(This is our 2nd try at this post, the 1st got deleted… the joys of international internetting…)
We last left you in Kodaikanal, though we said that we were probably going to stay there for another night, while we actually ended up leaving the next afternoon, because we were able to find a very cheap taxi ride down the mountain. While slightly more costly than the bus, our 250 rupee taxi ride took at least 2 hours less, was much more comfortable, and didn’t involve constant stopping for more passengers, so the additional 75 rupees or so was definitely well spent! Our ultimate goal from Kodai was the hill station town of Ooty, but we first had to go to Coimbatore, an industrial stopping point where we could catch a mountain-bound bus, and then we were aiming to take an old-fashioned steam-engine train from the town of Mettupalayam (at the base of the Nilgiri Mountain range) all the way up to Ooty.
So after around a four hour taxi ride, mostly a steep winding descent, during which we got to see many amazing views, including a waterfall panorama at one point, though the curves were so exciting for Liz that her motion-sickness took over (for the 2nd time) and we had to pull over for a puke break! The Indians all had a good laugh about that, and soon enough we ended up in Coimbatore, though unfortunately we were dropped off on the far side of town, meaning that we had to ride a very cramped city bus across town to the bus station we needed to go to Mettupalayam. Cramped doesn’t quite describe it, as this was without a doubt our worst Indian bus experience yet, as it was hot, humid, sweaty, smelly, and of course we were carrying all of our possessions on our back, while jammed from every side by an ever-increasing number of Indian bus-riders. When buses here start to fill up, you constantly think that no more people could possibly fit on board, and then at the next stop another 10 people get on board, while none get off! But of course we made it, and dirty, polluted city air had never tasted so fresh, and while our next bus to Mettupalayam was also packed, the fact that we at least had seats made it quite tolerable, though the utter lack of legroom meant that the 45-minute ride simply couldn’t pass fast enough.
The steam-engine train runs up the mountain once a day, in the off-season (which it thankfully is), at 7:10 from Mettupalayam, and it takes around 6 hours to climb up the mountain, though the distance is only 36 km, but the ascent is so steep, a 1:12 grade incline at certain points, which is why the specially-designed old-fashioned train is still in existence, since replacing the track is clearly far too costly. However, upon our arrival, we quickly learned that our plans had to change, since the train was not running currently, due to landslides which had wiped out the track quite severely, such that the train wouldn’t be running until around January 15. So after a quick “team meeting” we decided we might as well head to Ooty, because although the train might be running part of the line (from Coonoor to Ooty), we couldn’t get a clear answer from anyone and would rather end up at our ultimate destination than stuck somewhere in the middle. After a quick, and fortunately amazingly delicious dinner, we then got to endure several hours of the biggest run-around imaginable, as no one, fellow travelers and bus station employees alike, could determine when or where the next bus for Ooty would be appearing. After well over an hour one did show up, but was conveniently full (or at least full for us foreigners, since we have never seen an Indian not get on board a bus, regardless of how full it may be), and so after waiting so long that Anderson started playing football in the parking lot – which turned out to be hilarious as a rather-untalented Indian man tried to play for a while, sending the ball all over the place, amidst the cows, goats, dogs, and even the one she-donkey that was there. Around 10 pm, a woman and her son who were also waiting to go to Ooty, where they live, rushed over to us and said that there was a microbus heading to Coonoor that we could take, for 50 rupees each, that was leaving soon and filling fast, so we rushed over and grabbed seats on the packed bus, which was partially our fault since our huge bags consumed much of the aisle, but there really wasn’t anywhere else for them to go. The two-hour mountain ride passed quickly, as nighttime means the roads are far less busy, though at the price of absolutely no scenery, but since this was our 3rd mountain ascent we didn’t feel like we were missing out on too much.
We arrived in Coonoor then after midnight, and by the time we got our packs off the bus the Indians from Ooty had disappeared, so our hopes of ride-sharing the last 30 minutes up the mountain were quickly dashed, and after attempting to find an affordable ride (an impossibility at such a late hour), we started to wander around looking for a hotel. Conveniently all were locked up, and the one that a few guys hanging out in the street knew about was around 2 km up the mountain, so given our utter lack of options we decided to sleep in the train station, in the “Resting Room.” That means we slept in large chairs, with our bags chained to the legs, though we did manage to get some semblance of sleep, particularly after our ear plugs defined the chorus of barking dogs that all seemed to be residing just outside the window. We still weren’t sure if there would be a train in the morning to Ooty, but buses started around 6 am or so, so we figured whenever we awoke transportation would be available, regardless of what form it took.
Fortunately we were in luck, as the Nilgiri Blue Mountain Express (unintentional Indian irony…) was indeed running, and so we splurged on 1st class tickets (75 rupees) so that we could be at the front of the train, since it is pushed, not pulled, up the mountain. However, it was run by bio-diesel, not steam-engine, since the steam section of the line, we learned, was the leg that was closed due to landsliding. Nonetheless, the ride up the mountain was amazing, chock-full of impressive views of small mountain villages, tea plantations, and, as the rather annoying American (we assumed, didn’t dare ask) family behind us couldn’t stop raving about, plenty of terraces for crops. I’m sure people, whether locals or other travelers, find us obnoxious on occasion, but this family took the cake for bickering about utterly pointless things, and for just being completely lame. We know we’re not super-cool or anything, but we certainly felt like it after enduring them for the one hour ride (or so) up to Ooty.
Ooty, therefore, is where we are currently, and where we will remain probably for at least another day, though who really knows, our only schedule at this point is that we need to be in Bangalore the morning of the 4th of January to meet our friend Luke, who is flying from the States to travel with us for around 5 weeks, which we are both quite excited for, since it’s been a while since we’ve seen a familiar face!
Ooty has been fun for the past 4 days though, since it has a lot more to do than the typical Indian town – as a former British summer “resort” it seems to be a bit more developed, and today it is a very popular Indian tourist spot, so most people here are visiting from elsewhere, although they are not exactly foreigners like ourselves. Highlights here have been the Thread Garden (the only exhibit of its kind in the world, of realistic-looking flowers made by hand entirely of thread yet using no needle or equipment of any kind), the Rose Garden (2800 varieties of roses, many beautifully in bloom), an amusement park (which was amusing to us for many more reasons that the typical visitor – the rides were occasionally unsafe, and definitely dated when not broken down), a movie theater (which is playing only one film, “Dhoom 2,” a Bollywood film that we have seen twice due to a lack of alternate nightlife entertainment – there is none), and then today we wandered throughout the extensive Botanical Gardens (which again were enjoyable for a multitude of reasons, not just the flora but also the numerous photographs we had to pose for with Indian tourists, we were at moments literally mobbed, and were smiling and holding children throughout our stay).
A note on Bollywood films, of which we have now seen two, “Don” (a remake of a 70s classic) and “Dhoom 2” (a sequel obviously to a very popular/trendy action flick), and although they are mostly in Hindi, there are frequent English phrases, so following what is passed off as a plot is generally easily doable, though occasionally a (usually) pivotal scene will occur where we have no clue what happened in the dialogue, but a scene or two later everything will become clear. There are plenty of dance scenes, that then become music videos for India MTV and the other music channels here; each film has around 6 such sequences, which are definitely the most elaborate parts, though the don’t necessarily directly connect to the plot, with at least some sort of fantasy element. That being said, they are certainly the most enjoyable parts of the movies, more so than we really could have ever imagined, and currently we simply cannot get the Dhoom 2 theme song out of our heads, such that we have bought the soundtrack and are trying to rip it into mp3 to upload to our mp3 player, though that is an entirely different (and frustrating) story, as downloading the necessary ripping software is currently taking absolutely forever…
So all is well , our X-Mas was the best ever, just kidding, though we saw “Dhoom 2″” for the first time that night, which was fun, and the definitely non-traditional meals we had were nonetheless absolutely delicious. Hope the holiday season is treating everyone well, best wishes to all for 2007!