Sunday, February 19, 2012

Ooty (Feb 3-6)

tea plantation

Friday evening I took my first bus trip in India. I went with several of my German friends - Julia, Kim, Carina, Michael - and another girl from France, Anastasia, who is also studying at St. John’s. I was glad that I had a group to go with because I think I may not have made it out of Bangalore on my own. The place where we had to pick up the bus was really not well marked and there were tourist buses everywhere. I think alone, it is quite possible that I would have missed the bus to Ooty. They have sleeper buses in India which are buses with beds that are supposedly more comfortable for sleeping but we were not on one of these buses. We took a non-A/C seater bus which reminded me again why I had resolved not to do overnight bus trips anymore after my experience taking the night bus to and from Copenhagen. At least the Copenhagen bus had WiFi. I did not sleep very well the entire trip to Ooty and when we arrived the following morning, I was feeling quite tired and sore from my night on the bus. They also don’t have bathrooms on the bus and we only made one pit stop...on the side of the road so all the men were able to get out to urinate, but for us women who actually need to at least find some private place to squat - there was nothing. So by the time we arrived in Ooty, I was tired, sore, and really had to use the bathroom. We found a hotel to stay at for the night, dropped off our stuff, got changed and headed out for breakfast.

Ooty - view from Willy's Coffee Pub
There aren’t too many places listed in the Lonely Planet as far as breakfast goes in Ooty and the ones that are listed are pretty difficult to find. Even though there was a street map of Ooty, the fact that many of the roads lack actual street names makes it hard to really find anything - you know what general direction to head and end up asking a lot of people along the way if they know of the place you are looking for. Often people will give you some direction, but unfortunately there are many times when the directions they give are either completely wrong or impossible to understand like “go straight then left” without any specification of how you will know when it is time to turn “left.” We were unable to find the restaurant we were looking for (called Willy’s Coffee Pub) and so ended up eating at a different cafe that was more expensive then it was worth. After having breakfast, we wandered back to our hotel where we had discussed meeting up with a guide to take us to the good trekking spots in Ooty.

home in the Nilgiri Hills
According to the Lonely Planet, the main reason why people go to Ooty is for the trekking. It is an old British hill station up in the mountains and is cooler then some of the larger cities at lower elevation. In addition to the mountains, the Ooty area is also home to a lake and an abundance of tea plantations. The problem with the Lonely Planet is that it doesn’t really tell you where exactly to go to find this great trekking which necessitates hiring a guide. Our hotel had a guide that they called for us and at around 1pm on Saturday, we headed out. Our guide took us on the local bus to a village about 20km outside of Ooty where we got off the bus and started our trek. We climbed to the top of a hill and had a nice, but hazy view of the surrounding mountains and river. According to our guide (which after the weekend, I am not sure how true/factual the information he gave us was...), this was a popular site for Bollywood movie scenes and also the site for some foreign film scenes as well - although the German and French movies and directors he mentioned were unknown to the Germans and French in our group. He didn’t list any Hollywood films that used that site. From there, we walked through a typical farm and home of the Nilgiri hill people. Although I felt uncomfortable walking through someone else’s yard and interrupting their work to talk, the woman who lived there was quite friendly and seemed happy to show us the incredible weaving work she was doing. 

We continued along the trail following our guide through the hilly forests. Apparently, these forests are the home to lots of wildlife including black monkeys (which we heard but did not see) and tigers. I was one of the few in the group hoping to catch a glimpse of a tiger in the wild but the closest we got were some relatively fresh tiger droppings from a few days back that our guide pointed out to us. The best part about the trek through the woods is that we were able to escape the noise of the streets and other than our own walking and talking, the only sounds we heard were the natural sounds of the forest. It was incredibly peaceful and exactly what I needed. Before I arrived in India, I had planned to take weekend trips to visit the major cities of India. After spending time in Delhi and Bangalore, I realized that what I wanted the most out of my weekend trips was an escape from the city to someplace quieter and less crowded. I was glad to find that in Ooty. After a while of hiking through the woods, we came upon Ooty Lake. It was beautifully set by the hills and was a quiet place for us to sit and relax a while. I would have loved to jump in for a swim but instead settled for sitting on one of the giant boulders by the water and just letting the calm of the water fill me with calm. After our time of relaxation, we trekked our way out of the woods and caught a bus back to Ooty. The six of us stopped back at the hotel before making our way to the Kebab Corner for dinner. After we filled ourselves with food, we stopped by a few of the numerous chocolate shops in Ooty, bought ourselves some dessert, and headed back to the hotel for a good night of sleep.

We decided to sleep in the following morning since none of us had slept very well on the bus and we were tired from the day of trekking. We took our time getting ready and after checking out of the hotel, we were able to find Willy’s Coffee Pub where we had a nice long breakfast. We then met up with our guide from the previous day to go for another trek before we had to catch our bus back to Bangalore that evening. We again took the public bus and got off at the base of Doddabetta Lookout - the highest point in the Nilgiri Hills. The best part of Doddabetta was the hike up the road to the top. The trees along the road had signs posted on them with messages like “let nature be your companion” and “it’s sad when flowers refuse to smile back at you.” The view from the top would have been much more impressive if it were not for the omnipresent haze that seems to cover all of India. The pictures I took from the top were pretty disappointing as they all looked fuzzy from the haze. Instead of going back down the way we came, our guide took us past a rock ledge that is apparently a major suicide spot in the region (morbid, I know - we all felt like that information was completely unnecessary for our tour) and had us crawl underneath a fence into the woods. Our trek through the woods on Sunday was much more rustic and less well marked than our trek the day before. For some of us, it added to the adventure and for others, it was a pretty miserable hike. I was very thankful I was wearing long pants and had decided to bring along my long sleeve shirt so that I could protect my skin from the some of the sharp plant stems that frequented our path. We finally made our way out of the woods and found ourselves in one of the nearby villages that is home to some of the tea plantations of the region. Although from the tea plantation, you could hear the noise of the streets, this was probably my favorite trek that we took all weekend. The plantations were vibrant green and it was very relaxing to meander through the plants. By the time we walked through the tea plantation, it was time to head back to Ooty to collect our bags and have some dinner before catching the bus back to Bangalore. We ate at a hotel recommended by the Lonely Planet although I think we were all a bit disappointed and wished we had returned to Willy’s Coffee Pub for our final meal in Ooty. We boarded our bus around 8pm, had another very restless night, and arrived back in Bangalore Monday morning shortly before 7am - just enough time for a quick nap before starting my posting in Emergency Medicine. Namaste.

local bus

up Doddabetta Lookout

2nd day hike through the woods

1 comment:

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