Right now it’s Wednesday and I’m sitting at Ooty train station, where I arrived a few hours in advance of the train I’m going to catch. I was told by another traveller that there’s a huge rush when the train arrives to get a seat, but according to my ticket I have a window seat in the second-class reserved carriage, so with any luck I shouldn’t have to worry too much. Hopefully it will be on the right side of the train to get the good view: looking down from the mountains instead of at the cliff face. I’ve heard mixed reports about whether it’s a steam or a diesel train. I’m really hoping it will be steam!
Apologies for the lack of photos from Mysore and Ooty. I still haven’t had an opportunity to sort through them yet, and then I’m going to need to find an internet cafe with a fastish connection.
The last few days have been a lot of fun. Ooty is a very pretty town, surprisingly busy for such a small place – and it’s not just all Western tourists like I was expecting. Elodie and I arrived early on Sunday afternoon, found accommodation and wandered around town for a bit. On Monday I slept in and then took a rickshaw up to the highest point nearby: Doddabega Lookout. There was a pretty good view of the town of Ooty and the Nilgiri Mountains. The climb up went through dense forests with occasional clearings where you could see out over the nearby villages and farm land.
On Tuesday I went on a guided trek through the hills, which was a lot shorter than the promised 18km (felt more like half of that) but still took up most of the day due to frequent stop-overs. The area around here is like nowhere else I’ve seen: tiny settlements dotted around the place, tea growing everywhere and – surprisingly – sparse eucalyptus forests. Apparently they’re grown partly for eucalyptus oil and partly to provide shade for the tea in the dry season. There were moments when I felt like I could be in the south-west of Australia – perhaps the Stirling Range – except with tea growing everywhere around me, and villages everywhere. One of the villages we stopped off at was in the middle of some kind of festival. We were told it was a goat sacrifice – and after hanging around for a while, we saw two goats which had been tied to a fence being led up reluctantly into an enclosed area, never to return. I didn’t get to see exactly what happened because it was surrounded by locals, and while I felt sad for the goat I guess it probably had a better life than most of the cattle that people eat back home.
In other news, I’ve also been drinking a lot of tea – masala chai when I can get it – and eating almost nothing but curry. Last night I caved and went to Sidewalk Cafe, the local white-people-vegetarian restaurant. (If there’s a white-people-meat-eater restaurant here, I didn’t see it; and this part of India seems to be predominantly vegetarian.) I had a salad which I greatly enjoyed because it’s been a long time since I’ve had anything resembling fresh vegetables, and what was definitely the worst pizza I’ve had in recent memory.
One of the most rewarding parts about travelling through India so far has been just watching and being part of the sound and chaos that is life here. It seems like a particularly effective form of chaos where everyone is doing their own thing and somehow everything works out. It’s actually quite a pleasant change from places like Australia or England, and nowhere near as intimidating as I was expecting. (Maybe when I get to Mumbai or Delhi I’ll feel differently.) And in the end it’s just normal people living out their lives and doing the same kinds of things that people do everywhere in the world.
I also repacked my luggage this morning, squishing my small day bag into my main pack. Against expectations, everything I’m intending to need for six months’ travel still fits into a bag small enough to take as hand luggage on an aeroplane: even after having acquired a blanket, a little buddha figurine and some snacks. This is making me feel very smug and organised.
Today I’m trying to find my way to Munnar, another hill station half-way between here and the Kerala coast. This means that – as planned – Elodie and I are going our separate ways, because she’s headed north-east and I’m headed south-west. I have train tickets down the hill to Coimbatore, where I’m told there are regular buses to Munnar. I’m hoping it will be an overnight bus because apparently it’s several hours and Coimbatore is a pretty rough place…