While Chennai is on the east coast of India off the shores of the Bay of Bengal, we took an over night train to the western region of the country close to the shores of the Arabian sea.
India has an incredible array of geography, natural characteristics and quickly shifting cultural dynamics from one region to the next, adding to the much talked about diversity of India and intensifying our experience.
From Chennai our train brought us to the city of Cooimbatore. Cooimbatore is an industrial city, known for its great weather. The main industry here is also weaving, however cotton weaving this time.
Cooimbatore has the largest railway station in this area and acts as a pivot point for many travellers headed to various destinations in this region. Similarly we were headed to the hill station of Ooty and landed in Cooimbatore to make this transition.
At the intersection where the states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala meet, lays a small chain of mountains known as the Nilgiri Hills. Covered with eucalyptus trees, tea and coffee plantations, this group of hills form a part of the larger Indian mountain chain known as the Western Ghats. Its believe the Nilgiri name is derived from the widespread blue Strobilanthes flower that may be the source of the blue hue over the mountains.
Our destination Ooty was a hill station, like previously visited Darjeeling, settled and developed by the British during their colonial rule over India. The mountain peaks of these hills provided a refuge from the blazing Indian summers and most government officials and their families moved into the mountains for the duration of the summer months.
It is now a tourist hot spot in India and is well known for its natural beauty and climate.
After we got off the train we inquired about the local bus station. Maneesh and I thought it might be a neat experience to try the local transport system and maybe even save a little money by not hiring our personal taxi. To our dismay when we got to the bus station there was a mile long line up of people waiting to get on one of the very few buses travelling to Ooty that day. We sucked it up and got in line, thinking we might as well endure this line up for the sake of a local experience. There was one bus at the docking station and somehow Maneesh scored us a couple seats. However the bus looked like a monster. It had no doors, the window panes and metal seat frames were rusty, it was overflowing with people and the seats Maneesh scored us were at the back of the bus. Thats the worst place to sit on a local bus, especially if you often experience motion sickness (like me). Also Ooty was still another 3 hour ride by car, and would have been longer by a bus making frequent stops.
In spite of this Maneesh was keen on hopping on! The bus was leaving shortly and we had no idea when the next one would be coming. Unfortunately I couldn't bring myself to get on, regardless of how authentic the travel experience would have been. From previous travel experience in India, I had learned this was not a good option and to pass if possible. I convinced Maneesh to wait for the next bus. Reluctantly he agreed.
We continued waiting. It was a hot day and we were really getting bored. We must have spent about three hours at the local bus terminal before we gave in and let a local taxi driver heckle us into renting his cab. We eventually gave in and settled into the cab for a three hour ride to the mountains of Ooty.
Since we had an over night train from Chennai to Cooimbatore that morning, and a hectic morning at the bus station, we went out like light bulbs once we were in our cab. We must have slept half the way to Ooty.
Half way through our trip I woke up to a magnificent sight. Still a bit groggy though, on one side of the road I caught a glimpse of the beautiful valleys. Many of them produced tea or coffee. On the other side as the road wound up the mountain, there was lush green vegetation covering the area. It was quite refreshing and provided a rather tropical feel. It was difficult to go back to sleep once I saw all this.
Unfortunately when we got to Ooty, Maneesh fell ill with a very high fever. For two days we stayed in our hotel while he rested and recovered. On the third day he started to feel a little better and we were able to travel out of Ooty to our next destination.
We had booked the Nilgiri Mountain Railway train, which is now a UNESCO world heritage sight. It's one of the very few railways that still operates steam locomotives. We experienced a very similar train ride in Darjeeling.
Before boarding our train, we had the morning to have a look around the small town of Ooty. Unfortunately we weren't able to venture out into some the wildlife parks or valleys around Ooty due to Maneesh falling ill, however we got a very good gland of all this on our train ride and a short guided tour of Ooty. Ooty had a few botanical parks, a main shopping drag, and some great views. We caught lunch at a very well known place in town and were also able to grab a few local souvenirs. Ooty is known for local production of sandalwood incense, tea and homemade Ooty chocolates. Since there is an abundance of eucalyptus trees in the area, high quality eucalyptus oil is also available. Once done with this mini tour, we headed for the train station. The descend of the railway took us through tea harvesting valleys, lush vegetation, forests of Eucalyptus trees and we caught sight of some beautiful waterfalls and wild birds.
The train ride down the mountain eventually lead us back to Cooimbatore where we caught our next over night train to the city of Trivandrum in Kerala. One more state to the west.
Ooty was my favorite destination next to Mahabalipuram.