Published: March 28th 2006August 16th 2005
Get, Set, Ooty
The team takes home the famed Nilgiri mountain train.
Nilgiri Mountain Railway is famed for its punctuality and pushcart pace. At 7.40 am, we were 10 minutes late for the train at Mettupalayam, still sleepy as the mist leaves for the surrounding blue mountains. We decided to give it a chase. Ten minutes later, on a noisy bus to Udhagamandalam or Ooty, we were sure to miss the train.
As the old bus negotiated the hairpin bends we clung to our seats. We crossed the railway track and went past narrow bridges and waterfalls. Mountain ridges rose against the frightening depths. Monkeys rule the road. After forestland, tea estates and silver oaks filled the bus windows. We got down at Coonoor to board the next train.
An old steam engine is displayed in front of the railway station. The British architecture, from the railway station to the white church beyond the tracks, is as much a part of the hill stations as the exotic flora. We wait for about an hour for the train, which left us behind at Mettupalayam. Slowly the station is filled with tourists to Udhagai.
Coonoor gives Udhagai a tough fight. Hills, lakes, waterfalls, greenery…everything minus the rush. In a studio, we see
The way to Dodde Betta for an aerial view of Udhagamandalam town
a black & white photograph: of a submerged Coonoor. The hill station, at an altitude of 1,839 metres, was flooded when Coonoor river overflew years ago, studio's owner Balan tells us. I remember the ravines on the way.
The blue train chugs into the station. Again I was fortunate to get a window seat. Now onwards the journey is smooth: no sharp curves, no rubber burning. Mettupalayam-Coonoor railway line was opened for traffic in June 1899 after three years of work on a ratchet and pinion track. T he line from Coonoor to Udhagai was opened in 1908.
Past pines and meadows and little stations bearing British nostalgia, we reach the crowded Udhagai station, 7216 feet above sea level. We skipped the auto drivers and bumped into a horse cart. Six of us roam the town in two carts. Sebastian, our jockey, spurs his bony beast amid lost tourists’ cars and Rajnikanth-windshielded autorickshaws. The other cart suddenly takes a U-turn as the novice boys struggle to rein in the horse.
It is off season in Ooty. Hoteliers and traders rather call it second season. Not too good, not too bad. Not too hot, not too cold. Not
Mist and chill ambushes the highlands of Dodde Betta as sun sets over Udhagamandalam
too costly, not too cheap. A good mix of tourists and natives. We went up to the peak of a protected pine forest to look at Ooty. The bus to Dodde Betta is filled with students returning from schools and colleges in the town. The prestigious residential schools are mostly situated away from the town.
We test our lungs as we walk uphill. On the top, a telescope offers an aerial-like view of the town and vendors their sweet little carrots. Apart from a watery expanse nothing else is distinguishable. Ooty lake sparkles through the mist in the evening sun. We leave the tourists enjoying a horse ride or savouring the sight before them. Mist fills the road in an alarming pace.
Back in the town, boats are being moored in Ooty lake. More carrots to accompany beer and brandy.
Next day, we take a bus to Kalhatti waterfalls. At Kalhatti stop, a shop owner tells us that we have to walk at least two kilometers to the falls. We should have asked for Kalhatti waterfalls, not Kalhatti. Just one stop earlier, but that means a walk on the winding road past three hairpin bends. We debated
House on hills
A lone house smug over a green slope near Kalhatti falls off Udhagamandalam
on whether to proceed as we walked. But the sight of the falls midway acted as a catalyst.
The falls is beautiful. But the shallow water and slippery rocks put us off. We lounge on a rock without venturing into the water. The slanting green hills present a picture-postcard view. Time to return.
On the way back, a river of carrots flows by the road. Orange carrots strewn by a little stream. Then our bus comes across its source: Farmers wash their produce in a stream by the road. A few in the consignment escape to form an exotic river. But nobody cares in this abundance.