SHAKE YOUR OOTY
The plan was to go to Ooty on Friday after led primary series class but someone -- I -- felt awful (sore throat, weird stomach, exhaustion) so we called it off and I stayed in and slept most of the day. It worked; was able to make it to Three Sisters for a massive lunch. I think I am becoming fat.
Ooty is a hill station/resort 170km from Mysore, high in the Nilgiris (India's second highest mountain range) in Tamil Nadu. Ooty is known for being cold, so we made sure to wear covered shoes and jackets and bring monkey caps (see photo, below). We made reservations at the YWCA (turns out it's not all that fun to stay there after all, plus meals cost extra).
On Saturday we left at 7 to make the 8AM bus.
When we arrived at the station, Ammu learnt that there was no 8AM bus, but we could take one at 9. Or we could take one at 8 that would bring us 50K from Ooty, where we could transfer to another bus; apparently they came every five minutes.
We chose to leave at 8.
We got on the bus at 7:30.
When we left at 8 I already had to urinate. I was careful not to drink any more water.
During the ride a woman vomited out the window.
At one brief stop a Brahmin priest got on, did a brief puja (blessed some people, who handed him rupees) and left.
Around 10:30 the bus stopped. "Five minutes break," said the conductor. Ammu stayed to watch our things and I ran out, not knowing where to go, and not knowing if we were in Karnataka (where they speak Kannada), Kerala (Malayalam) or Tamil Nadu (Tamil). Not that I know how to say "Where's the toilet?" in any of those languages -- but I did know that sticking out the little finger does indeed mean that one has to urinate. I wagged my finger at a few people and they pointed me in the right direction. As I was running to the toilet, my phone rang; It was TJ, calling from the US. "I can't talk -- Please call back in five minutes." I did not want to miss the bus. I threw the attendant rs5 (it costs rs2 to urinate in most pay toilets) and ran in, did my business, and sprinted back to the bus, which was still there. It left about ten minutes later.
When TJ called back, he said, "The bus would not have left without you."
The roads got worse the further we were from Mysore. Finally we stopped at the junction, which I think was in Tamil Nadu. Ammu speaks Tamil but does not read it, so he asked where we could find the Ooty bus (Indian men are not afraid to ask for directions). Immediately a bus pulled up and we and 20 others swarmed towards it. It was packed to the gills; a few people got out and a few more got on. The same thing happened a few minutes later. Finally a third bus came. It was a KSRTC bus (ie, a Karnataka state bus). It too was packed. Several people got off and we swarmed towards the door. People began shouting at the conductor, who pointed to a couple of people and let them on. Ammu said something to him in Kannada, and suddenly we were seated near the front of the bus (the top photo is the view through the windshield).
What did you say to him? I asked.
"I told him we were from Mysore."
(Apparently there is some antipathy between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, and Karnatakans stick together. Apparently Ooty once belonged to Karnataka and is now in Tamil Nadu; the the neighboring states are also always fighting over water from the Kavery River).
The roads were awful and we went through 36 hairpin turns before reaching Ooty, which is high in the moutains. The driver and conductor did amazing jobs; I was really impressed, since the roads are no wider than a single lane and the bus is massive. The secret was not to look down, although the scenery was stunning. We even saw some deer posing in front of Bandipur National Park (which for some reason is closed).
We arrived at the YWCA at 2:30PM. Our room was damp and cold and they were no longer serving lunch, so we headed to town for dosas and utthapam. Then we went to the lake (see below), where we watched the boaters, ate corn on the cob, took a ride in the toy train and saw an indoor garden made entirely of thread.
Then we started walking towards the Botanical Garden. It was a long walk, and on the way we stopped at a Cafe Coffee Day (where they serve the best coffee ever). But the waiter would not wait on us. (Did I mention that I only saw two other westerners the entire time I was in Ooty? And that Ammu is Indian?) Finally another man waited on us; I enjoyed the chocolate fantasy cake (which is heated and covered in hot fudge) and a latte while Ammu had a hot fudge sundae. While we warmed up we watched Shahrukh Khan dance up a storm in his 1996 breakout hit film Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge .
The Botanical Gardens were stunning and well worth the walk. We kept climbing up and up until we got to a Toda village. We were too afraid to venture very far in, but an elderly woman came out and talked to Prashanth for a bit. She was beautiful, and wore the traditional white toga-like wrap -- which the men also wear. Then we headed back down.
We were too afraid to venture very far in, but an elderly woman came out and talked to Prashanth for a bit. She was beautiful, and wore the traditional white toga-like wrap -- which the men also wear. Then we headed back down.
Then we were off to the most expensive Tamil film ever made -- Shivaji, which opened Friday and features acting by the high-paid star Rajinikanth, direction by the man who did "Boys" and music by AR Rahman. The guys at the Kaveri Lodge had told me it was mediocre despite all the hype, and they were right. I slept through most of the first half, waking only to watch the big-budget musical numbers. I followed most of the second half though. Afterwards we had thali (a meal) at a Gurjarati place across the street.
Back at the YWCA, our room was damp and freezing. I put on my pyjamas over leggings and a yoga top, and added a sweater, wool socks and monkey cap and piled on the blankets. It was enough; Ooty is incredibly quite and after all the fresh air I slept more soundly than usual.
In the morning we had dosas at a cheap, clean hotel (restaurant) where we'd eaten the previous day. The men who work there were smiling and efficient and had high cheekbones and strong jaws (though for some reason they cut up my dosa and utthapam for me). It was raining and quite cold, but we went to the outdoor rose garden anyway -- where there are thousands of varieties of roses (including ones named First Lady Nancy, Margaret Thatcher, Cary Grant, Dolly Parton and Emily Post). I had a hard time trying to explain Dolly Parton and how cool she is despite the boobs and hair.
It was raining at this point, and still quite cold. So we went to the wax museum. It opened just a couple of months ago and I liked it far more than Madame Tussaud's in London. The statues included Gandhi, Prime Minister Singh and the outgoing president (below) as well as Osho, Sai Baba, Vivekananda, Shakaracharya (who was missing his tiger skin), Krishna and Radha, Jesus, and Mother Teresa. At the very end there was a little alcove that featured the bandit Veerappan, who was holded up in the nearby wildlife parks for decades and was killed a few years ago (there's no pic of him because by then my batteries had died).
By 1:30 we were ready to leave, and went to the bus stand. There we learned that the next direct state bus would leave at 3:50 and take 5.5 hours to get to Mysore. Or we could take a private bus that would leave at 3:30 and arrive in Mysore at 7PM. We bought tickets for the latter and went to the hotel (restaurant) recommended by the private bus company.
We sat in front of banana leaves and ordered thali (a meal). The proper way to clean the leaf is to pour some water into the hand and sprinkle it, rub it around, and then pour away the excess. I of course poured water directly from the cup and drowned the thing. The men with the buckets of food stood there forever waiting for me to dry my leaf with my bandanna (the sensitive western stomach cannot handle the local water). It took forever. Finally, they put down the food, which was OK but not great.
Afterwards we went to wait at the private bus company.
When 3:50 rolled around, Ammu tracked down the man in charge and asked him when the bus would come. "Within five minutes. It is here, turning around."
Of course I had to urinate. But now that I knew the bus wouldn't leave without me, I walked quickly to the pay toilet, dropped my Rs2 and ran in. But there was a line. There were women with buckets going in after each person left a stall and "flushing" the squat toilet. It was confusing. A large woman pushed me out of the way and cut in front of me, so I pushed my way into the nearest stall. Afterwards I walked quickly towards the private bus place. Ammu was still sitting there, waiting.
The bus came just after 4. We were the first people on it. After we were settled, it sat awhile before the driver and his two lackeys got on and drove up a hill. They parked in front of a lodge (hotel) and we waited.
Finally a couple with a baby got on the bus and sat across from us.
We drove to another hotel.
After 20 minutes a few more people got on the bus (which seats 22). Then we drove back to the private bus waiting area, and a couple more got on. Then to a hotel, where we waited. Each time we stopped, the men would get out and smoke. I considered another trip to the toilet but decided against it.
By around 6PM the bus was full.
We seemed to be heading out of town, but then we stopped. The driver and his two lackeys got out. The windows were fogged and it was raining and difficult to see what was going on. We were defintely not in front of a hotel. A passenger got out and returned a few minutes later. "They are checking the brakes." For the next 10 minutes the lackey would get on the bus and push the brakes when the driver yelled. After awhile they all got back on and we headed down the mountain. After a minute they stopped cold a couple of times; apparently the brakes were working. I decided to do Ganesh mantras in my head for the rest of the trip.
After the first few hairpin turns we saw a minibus turned over on its side; it was one we had seen earlier. I decided not to look out the window any more.
The diesel exhaust seemed to be pumped into the bus, and soon my throat was sore. A woman nearby cleared her throat and spat out the window. A little boy used the seats as monkey bars. The lackey started a video and then stopped it.
Finally we made it through the 36 hairpin turns (which are marked and numbered) and made it to more hairpin turns and even worse roads below.
At around 7:55 the lights came on and the bus stopped. "Ten minutes coffee break."
I pushed my way past the others and was the first in line for the ladies toilet. Afterwards, Ammu ate some pastries while I had moong dhal (a salty lentil snack) and Frooty (mango juice), which made my throat feel better.
Then it was back to the bus. I watched the mile markers and did Ganesh mantras before finally falling asleep.
When I woke up at 9:20 we were in Mysore -- at about the same time that the state bus would have arrived.
All for just Rs 125.
That said, I wouldn't change a thing about the trip; Not only was it a test of one's yoga and patience, it was an Adventure with a capital "A" -- and we don't get to experience those very often.