India - Surrealistic Ooty, a toy train ride and a sleeper train
It is a long time ago I (Nina) was reading a book about an english lady who lived in the Nilgiris when the english settled into India. I do not remember the title of the book (it was actually not the best book I have ever read), but what I do remember is the beauty of the landscape that was described. Somehow I had the idea of going to Ooty despite a lot of people telling us, that it is a really dull place.
From Mysore we took a private bus to Ooty. And I have to admit, never again a private bus in India! This SPN Travel & Tours tried to rip us off whenever they could. Well, they were not successful in the end, but it was a lot of hassle to make it clear that we will not pay more than the regular fare. They kept asking for the money for the National Parks and stuff like this all the time - but hey, in the end, we did not stop and just drove through the National Parks. And by the way, we had only asked for a bus to Ooty, not for sightseeing. They were quite angry with us in the end, but we simply did not pay. The drive itself from Mysore to Ooty took about 5 hours and it was stunning. We drove through the National Parks and up many, many hairspins with amazing views over the Nilgiri Mountains. That was the good part of taking a private bus, as they took the side road to Ooty and not the main road. We passed small colourful villages and a lot of tea plantations. At least that was worth the hassle with the bus driver and the guide.
Finally, we reached Ooty in the early afternoon. We had decided to stay in town knowing that accomodation is better outside in the hills. But as we were staying just for 1 night to get the train the next day, it was easier to stay in a place close to the train station. We choose the Mount View Hotel which was ok. Well, the bedsheets were clumsy and had the usual dirt, but at least they had a hot shower in the evening (and only in the evening) and WIFI. Well, and then we started walking around town. What a dull place. We were just wondering why a lot of locals really love this town as their holiday destination. This town has a colonial feel, but nothing since then has ever been renovated. I think even the grounds of the horserace are the same. It looks more like a farming field than a racecourse. To all the colonial touch you have the indian mess and garbage combined with some wonderful smells. It is a crazy, surrealistic mixture which was interesting - but not for more than one day. We continued our walk around town till we finally ended up in a restaurant highly recommended by lonely planet. Well, never trust a lonely planet... ;-). It was a chinese restaurant with an indian touch. Well, the food was save and ok. But the atmosphere was - well, let's say: very interesting. A lot of local families were eating there. The chinese dishes had an indian twist and the dirt you can find in both countries was combined in this restaurant. On the ceiling there were huge fans all black of all the oil hanging in the air. Afterwards we were off for a nice cool beer and finally found one in a dark hotel bar. It was a strange feeling being the only lady in the bar but the barkeeper was happy to see us and the guests left us in peace. At least, we could enjoy peacefully a nice cold Kingfisher.
After a freezing night (well, it gets below 0 degrees centigrade in Ooty in winter) and a clumsy bed at least we had a wonderful breakfast at the Garden's Restaurant with some nice Masala Dosas, fresh juices and a chai. Afterwards we made our way to the train station. The day before, the station master had put us on the waiting list as the train had already been sold out. So we wanted to make sure we could get the train by being the first ones in line for the waiting list. For 3 hours we had to wait - well, we were very happy about the little bookshop in the train station where we bought some wonderful books. We made it and finally got squeezed into the general coach. At least we were sitting at the windows, so nothing to complain about. The ride down to Mettupalayam took about 3 hours with some stops in small villages. The scenery was stunning and changed from rivers, tea plantations, forests to farming fields. The Nilgiris are, despite Ooty, really beautiful and it would have been worth hanging around in one of the villages. But time was running short and we had some more destinations planned. Overall, we can highly recommend the toy train ride. It is not something totally out of this world, but it is a peaceful and pleasant way to experience the landscape.
Once we reached Mettupalayam it was a 10 minutes walk to the bus station where we immediately got a local bus to Coimbatore where we wanted to stay for the night. It was another hour and a short Rikhsaw ride later and we found a very pleasant hotel in one of the sideroads near the junction. The AP Hotel was recently renovated, cheap and extremely clean. We also found a great restaurant (this and that and go - something like this it was called) and had an amazing dinner. Coimbatore has quite a bad reputation as the Manchester of India. But we found it to be a very pleasant, organized and clean town. We were really sad to live very early the next morning. It surely is a wonderful place off the beaten track with excellent shopping opportunities. After a short night we got up very early to reach our train at 4 am. Thankfully, it was a 3rd class sleeper train. So we were able to continue the night. It was quite comfortable and we had a pleasant journey to Kollam. There, we had to wait for 2 hours to catch another local train to our final destination: Varkala. Well, and this local train was exactly the same that you can find when you google "india train ride". It was packed with people hanging out of the doors, sitting in the luggage department and everywhere else possible. But somehow we made it with our backpacks. Well, we stood close by the door but the people were very polite and made room for us. Like this, we did not have to lean out of the door holding our backpack. Unfortunately, we had no free hand to take pictures. But it was a great adventure which, thankfully, lasted just 30 minutes (Kollam is very close to Varkala).
After some action packed days it was time for some beach hours... More about this in our next blog.