A Travellerspoint blog

Wildlife and Wonderful Meals in Masinagudi

sunny 28 °C

Our bus ride down the hill from Ooty was far quicker than and at least as spectacular as the train ride up on the other side. We descended over 1200 meters in about 18 km – with 36 hairpin turns. The passenger next to me showed me where a bus went off the road last month, killing 11 people. There were numerous caution signs and happily we had a very good bus driver who followed the advice on all the signs to drive slowly and remain in either first or second gear depending on the steepness of the slope. I didn’t feel worried; I was too busy enjoying the gorgeous scenery. The homes nestled onto the steep slopes of the mountains made me think of the Greek Islands – beautiful!

In the afternoon we made our way into Muthumalai Tiger Reserve. No one is allowed to hike there, but we went for a short bus safari and saw a giant squirrel, several spotted deer, common languor monkeys, a wild boars, a guar (Indian bison) and a few tame elephants. We got up close to one of the elephants being washed by his mahout, Emil shook the trunk of a two year old. We saw the neat piles of prepared elephant food and watched as 4 adults lined up to receive it. Unfortunately we had to catch our bus back to town before the feeding took place.

The next morning we got up at 5:30 and headed out with our guides shortly after 6. We had dreams of seeing a tiger or wild elephant… but instead enjoyed the dense savannah habitat and later the bamboo and tall trees along the river. We saw all sorts of beautiful birds including parakeets, bee-eaters, mynas, kingfishers, sunbirds, an eagle-owl, a crested hawk eagle and many more.

Our lodging looked out over the hills – at least as good a view as we had in Ooty - but it’s a very small town! The day we arrived there was a strike – the whole town was shut down in protest over the threatened eviction of all sorts of people from the hills. This is to improve habitat for the tigers and elephants. We’re having trouble really understanding what is going on – some people say residents had lots of warning and they have good relocation opportunities. Others say it’s the wealthier resort owners who put on a feast to draw all the poorer folks into the protest. We won’t be here long enough to find out how it all pans out.

We were here for New Years Eve, and decided we needed to have a bit of a party so we bought the lodge owner and workers each a beer, and one for ourselves too. We were the only guests at the lodge - we sat around the campfire with the five staff members, singing songs for one another (we wish we knew more and were a little less shy.) It was a very pleasant evening.

Both here and in Ooty we have had the pleasure of home cooked meals. Though the lodge has only 4 rooms, there is a resident cook who is EXCELLENT! His sauces were delicious, and we had a great time watching his expert execution of parothas – a very flakey flatbread.

On Jan 1 we had another early morning, driving off at 6:30 so that we would pass through Muthumalai and Bandipur National Parks while it was still early enough to see animals. We didn’t see anything new, but enjoyed the bumpy, squishy jeep ride. A little north of Bandipur we took a detour up to the famous Shiva temple, Gopalswami. The views from atop the hill were spectacular and we very much enjoyed the company of our newest friend, Hari Kumar, who had organized all of this for us. We’ll likely see him again in Kerala as he lives between the two states.

Posted by MogenStoft 22:41 Archived in India Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Out and About in Udhagamandalam (Ooty)

sunny 23 °C

With a tongue twister name like this, it’s hardly surprising that everyone seems to call this place Ooty. The town was established as a Hill Station by the British in the early 1800’s – prior to that, these hills were inhabited by 4 different tribal groups. The pastoralists adjusted well to life on tea plantations and veggie farms, the nomadic groups had a more difficult go of integration. Their villages are now one of the tourist destinations here – though perhaps not quite as popular as the visits to movie locations.

With its many mansions, the town is also known as Snooty Ooty and continues to be a very popular destination for tourists from all over India (and abroad). Being with Indians on holiday has been our biggest cultural experience here - there are literally throngs of people – all the hotels are fully booked (except perhaps Fernhill Palace which has a half-price promotional offer on rooms for “only” 16700/rps for double occupancy plus 1500/rps for an extra bed). By comparison, the place where we are staying is 1500/rps for all five of us, and is our most expensive lodging to date.

We’re enjoying the beautiful mountain scenery and the cute, cottage-like homes. Some of them look more Swiss than Indian. Yesterday we went to the highest point in the Nilgiris Mountain range – 2700m – and we were not alone!! Exhaust fumes on the road up may have been a little overwhelming but the dozens of street vendors were happy with the thousands of tourists who streamed up and down that hill. The India tourists were glad we were there… and now there are pictures of us all over India – some people sneak photos, others ask and some rewarded us with food – delicious fresh baby carrots and a deep fried batter covered hot pepper (I’d been wondering what they were like, and they were yummy.).

We were glad to have hired a jeep to take us up, and even happier that we found a lovely forest path after being returned to the main road. It was so quiet! A few hundred meters down the trail, we encountered a family collecting firewood and, with gestures more than words, the woman assured us that we could continue to follow the trail through farmland and small villages back down to Ooty. We always enjoy ourselves most as soon as we are off the beaten tourist track, and today was no exception. We have also decided it is probably impossible to get lost in India, soon enough there will always be someone to ask the way.

We eventually made our way to the Botanical Gardens, first established in 1848 by the gardener from Kew. Thousands of others relaxed on the lawns… but it’s at least as big as Butchart’s – and we found peace and quiet there too. Christian was happy to see all sorts of new birds as well as lots of interesting trees.

Our third day in Ooty included a walk around the lake (waving to the dozens of friendly tourists who had rented boats). After lunch, Nadia and Christian caught up on emails and discovered the local bazaar while Kaya, Emil and I checked out Fernhill Palace. No non-paying guests are allowed, but we ordered some lassis and thoroughly enjoyed relaxing in the lush dining room, looking out over the Nilgiris Range. There are some incredible murals depicting life in the era of the former Maharaja as well as hundreds of framed photos on the walls. Walls are of teak and the big hall had a beautifully sculptured arched ceiling. Unfortunately we didn’t have a camera with us, but the experience was well worth the exaggerated price of the lassis.

We hadn’t really intended to stay in Ooty so long, but we’re enjoying the comfort of our current lodging, which consists of a couple of rooms in a lovely private home – with a view of terraced farms, tea plantations and the mountains in the distance. Our hosts provide home-cooked breakfast and supper, and it’s been a treat to sample their Keralean cuisine – a little different from and spicier than Tamil food.

Posted by MogenStoft 22:39 Archived in India Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Christmas, Trains and Ooty

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone!

sunny 30 °C

Our Christmas was very memorable… perhaps mainly for its lack of Christmassy-ness.

The closest we came was to the Catholic Church in Karur – I think we disappointed the bishop by only having a quick look, but the service didn’t begin until 11 and promised to last at least 2 or 3 hours and, after our day at the factories, we weren’t about to stay up that late! Again we marveled at the ease between religious groups in South India. Veera and family (who are Hindu) all gratefully received a blessing from the bishop, and we noticed a few other Hindus in the church as well.

On Christmas morning, we gave one another a few small gifts, enjoyed our breakfast at Veera’s, checked out of our hotel… and grabbed the first bus heading towards Merupalayam. The frequency of bus service is a real testament to the dense population here - we have rarely had to wait more time than is needed to drink a cup of chai. We checked into the N hotel by about 5, and by 7:30, we had managed to buy tickets for the miniature train to Ooty.

Christmas dinner was in the usual “veg” restaurant… where we all enjoyed our various favorites. Mine is currently Rava dosa…. Emil’s remains parotha.

Today we woke up at 5 am to catch the train – got seats on the left just as the guide books recommend and enjoyed spectacular views as we chugged up to a much cooler climate. Feels like a hot September day: it’s a good 25C in the sun, but the breeze is almost cold and tonight it may well freeze. Though the landscape is a little more reminiscent of BC, the fun of the train was only as it could be in India. Every time we went through a tunnel, everyone hooted and hollered, and there was generally a feeling a great festivity as travelers got to know one another during the 5 hour, 50 km trip.

Posted by MogenStoft 00:46 Archived in India Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Pollachi, Paradise and Productivity

sunny 28 °C

Pollachi, Paradise and Productivity

We enjoyed our 5 hour train trip from Thanjuvar to Coimbatore – as usual making several new friends on the train. Ravi, our new friend from Whitehorse (thanks to 10 hours on the plane together), was there to meet us. After a late supper, we drove to his in-laws home where he is staying in Pollachi. It was nice to meet his wife, Mala, daughter Neha , their new born daughter and Mala’s parents. What a treat too, to have a home cooked breakfast!

On Tuesday, Ravi hired a car and we all headed for the hills. An hour or so later, we were at Topslip. The elephants and tigers were nowhere to be seen, but we enjoyed some exotic birds and monkeys. A person would need to stay a night or two for any chance of seeing one of the larger critters, but we didn’t have time for that! We had a lunch invitation at Mala’s uncle and aunt’s place, and we wouldn’t have missed that for the world! They live on a 20 acre coconut plantation - a piece of paradise!! Cool breezes swayed the trees as we sipped fresh coconut milk followed by the tender flesh. After lunch, the girls and I sampled betel nut – but I don’t think we’ll be making a habit of chewing its rather bitter juice!

Beneath the coconut trees, vanilla vines wind their way up small stakes. We were lucky to get to see them as they won’t be there much longer. The price of vanilla has dropped about 200%, making bananas or betel nut a more appealing understory crop. The house with its low ceilings, wide porch and cool interior reminded me a little of Karen Blixen’s in Out of Africa. We think we could handle relocating there!

On Wednesday, we traveled east again, to the small city of Karur. Apparently the biggest temple there is like a small version of Thanjavur’s, but we missed it as we were there for a tour of a textile factory or, more correctly, a tour of a series of small factories and workshops. Ravi’s brother Sateesh and their “uncle” Veera are partners in the business and they were wonderful hosts to us. We saw everything from the “order” centre to two manual thread dying workshops, a machine thread dying factory, a machine weaving workshop with 3 large looms in operation as well as an impressive thread-winding apparatus. We visited an embroidery workshop – where computer controlled machines stitch madly, and about 30 workers do final cuts and control quality. We also visited a sewing centre where about 8 women sit in a line, their machines at full throttle, as they work on one or another project. It was great to see a complete absence of children, decent working conditions, good lighting and a positive ambience at the many workshops. If anyone wants to learn about where their kitchen textiles are made, we’ll be able to put on a great slideshow, complete with a couple of movies of the action. In terms of viewing, my favorite was the manual dying workshop where the men worked with great rhythm, expertise, and lots of colour!

Veera was an amazing host! A big treat was being taken for lunch at a (semi) organic foods restaurant run by a service organization that believes that what and how we eat is very important to our health. While South Inidan cuisine is already quite healthy, it was wonderful to taste the health-food non-spicy version. The flavours were delicate and delicious! And it was nice to have a more wholesome vada (a savoury donut-like pastry) and a non-oily pappadam.

A second treat was our breakfast in Veera’s home. His wife, Mani, prepared a fried version of the usual idli (steamed rice cake) with delicious tomato chutney and more. Indian style, we began our meal with a piece of bright orange jalabi – how civilized, not risking being too full to eat sweets!

We feel very fortunate to have found a friend in Ravi – thanks to him we’ve had an experience that is truly off the tourist map.

Posted by MogenStoft 23:30 Archived in India Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Royal Thanjuvar

sunny 31 °C

I think this is the only city in South India besides Madras that I had heard of prior to beginning my research about India. Perhaps it’s anglicized name, Tanjoor, rings a bell for you too. It’s far hotter here than it was on the coast – Emil is glad, said he was too cold in Kodikarai when it dropped down to 25C!!

Like most cities in Tamil Nadu, Thanjuvar is famous for its temple and this one is a world heritage site. We visited the temple at sunset and sunrise – the sandstone walls glow! An immense statue of Nandi, the bull associated with Siva, stands high in the temple courtyard and, as usual, there are many small shrines. I enjoyed some horn and drum playing, and simply watching the multitudes of people walk in and out of the shrines and all around the temple (in a clockwise direction, as always). We’re getting better at visiting temples – this one is state supported so there was no aggressive call for donations which made it almost more appealing to give.

There is also a glorious palace here – built in the 16th century. We enjoyed the gorgeous ceiling paintings and thrones as well as climbing the windy covered staircase eight floors to the top of the bell tower. We saw the entrances to secret passages used for quick escapes by the royalty of old – one leads the 2 kms to the temple – which made a formidable fortress with its high walls. The other leads 6 kms the other way, out of town.

We all had fun shopping at a tourist emporium and had our first real taste of success in bargaining… we’ll be happy to show you our royal memorabilia when we get home!

We might also christen this the city of rickshaws – we felt rather royal ourselves, using them like crazy.

Posted by MogenStoft 23:23 Archived in India Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

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