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Published: January 16th 2014
We enjoyed a beautiful sunrise from the balcony of our room. One of those where one is looking down on the mist and smog of the villages down below, and the air is crystal clear above that layer. The green shades of the tea plantations were lovely, and the patterns of the tea plots, interspersed with White Oak trees, symmetrical without being manufactured. We enjoyed a late western style breakfast: Omelettes, pancakes, toast and vegemite provided by Stephanie from the group. We piled into the minibus and took the somewhat serpentine route to Swamy & Swamy tea plantations and processors. Hairpin bends like never before. The guide took us for an uncomplicated but enjoyable walk through the plantation, the factory and of course the store. A simple and clean operation that harvests, cuts, dries, ferments, sorts and packages tea. We got to try a chocolate-flavoured tea which was very pleasant. Along with tea the store sold all sorts of other natural products, with all sorts of amazing claims to efficacy.
On the way to the 'toy train' station, we enjoyed our first western-style coffee for a while in a joint just outside Coonoor. To all intents and
purposes just like Starbucks. The chain is called "A lot can happen over a cup of coffee". Great name. Even Andrea from Italy, agreed that this was reasonable coffee. From there to some way down the mountain to Mettupalayam
, one of the stations for the Nilgiri Mountain Railway - otherwise known as the toy train. We arrived a bit early to buy the tickets so we had a chance to walk the streets a bit and check out the steam train that runs the lower and steeper section of the railway using a geared system. We walked with the group to the market and photographed and experienced. Bought a brightly coloured equivalent of a Woollies shopping back for 40 cents. A gem.
The train itself was very quaint with little narrow carriages richly trimmed with carved wood. Actually the guage of the railway is 3ft 3/8 inches, and given that Queensland used to use 3ft 6 inch gauge, perhaps Queensland trains should also be counted as toy train relics of the British Empire? Ourselves and Phil from Canberra were joined in our little compartment by a young Indian couple from Hyderabad joined . The trip up to Ooty was
pushed by a reasonable sized diesel electric engine. We did get to see the old steam engine, but perhaps it is too challenging for this longer distance. The terrain was lovely and green with rolling hills and scattered villages. The track passes through tea plantations and past temples. Little kids still get a kick out of it and waved to us all. Locals yelled as we went through the tunnels. We snapped photographs as we passed a large gathering of pilgrims in a paddock close to the line.
From Ooty station we looked across the township which is apparently a mecca for Indian tourists during the summer months. Like the British for a hundred years, they like to escape the summer heat and head for the hills. We sauntered through an extensive food market. People crushed in but very colourful and friendly. We enjoyed a pretty standard western lunch (tandoori vegie pizza) before walking up to the botanical gardens. Lots of people stopped us and asked to have their photos taken with us. This all seems a bit strange at first, but apparently many Indians still find caucasian faces unusual and exotic. Hundreds of Indian citizens enjoying the ambiance
of this simple hillside garden. Young Indian men made human pyramids and generally mucked up.
That night back at the Hotel we were again treated to an excellent Indian meal and we gathered for a camp fire - monkeys looking on from the trees around us. The Canadians prepares "Smors" which were a campfire creation of marshmallow and chocolate, sandwiched between too sweet biscuits (where 'biscuit' has the Australian meaning). Nice stuff. This night was as close as damn it is to swearing to a full moon, so the valley looked lovely.
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