14 August 2008 09:29
“Work In Progress”
Thus said the sign in the airport when we first arrived in Mumbai, and what an apt description of the nation it is. Since writing from Hampi we have visited Mysore (home of an extremely grand and opulent Maharaja’s Palace) and travelled by bus to where I now sit, in Ooty, in the Nilgiri Hills. Every few miles along the way we passed piles of rocks or sand (in the road) ready for more additions to the pothole-filled highways. Fortunately these did not deter the driver,
who simply zoomed around them, horn blaring, dodging oncoming traffic (but only when strictly necessary).
The first couple of hours of this ride were through the usual low-lying farmland, dotted with little towns, fields being ploughed the old fashioned way – by a man behind two cattle pulling a plough – and high speed fun on the road, including an informal race with another
But then we entered a national park and the road was now surrounded by lush vegetation on both sides, with little groups of spotted deer hanging around near the road, and yes, some elephants watching the traffic (including a small family of 2 parents and a small child elephant). Suddenly it felt like we were on an oversized and overfast safari jeep.
Soon after we crossed the border with Tamil Nadu we started ascending into the hills, first going through tea plantations interspesed with small trees, then eucalypt forest, then wet jungle-like forest inside the clouds, then more tea, and we stopped mid-cloud for a rest stop to find clean, crisp air and a real English chill in the air. An hour later we arrived in Ooty, a surprisingly polluted little town, considering its location among such stunning peaceful hill country, and here we stay until sunday. Then we head off to Kodaikanal.
The trip to Wayanad had to be cut out of our itinerary owing to the mad booking of all hotel rooms in India this weekend (it’s Independence Day tomorrow – get your Irish flags out everyone!).
I haven’t said anything about Mysore yet… cos there’s not much to say. The palace was impressive, and the refreshing walk down from Chalmundi Hill (1000 steps – those coming up the other way didn’t look so refreshed!) was nice, but the best thing was dinner last night in the grandiose, colonial-style surroundings of Tiger Trail, the restaurant of the Royal Orchid Metropole hotel (we weren’t staying there though). The courtyard was lit by lanterns hung from a big tree in the middle, the food was stupendous (and not the usual fare – we have eaten Thali’s almost every day!) and we felt like royalty. We really pushed the boat out (even having G&Ts beforehand), and had to shell out over a tenner for the privilege.
Just before I go, some quick prices
22-hour train ride in 2 weeks time: 10
5 hour bus to Ooty: 1
Idyllic bungalow overlooking paddy fields in Hampi: 5 for 2 nights
Grand lunch at the mango tree (including fresh juices and coffees): 2.50
Cup of Chai on the train: 10p