The train journey was very pleasant as we were booked in a 2nd class air conditioned car. There was no shortage of food supplies and tea as vendors, complete with official badges made their way up and down the train. We ordered lunch – choice of egg, chicken or vegetable byriani (a rice dish) which then appeared some time later. I have read that it is phoned through to the next station and then brought on board and delivered to your seat.
After getting off the train, we hopped on a bus and began the journey up the mountains. Despite tight hair pin bends and essentially a one lane road, cars, trucks, bikes, motorcycles and buses all pass each other using their horns constantly. There are signs not to overtake on bends but these are ignored and often we were faced with oncoming traffic on our side of the road that pulled in at the last minute.
We eventually made it to Ooty which was one of the original British hill stations, often referred to as Snooty Ooty. We pictured grand hotels, open fires and a quieter pace of life! Whilst this may have been true a hundred years ago, it is certainly not the situation today with traffic and people everywhere. We checked into our hotel (overlooking the main highway), went for an orientation walk and then met for dinner. Ooty is famous for its homemade chocolate and between our group we managed to sample most varieties – some much better than others. Chinese also seems a popular cuisine and most restaurants we went to have both Indian and Chinese selections. Dinner tonight was perhaps the best we have had so far although eating with only our right hand (left is considered unclean) is still proving a challenge – particularly as we try to tear apart the naan bread.
Our guide had also recommended a bar called Ooty Gate so we ventured in. Jenni and I shared a bottle of wine and it was awful – think a mixture of cough mixture and altar wine!!! Beer is definitely the drink here with Kingfisher being the main brand – a 650mL bottle will usually cost between $1.50 and $2.
The next morning we visited a tea plantation which was very interesting as we went through the tea fields and then through the factory, followed by tastings. Chocolate tea is delicious and we were able to purchase some for home. It is like a hot chocolate but it is a tea. It is made with milk and is quite sweet. We then drove to the train station to catch the toy train back to Ooty. It is a world heritage listed train due to its steep grade (the highest in India) and it used a claw like system to get up the hill. It felt like we were sharing the carriage with the population of India and the close proximity of seats on buses and trains is most likely the reason why yoga is so popular here as you almost need to be a contortionist to get into the seat and then assume a yoga position to remain comfortable. We spent New Year having dinner together and re-visiting Ooty Gate Bar but this time settling for soda water. Our guide had tried to find us a party at one of the larger hotels but he said they were too expensive at $50-$60 per head. India can now be aded to the list of places we’ve celebrated
Leaving Ooty we travelled for about one and a half hours down the moutain to our jungle retreat. The trip down consisted of 36 hair pin bends and we had to travel in 3 separate vehicles as buses are not allowed on that road. We were glad to arrive at Jungle Retreat where it was very calm and peaceful with a pool and wild spotted deer roaming around the property. A relaxing afternoon was spent by the pool and then at 5.00pm we went on a safari in search of tigers, elephants and other wildlife in the national park. Once again we were in three separate vehicles and our driver had very little English but was forever on the lookout for animals. We were lucky to see an elephant crossing the road, some sloth bears, bison, peacocks and monkeys. In order to remain as quiet as possible, the driver often turned off the engine and coasted along. This was fine until it got dark and the battery went flat due to the headlights being on. Our driver seemed unaware of how to perform a clutch start but thankfully we did. Trying to explain how to do it with no Indian language, in the dark whilst ever aware of the fact that we were in the jungle provided much excitement but we survived.