Kodaikonal to Ooty and Mysore

Trip Start Dec 12, 2005
Trip End May 02, 2006

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Wednesday, April 5, 2006

The journey from Kodai to Ooty was a little uncomfortable....at least the first few miles were as the roads were extremely bumpy, even by Indian standards. I saw one interesting but accurate graffiti scrawled on a local signpost. The sign said "The natural habitat in this area has been preserved since the 1940's." Some wag had scribbled over it....."Yes, and so have the roads!" Two hours of bumping and jolting saw us at sea level and on a dusty plain where we were at last able to make better (and more comfortable) progress. Three hours after that saw us commencing yet another climb up into the hills to get to the hill town of Udhagamandalam, better known as Ooty.

Whether we had got used to the dramatic scenery of Kodai and Munnar I am not sure but the views on the way to Ooty did not seem as impressive.

Raffi had never been to Ooty before and so did not know any likely places to stay. As it happened I saw a number of advertisements on the route proclaiming the virtues of the "Lake View Hotel" I reasoned that someone had gone to a great deal of trouble and expense in putting up these notice boards so hopefully the place might be worthy of a look. We eventually found the place and found that it was a collection of tourist bungalows....all very well appointed and at 700 rupees per night reasonable value. We checked a few others but came back to the "Lake View" and it proved a good choice.

I suppose that some people might describe it as a "One horse town" This would be totally false. In fact, Ooty has a whole range of horses.....Like most Indian towns have cows roaming the streets....Ooty has horses. In fact according to one local paper I read, stray
horses are becoming a real problem in the streets of Ooty and may even feature in the forthcoming local elections! My daughter Elaine would adore this town and would doubtless be setting up horse sanctuaries all over the place.

After a good night's sleep we took a morning stroll around Ooty's Botanical Gardens. These are a wonderful place to relax and stroll in the sunshine. The flowers were not at their best but we still spent an enjoyable few hours (Although no videos as they still cost 500 rupees per camera!) Once again we were approached by several families who wanted to be snapped with us. This was always done in a very polite and friendly fashion and the families were always happy to tell us about what they had done on their own holidays.

We decided to take a train ride on another meter gauge railway (Built by the British) which runs from Ooty through the hills and connects it with the outside world. We checked the times and decided to catch the noon train and travel on it for about 5 or six stations (about 20km's) where Raffi would meet us and drive us back up the hill. We were advised to arrive early, (which we did) and join the queue for tickets (which again we did) Unfortunately there was only one ticket window (the other was being demolished) and when we eventually reached the front of the line we were told that this was the reservation counter and tickets had to be booked 30 minutes before departure..... I was quietly seething....Our train was in the station.....almost empty....all the girl had to do was to issue us a ticket and we could have left as planned. Unfortunately this seemed to be more than her job was worth....So we went away and filled in a reservation form for the train which was due to leave at 1500. Naturally the 1500 train was much more crowded than the noon train (Well it would be wouldn't it?) I had decided to book first class tickets but we had difficulty in finding the right compartment. Luckily our seats were untaken and they were even on the right side of the train which gave us the best view for the video shots I wanted to take. The trip lasted about an hour and at least it was worth all the effort....I did get some decent footage for the camera.

Ooty was going to be our last night in the mountains and we decided to treat ourselves to a meal in the one and only proper Chinese restaurant in town. Most restaurants sell Indian versions of Chinese dishes but this was supposed to be real Chinese cuisine. An added benefit was that Raffi had never actually eaten any Chinese food before (even the Indian versions) He started a little gingerly (You can never trust this foreign muck!) but then agreed that it was very tasty and wolfed it down!

Descending from Ooty on Friday 24th March we headed for Mysore. We passed through a few more national parks but still did not see any big wildlife. We thought we spotted a wild elephant taking a bath in a river but closer examination with my binoculars revealed that it was a domestic elephant with chains on its legs.

Raffi had been here before but always to expensive hotels so once again we would have search for a place to stay. We opted for a place recommended by a taxi driver and found it to be modern, clean and pretty well in the centre of the bustling city.

We decided to do a little sight seeing in the afternoon and leave the main purpose of our visit (a visit to the palace at Mysore) until the following day. In the afternoon Raffi took us up to the hills surrounding the city which gave us splendid views of the place and on top of the hill there is a temple of some importance to Hindus. (Sri Chamundeswali Temple) You may remember that Maire and had vowed that we had no intention of setting foot in any more temples.....We should have stuck to our vow!!! Raffi told us that it was worth a visit...so we went to have a look. This was a mistake. As soon as we stepped out of the car we were surrounded by sellers....particularly men selling jasmine flowers to offer to the temple gods at hugely inflated prices to the stupid and gullible tourists who know no better. Eventually we made our way to the temple to be told that we needed still more flowers....and so it went on..and on. These small sums all mount up and before you know it you are actually looking at a sum approaching the Indian national debt.....and that is before you make it into the temple where the real sharks await. By the time we had contributed to this deity and that deity and given a contribution to the priest...and to the guy who has selected himself to show you around....we called ENOUGH!!!!! NO MORE!!!! Raffi did not help my temper when he said "Why did you pay these people money?...there is no need to! We just pleased to get away from the place but the whole thing was an extremely negative experience which reflects badly on the religion and the country. Not to mention the police who stand back and allow all these scams to take place (doubtless for a consideration).

By the following morning we had both calmed down a little. We had eaten dinner on our own the night before as Raffi had gone to see a film with a friend of his. After breakfast we headed for Mysore Palace on foot. If the temple had been a bad experience it was more than compensated for by the spendour of the palace. It is not particularly old (19th century) but what it lacks in age, it more than makes up for in opulence. I would have liked to show some pictures of the interior but photography was banned inside. However, you will get some idea of the grandeur of the place from the external pictures. The present maharajah still resides in a wing of the palace and his family (the Wadihar's) have ruled the place (with a brief break when Hyder Ali and his son Tipu Sultan took over the local area) since the 16th century. They were returned to power in 1799 after Wellington ousted Tipu Sultan. The reinstated rulers built a sumptuous palace to reflect their wealth and status but this burnt to the ground in 1897. This present palace is what took its place and spectacular is a very good word for it. The domes and the glass sparkle in the sunshine, It is a hugely impressive place.

After we left the palace we visited the nearby Summer Palace of Tipu Sultan. Not as grand as the other palace but still very pleasant and set in wonderful gardens. In the palace we saw a model of Tipu Sultan's fort, the remains of which are nearby and we were able to pay them a visit. The fort is now in ruins but you get a feel for how large and formidable they must have seemed to the young Wellington when he came to try and winkle Tipu out. I the ruins we saw where Tipu Sultan died and I could not help but wonder if Capt. John Harriott (the founder of the Thames River Police at Wapping) had ever walked around this area of Mysore when he served in the East India Company army.

Our next stop will be a national park where we are at last promised to see some big wildlife and I will tell you all about it in the next installment.
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