in 1847 by the Marquis of Tweedale
and is spread over 55 acres.
Today it is maintained by the Horticultural department and the government
of Tamil Nadu. In the gardens you can find a cork tree, a monkey puzzle
tree (monkeys cannot climb this tree!) and the paper bark tree. A glass
house contains rare species of orchids and a huge variety of ferns which
set the visitors clicking away with their digi cams. To the East of
the garden one can visit a Toda mund (hill) where the Todas, the native
tribe of the region live.
20 km away from Ooty is Coonoor. At the entrance of Coonoor is the
Coonoor Railway station surrounded with ancient Cypress trees. The
station is again built by the British and we waited at the level
crossing for the Nilgiris Express, a UNESCO world heritage train
chugged by at 15 km an hour! It is a beautiful steam engine and
belches out huge clouds of black sooty smoke as it steams into the
station. There is an old steam engine on display on one side of
the station which the kids love to gawk at.
In Coonoor we had
come in search of Citronella oil (lemon grass) as it is excellent to
keep mosquitos away. Just a drop when the maid swabs the floors
keeps the house smelling fragrant and drives away all sorts of insect
pests. We finally found a shop near the Municipal bus stand, selling
it at Rs100 a miniscule bottle, so we bought several since they cannot
be had in Bangalore. Coonoor too has a beautiful Botanical garden called
Sims Park which was established in 1874.
have a favourite spice garden called the Kurumba Village
resort which we stayed in and from there went around visiting Ooty
and Coonoor. Kurumba is situated on the 5/6th hairpin bend down
from Coonoor to Coimbatore and is owned by a young man named Sanjay
who is a professional trained in Switzerland in the hospitality
business. Obviously the hospitality at the resort is of world class
standards. The resort is eco friendly too with solar and rainwater
harvesting mechanisms in place. And, if you a bird watcher, Kurumba
is the place to be as the surrounding jungles harbour an amazing
variety of bird life including the elusive Malabar Whistling Thrush.
Three days just
flew by for us, but Ooty and Coonoor still hold the old magic of hill
stations if you keep away from the regular touristy spots.
© Marianne de Nazareth June 2009
mariannedenazareth at yahoo.co.uk
moments in travel
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