Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Exploring the hills of Tamil Nadu

Tamil Nadu allowed us to experience India's natural resources. A drive into the hills took us along narrow streets, offered lovely views and opportunities to buy locally produced teas. Wildlife eluded us - except for monkeys that will show up everywhere.

To started from Coimbatore, described as "India's Manchester." Our hotel, Alankar Grande, was fine and had the added bonus of being located in a walkable area. We walked by 3 coffee roasters - totally unexpected. We ducked into a department store, saw beautiful saris being shown with flair. The salesmen would fling the saris into the air to unravel them. We were too conspicuous to even try to take a picture.

Anthony Raju, Ooty based guide
The next morning we took a 90 kilometer trip to Coonor, The road had multiple hair pin turns, requiring almost constant honking to warn off vehicles coming in the opposite direction. Each bus going down was passed slowly and cautiously - inches separated us.  No wide margin for error. At Coonor we met our guide, Anthony Raju (09486450114 with Royal Tour Travels, across from rail station in Ooty). As we walked through Sim's Park he told us that he also guides treks - something that we should consider in the future. He thinks that India's greatest problem is overpopulation - he has 9 siblings none of whom has more than two children. He has two daughters - his younger daughter is finishing her degree in biology and getting a teaching certificate. We always delighted to meet Indian men who take pride in their daughters.

Sim's Park Coonor

Our first sighting of a lawn mover since
leaving US

 Pasteur Institute (Across from Sim's Park)

Apparently one can get tours of the Pasteur Institute. This is clear example of leaving too much in the hands of the travel agency.

From Sim's Park we went to the Swamy and Swamy (really) tea plantation. We had a good factory tour followed by a tea tasting - we left with tea marsala and chocolate tea, the latter tastes similar to Milo. 

Tea Plants - Factory in the background

Tea Leaves Right Off the Vines

Tea - nearly ready for packing. Looks like tea dust to us

Trying to stay warm - it may be 60 degrees F, probably warmer

View of Coonor and storm clouds from Cyclone Thane
moving in

We drove to a few view points, had lunch, and waited to take the Blue Mountain Train to Ooty.

Blue Mountain Train - Unreserved seats 3 Rupiah (6 cents)

Always a chance to give feedback
By the time we reached Ooty it was seriously cold (maybe 60 degrees) and totally fogged in. We slept in our sweatshirts. Anthony announced that if the weather was bad we would not tour Ooty. The weather was cold and rainy with poor visibility. The remnants of the cyclone that hit Chennai and Pudcherry shorty after we left arrived in Ooty. Fortunately the hotel had wifi or we would have gone insane. The next day their was a new year's eve dinner (allegedly compulsory for hotel guests). It was quite a spread of food held in the hotel's car park. A curious night.

Our New Year's Eve garb 

From Ooty we headed to Mysore. Shortly out of town we stopped for a forest walk - quiet and peaceful. The parks and walks are filled with Indians rather than tourists. (Well, perhaps some Indian tourists.) This section of Tamil Nadu is aggressively anti-plastic and we could not take our water bottles on our short hike.

Forest area outside Ooty

Enjoying the view

Later in the trip we drove through Mudumalai Wildlife sanctuary. Our driver let us know that he thought that Ooty was expensive and polluted and we would have a much better vacation if we stayed in the sanctuary. Our driver was right - so if you are reading this while you are planning a vacation opt for the sanctuary.
A black faced monkey

Look closely - an elephant in the center. He is an "office elephant" not a wild elephant, which as we understand it means that he does tasks in the sanctuary

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