Arrived in Mysore

We’ve checked into the lovely Rooftop Retreat: we have a whole floor of the house, with terrace and it is lovely.

The bus journey from Ooty was surprisingly restful. A/C coach took an amazing route down from the Nilgiri Hills with stunning views, switchbacks and drops. There was a steady demand for sick bags from the back of the coach, although I don’t think any were used. We made about 1200 m of descent in a couple of hours. Amazing views down from the mountains, then up from the plain at Guarda. Lots to see on the way: quite a few roadside monkeys, elephants, deer, a family of pigs and termite hills. We crossed two tiger reserves, spanning as we entered Karnataka.

Stopped for lunch in a service station on the Ooty–Mysore Road in Gundlupet. Most of the passengers rushed into the cafe. We made do with a couple of bananas, spicy marsala crisps, maas mango juice and an English Bar chocolate ice-cream.

Exciting approach to Mysore: passed by Chamundi Hill and the Palace on the way to the Bus stand. A quick and cheap prepaid rickshaw ride to our Rooftop Retreat Homestay, where we had a warm welcome from Nivya.

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Trekking in Ooty

It was really cold last night. I was cold in bed with the two sheets and thin blanket. Bbrrr! Lovely idili breakfast with ginger tea at the Haveli. A bit of a scrum at the buffet. After all the eating we’ve been doing however we weren’t rushing.

We hired a government approved guide for the day, arranged through the tourist information centre. His name is Masi R. He offers Tribal & Trekking, Village Guide, Side Seen. After some confusion over where we are, that used up all his credit phoning Michael’s UK number, we met up and walked from our Haveli to the central bus station in Ooty: we got there through the market, stopping for a coffee there. We took a local bus up the hill, and walked from there (started GPS track) up through a tea garden and onto the gentle approach to the Doddabetta lookout point. Doddabetta is the highest peak in the Nilgiri mountains. Today the cloud was low and there wa no point in walking up to the top peak. We reached about 2550m, so only about 75m short of the summit. There were lots of cars driving up and down to Dodabetta, so were not sad to miss the experience at the top.

From there we walked into a Forest, part of a national park, past the (closed on Sunday) Herbal Horticultural Research Centre. We had a lovely descent on a 100 year old road through the mixed pine and (imported) eucalyptus. The walk culminated in visiting a shanty eucalyptus oil distillery where oil was extracted from the fallen dead leaves. The leaves are collected by the local Nilgiri tribe (I think Kotas) for ₹7 a kilo. The process for making the oil is to burn some of the leaves to boil a big kettle filled with leaves and water and steam distill off the oil. We were offered 180ml (in an old whisky bottle) for ₹250 (about £4). Said “no” to this as it would be a customs nightmare flying home. It did smell wonderful though and my clothes still smell of eucalyptus smoke. We continued the descent, ending up at the Botanic Gardens where Masi left us. That part of the walk was about 7 miles and we really enjoyed seeing the wildlife and plants. We saw a tiny “kurinji” flower on a small creeping plant—apparently it flowers once every 12 years. Also saw some pig burrows, porcupine quills and squirrel sort of things with white-tipped bushy tails. Masi was a good tour guide and didn’t try to flog us the eucalyptus oil too hard!

We walked back from there to the Haveli, stopping for various sights, coffee and chilli pakoras. The Boat House site on Ooty Lake was a disappointment, as was the Lake Park with dilapidated childrens’ rides.

Ate at the Haveli this evening. Lovely onion pakora, with a light tomato ketchup to start. Tried Khichdi (broken rice in a sauce, OK) a lovely Dal Tadka and a Gobi Marsala. Other diners wore wooly hats and overcoats—it is pretty cold here and a clear sky. No beer tonight.

We’re off to Mysore tomorrow—maybe beer’s all around?

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Evening in Ooty

We walked from our hotel across Ooty to Lymond House, which sounded good in the Rough Guide:

Lymond House HOTEL $$ (2223377; www.serendipityo.com; 77 Sylks Rd; from ₹2250) If Mucha and F Scott Fitzgerald partnered up to open a hotel in Ooty, it’d probably come out looking something like this restored English villa. Rooms are all ensconced in Old World/Jazz Age opulence, the dining room (with limited, but very good, menu) and gardens are gorgeous, and the period atmosphere is thick enough to swim in.

We were the first people there, although a couple came in at the same time as us. The restaurant looked good but didn’t have an alcohol licence so we said we’d come back later, after a drink at the (Taj) Savoy around the corner. The Savoy made us gin and tonic with local blue ribbon gin, which was very welcome. The barman looked after us well and we bought a couple of bottles of Kingfisher to take away and have in Lymond House.

When we got back to Lymond House an hour later the couple were still there reading a magazine in silence. They had to unlock the door to let us in and after 10 mins we finally managed to find and talk to the waiter who said we could have roast chicken or chicken curry. We left. I don’t think the couple who had been there an hour had actually eaten yet from their full place settings.

So, back round to the Savoy for an expensive and adequate buffet in their gorgeous dining room which is180 years old. The place was packed, and we arrived to live music (Brown Girl in the Ring) played on an electric Yamaha keyboard (he also memorably entertained us with Hotel California). Highlight of the meal was fresh papads, cooked by a friendly chef and nice service from our waiter, Sanjeet. We were able to drink our beers. 🙂 also entertained by some alpha male chest beating.

Walked back through the cool night with a very gentle mist/rain. A few wild dogs and a roaming horse on our path home.

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Steam train to Ooty

6 am departure from Black Thunder Resort, picking up our packed breakfast on the way. Michael was a star back in September when he pounced in the Indian Railways booking system to book us two of the 16 first class seats on the train: there is a single first class carriage where passengers sit four across rather than five. It is a lot more spacious.

We shared our compartment with two families on holiday from Chennai and Kolkata. Journey took five hours, there is a GPS track on Runkeeper, and also hopefully an altitude graph, the train climbed about 2000m.

Three miles out of Mettupalaiyam the train started to climb using a ratchet system, the slope at about 8%. This was the inclination for much of the climb. The steam train had to work rather hard on sections. It was oil powered and stopped four times for water on the way to Coonoor, where a couple of carriages were added and the steam swapped out for a diesel engine—the track was much flatter from that point on.

We passed through some stunning jungle scenery. Passed over viaducts and saw monkeys and racoon-like things in the trees. There were glorious flowering trees, with red tulip-like flowers. At about 1000m we entered the Nilgiri tea plantations. We had four or five opportunities to get off the train and explore. It’s much cooler at this altitude (our hotel is at 2230m) and our UK layers have come out. It’s a refreshing change from the heat and humidity of Fort Kochi.

The five hours passed quickly and we chatted to the other passengers. Our hotel breakfast comprised cheese sandwiches and fruit and a carton of fruitjuice: the other families had much more interesting breakfasts of chapatti and curry. We made up for it with vegetables samosas at Coonoor.

In Ooty we checked into the Haveli Athithi Bhavan, in a ‘deluxe suite’. It does has a separate living room an spartan kitchen. We also gave a foraging monkey. It’s near Abu Babaji Charitable Mission on West Lake. The mission is a strange Muslim tomb to Abu Babaji, in glorious marble, but with Hindu and Christian sections, including stations of the cross paired with Hindu myths. We’re also close to the boating lake: lots of people in a party mood—horse riding, mountain biking, fairground rides including ‘dashing cars’ (dodgems).

Booked bus to Mysore on Monday and had a lovely Jain vegetarian thali lunch at Hotel Pankaj Bhojanalaya—fresh chillis and lots of little dishes, including a fresh tart yoghurt.

We tried to buy some beer for the evening and ended up feeling like addicts when we were sent to the grottiest anonymous over the counter shed. It was dark and grim and contained grim people. No beer was bought.

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Black Thunder Resort

Caught a bus quickly from Ooty Bus Station to Mettupalaiyam, which was only ₹16 each. Journey took an hour and was quite bouncy on the back seat.

Checked into the hotel at Black Thunder Resort, just outside Mettupalaiyam. They are well set up for our itinerary—will give us a packed breakfast and get a rickshaw for us at 6am tomorrow.

We haggled a discount of ₹100 off entry to Black Thunder Resort, which is a water park. Good fun if a bit ramshackle and 1/3 of the rides were not working and others were worryingly decrepit. We spent about two hours in the park: and the Cortes water ride (on a ring) and the big drop into a ‘U’-shaped course were good fun. I enjoyed the ride racing down a bumpy slope on a plastic mat. All the people were in shirts or trousers and shirts, like around town: women in saris too! Very Indian atmosphere. The wave pool And the Thunder Rain disco platform under a shower were both segregated into men’s and women’s side and whole pools were set aside for women and children. Didn’t take a camera do no photos of how shabby it was.

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On our way to Coimbatore Junction

Heading towards the Western Ghat mountains on an A/C train. Priya made us toast and jam for a 7am start: Ferry from Fort Kochin to Ernakulum, then train from Ernakulum Junction. Train has cockroaches, who must also enjoy the A/C.

The cockroaches also will get to feast on some of my spicy vegetable biryani, which we got as an early concession. We should be in Coimbatore Junction at 12:45.

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Enjoying Kochi

Priya made us a lovely Kerelan breakfast of marsala dosa, with rather spicy coconut chutney. The sambar worked very well with this.

We took today to explore Fort Kochi: it’s Portugese, Dutch and British influences since the 16th Century.

Santa Cruz Cathedral is very close to our homestay and a good example of the local colour in the religion here. We had a look during a wedding ceremony: a sung service, lot salter piece with a glowing halo and twinkling starts and lots of blue LEDs.

From there we walked to St Francis’ Church (1546) a much simpler affair with fascinating Dutch tombstones from the 16/17th C. in very good nick. Vasco da Gama died on the site in 1524, in an earlier wooden church and his tombstone is still there. The Dutch added a lovely gable end over the Portugese church. There are good punkahs for fanning the congregation.

We walked west to the sea and followed the coast path from the Dutch Graveyard almost to the Customs Jetty.
This took us through a great seaside atmosphere with stalls, a (filthy) sandy beach and the batwing Chinese fishing nets. There were impressive and looked like hard work to scoop out small quantities of fish—perhaps the haul has been better in the past? There was also lots of fish on sale in the adjacent stalls.

We had lunch at Seagull, where we sat in the shady, cool restaurant. Service was slow but that was no problem. We had a Chinese-influenced Indian lunch: influenced by the gloopy sweet and sour sauce on the bland chilli paneer. Highlight of the meal was the vegetable sizzler which were two thin cabbage-leaf bowls, presented burning on a hot place with smoke and sizzling. One was filled with steamed veg (nice cabbage) with fried potato chips on top and the other with a gloopy sauced mix of veg. The chips were good.

We walked back to Maison Casero for a shower, afternoon rest and a photo uploading session on the wifi.

At 4 we had seats to watch Kalarippayat—Kerelan martial training. It’s acrobatic, aggressive and skilled. The fighting with bamboo sticks and flexible metal strips (like a flail) were impressive. The front row had to move for the demonstration of the flexible sword, making Michael front-row centre stage. It was a bit uncomfortable as the sword whistled around at huge speed. Went back to see the Chinese fishing nets at sunset. The sunset wasn’t great but the atmosphere was and we had a chilli pakora from a stall. The pakora wasn’t quite as fiery as we were hoping for.

We ate in the evening at Oceanos, recommended by Priya. It was a marvellous meal, although it took us a whole to find the place. We started with fried shrimp in a cumin and coriander batter, which was beautiful. Followed with a light, beautifully cooked puttu which is steamed rice flour with hand ground coconut. Served as a tube. With that we had Kerelan prawn In Green mango /coconut curry which was delicious and a kingfish cooked in a Syrian catholic yellow curry sauce (with fish tamarind) which was dark red!, rich and interesting. Our best meal in India on this trip.

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Dinner in Kochi

We ate at the corner of City Lights Restaurant at Kunnumpuram Junction. We ordered far too much but the whole lot came to ₹275.

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Lured by the availability of a pub we ended up in XL (sadly not the same style if bar as in London). The only thing to have was Kingfisher, and that did rather well.

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Fort Kochi by Bus

With help from Paul Pooppally, a lottery ticket seller at the bus station, and a helpful man on the bus, we caught the superfast bus from Alappuzha to Thippumady, close to Fort Kochi. The bus was good fun and we were lucky to get seats together, and managed to get our bags beside us (a third ticket). By the time we got to Kochi it was a real struggle to get off the bus, Michaels suitcase had to be passed over someone’s head. From there a short rickshaw ride to the Basilica and our homestay.

Maison Casero, run by Jason and Priya. Small family home with three guest rooms. Ours is a small room, en suite.

We walked to Mattancherry to visit the Palace, rebuilt by the Dutch in 1663 with amazing frescoes of the Ramayana We didn’t see the x-rated frescoes on the ground floor—currently closed to the public.

Explored the market a little (for the loo really) and had an ice cream. Also a ginger tea at ‘Ginger’ the place for me!

Followed with a visit to the Synagogue in Mattancherry (built in 1662) surrounded by lots if lovely antique and art shops, staffed by Kerelans with blue eyes. Walked back to the Homestay without being enticed by the lovely stuff in the shops.

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