Saturday, August 29, 2009

Katteri Falls, Ooty.

Day3. Second and Final Stop.

After the disappointment of Doddabetta, we dragged our feet back to Ooty. It was around noon when we reached Ooty and our return bus back to Banglore was at 10:30 in the night. Which also meant we had loads of time in our hands. I dug into my pockets and extracted my Cellphone. I browsed through the list of places-to-visit stored in my phone and stopped at Katteri Falls. Now since I had no idea where Katteri Falls was, I started asking the bus drivers and conductors. Luckily they knew the place and how to get to it. Apparently there was no direct bus to Katteri. You need to first take a bus from Ooty and alight at Yallanali. From here another bus will take you to Katteri.

We did as told. Upon alighting at Katteri, we found ourselves all alone in the middle of what looked like a semi-jungle. There was not a soul around whom we could ask for further directions. All we could find there was dense vegetation, a tiny river/stream which we assumed is Katteri, a small bridge over it and lots of lotus flowers in that stream, which meant the stream was stagnant for most parts. Feeling a little uncomfortable with the whole situation we were in, we walked across the bridge admiring the yellow lotuses. And then we found something that made us a little more uncomfortable - a Photography Strictly Prohibited signboard!!! As if that was not enough, the place got a little more murkier when we found an Army Jawan walking in our direction. Feeling totally lost, we thought it better to ask the Jawan about the Falls and state our intention.

The jawan was quite receptive and told us that Katteri river just a few feet away drops from the cliff to form a waterfall. But it was a high security area and hence photography is not prohibited. Even entry to that area is conditional and subject to permissions from superior officers. When enquired about the reasons for such high security, we were told that the presence of a pumping station for an Ammunition Factory made the area a Restricted one. By now our stomach were in knots, but somehow we were determined to make this trip fruitful, after all the disappointments (the second one being the much-publicized Mohan's Store) of the day. Thanking the jawan we went in the direction of the Falls. By now we could hear the waterfalls approaching closer and closer with every step. We then reached the secured-area, where another army jawan was standing guard. What troubled the daylights out of me was the automatic machine that was chained to the jawan's body!!!. We nevertheless approached him and asked for directions from where we could view the falls. He told us that to view the falls, you need to go a full 4-5 kms downhill for a decent look. There was a bridge right at the head of the falls, where you could go and have a look, but photography was strictly prohibited.

When asked for permission to view this, we were asked a few uncomfortable questions like, who are you and where you are from? Obviously the jawan was doing his duty, but we felt a little uncomfortable and decided against going there. So we proceeded towards the foot of hill, from where we could get a glimpse of the waterfalls. The drizzle had by now turned to be full-fledged rain. We were already soaking wet but still went for it. We were really not sure if we could walk the 4 km stretch downhill and come back up again. After walking for about a kilometer, we got the first-look of the Katteri Falls. It was an amazing sight to say the least. A milky white stream of Katteri dropping effortlessly through the majestic Nilgiri mountains. It truly was a heart-stopping moment. The whole setup looked like a scene out of a well-cinematographed movie. The infinite expanse of dense-green-mountain-ranges, the omnipresent mist, the magical stream dropping hundreds of feet in a free-fall, the shower of goodness from the rain Gods, the sweet smell of moist earth, the Sun peeping out of the clouds from time to time to make His presence felt, all make you want to spend a lifetime admiring it. But it was not to be. We were woken out of our trance by the honking of an approaching TN state transport bus. It took a moment to register, but when it did, we seized this opportunity to hop into the bus to get to the bottom of the falls, thereby having to avoid the 4km walk down hill.

The bus dropped us off at the Selas Telephone Exchange. The building itself looked like a true British handiwork from the Dinosaur era. It was an old dilapidated building that has braved years of torrential Nilgiri rains. Turning back to the Katteri Falls, our hearts sank. The actual point where the water drops is quite far away from where we were, in what looks like a deep jungle. Getting there, is a challenge in itself. Add to that, the secured-area tag made us not venture there. After admiring the waterfalls from here, we started to walk back the 4-5 km stretch uphill. Amazingly though, there was no tiredness or exhaustion. The stubborn rain, the uphill climb, the exhaustion of the last three days of travel, the fear of catching pneumonia, the difficulty in breathing, nothing deterred our progress. We were having the time of our lives and we didn't want it to end.

After more than an hour of walking we finally reached the place, where the bus had dropped us off. And to our surprise we again saw the same receptive jawan we had interacted to when we first arrived here. We told him about our adventure for the last hour and he looked genuinely happy for us. We still had about 20 mins more to catch a bus back to Yellanali. When asked what else we could see around here, he took us to his check-post up the hill. This was where the Katteri stream originates. It's a spectacular location over here with the Katteri village overlooking the stream. Upon reaching the check-post, we found another jawan there. He was a Sardar and the other guy we interacted to, a Tamilian. Waiting for the bus to arrive we started chatting with these two jawans. They were very warm and receptive. We guessed they also enjoyed our company in this sleepy village of Katteri. The told us about how the Katteri stream is infested with large fish, some even weighing about 20 kilos. And interestingly, none of the villagers catch any fish, as they are all pure-vegetarian brahmins. This indirectly benefits the jawans since they get the best and the largest fish everyday.

Finally we saw the bus coming our way. But it first has to go to the sleepy town of Katteri, drop the villagers and come back. We nevertheless took the bus to see the village. The ride now was an amazing one. After wading through large shrubs on a slushy and bumpy road, we reached the village which was on a hill. The bus then started on a vertical incline up the hill. The road was so narrow here, that the mini-bus could exactly fit-in. Not even a cyclewala can stand in either side of the road, while the mini-bus is in motion. After a one minute stoppage, the bus started its detour. When we reached the army check-post, we waved out to the jawans who were intently looking to say Good Bye. When we saw them wave goodbye in return and their image faded away as the bus moved on, we knew we were leaving Ooty after making two nameless friends...

Getting-there: Ooty to Yallanali by bus. Another bus from Yallanali to Katteri.

Must-Do: A MUST visit place. And Pleaseeeee do NOT trash this place. Its heaven-on-earth. And so, lets keep it that way.
Must-Don't: Take pictures that can get you in trouble.

My Rating: 8/10

Friday, August 28, 2009

Doddabetta, Ooty.

Day3. First Stop.

The entire time we were in Ooty, there was one name that we kept hearing again and again from anybody we talked to about tourist attractions was Dodda Betta. We were told its a must visit. Strangely Doddabetta never featured in my shortlist. In fact I hadn't even heard about the place till we landed in Ooty. Only after we reached the place, did I realise why it never featured in my shortlist.

It was Day3 and we were quickly running out of destinations to visit. Most of my shortlisted locations were in and around Coonoor. But getting to Coonoor and worse still, moving around Coonoor had already become a pain. So we were in no mood to go back to Coonoor and re-live the tragedy. Hence we decided to go around Ooty. Anything and everything that could be covered in a bus. As I said a little while ago, Doddabetta kept cropping up whenever we asked the locals. So here were, on our way to Doddabetta. We covered the first 6 kms uphill ride in a State Transport Bus. You then need to take a jeep for the remainder of the journey. The jeep driver told us it would cost us Rs 25 per head for the to and fro trip. He would take us to the top of the hill and would be back in an hour to take us back. We told him one hour would not be enough and asked him to come back back 2 hrs later. We didnt have much plans for the remainder of the day and so we felt spending time here would have been ideal. But the driver insisted that you would finish your sight-seeing in half hour and we still had another half-hour to kill. This got us a little confused. I mean how could you explore/trek a hill in half hour?

Anyways we said ok and hopped into the Jeep. After us, 8 more girls squeezed themselves into the back of the jeep. What happened after the driver switched on the ignition, took us totally by surprise. As if on cue, all eight girls seated behind us started screaming and howling. At first we presumed it to be the excitement of starting a journey to a wonderful destination that prompted this insanity. But hell no. The girls just wouldn't stop it!!! They screamed and howled all of the 4 km stretch, till we came to a halt. They screamed at their male-counterparts in the jeep ahead of us, they screamed when our jeep overtook theirs, they screamed when they saw jeeps coming in the opposite direction, they screamed when they saw people walking up the hill, they screamed when they saw people walking down the hill, they screamed when they saw a stray dog, they screamed when they saw a tree, they screamed when felt they were not screaming enough, they screamed because wanted to scream louder than their last scream. In other words they screamed for 4 kms.

Apart from this being the most horrific experience of my life, it was also the most embarrassing. More than a wish for deaf, I would have loved to have placard hanging from by neck saying "I am NOT with them". Every time the girls screamed (which was ALL the time), the some tourists gave us a glare which said something to the extent of "Where the hell did these guys come from?", whereas the others howled back, making the girls howl even louder.

So finally our ordeal came to an end but not the ringing in our ears. The first thing that caught our eye was the sea of vehicles, then the sea of humanity, then the sea of trash and then the unbearable stink. It being a "popular" destination, they place is equally trashy and stinky. It was not even 5 minutes since we landed, and we were ready to leave. The Jeep driver had said it would take us 30 minutes to cover this place and we were done in 5! With time to kill, we decided to go ahead and check out the place. A few flight of trashy steps and an entry ticket of Rs 5 later we were at the highest peak in Tamil Nadu. At 2635 mts MSL we were at the highest point in Tamil Nadu with a view of the meeting place of the Eastern and Western Ghats. And thats about it. We spent about 10 minutes amongst that sea of humanity and got out of there. Not wanting to go completely deaf on our way back, we decided to walk the 4 kms downhill. About close to an hour later we got back to where we caught the jeep. Not finding the Jeep driver there we waited there till we got a bus back to Ooty.

Must-Do: Avoid going to this place at any rate.

My Rating: 0/10

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary, Ooty-Mysore Highway

Day2. Third Stop.

After committing the eighth deadly sin of reporting late to the mini-bus and getting nasty stares and cold treatment from our co-passengers we started towards our next destination viz boating in the Pykara Lake. After reaching the late the driver announced that boating in the lake is a pleasure but standing in the queue might be a pain. One would have to wait for at least 2-3 hours before getting your hands on a boat. According to the driver this is a wastage of precious time, because if you do not report at the Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary early enough, then you would loose the chance for a safari ride. And most instantly 22 pairs of eyes glared at us reminding us of the half hour wasted by us. The life imprisonment sentence suddenly upgraded to death penalty. The bus for the second time( the first being our sentencing) unanimously opted for Mudumalai instead of boating. We also uttered our meek approval ( which nobody really cared) not because we wanted to win back the gallery, but we just thought that a Wildlife Safari will be the lesser of the two evils. Morover I had never been on a Safari, except the one in Nehru Zoological Park in Hyderabad.

So it was Destination Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary. The milestones told me that Mudumalai was a good 55-odd kms from there. And the slower-than-a-TVS-Scooty Swaraj Mazda was not helping us get there any faster. The long and painful ride finally came to an end after about 2 hours. As we found out we were just in time to book a safari at the very last ride of the day. That also meant we had to spend the next two and half hours waiting for our ride with monkeys to keep company. I wonder why these wild creatures are not inside the perimeter of the Sanctuary! On second thoughts, they were actually not that bad. Quite well-behaved and not really bossy and more importantly definitely not

So after 3 long hours of waiting we were finally in the Sanctuary's Swaraj Mazda all geared up to see the Tiger. By the end of the tour we had successfully spotted about 200 Deers, One Buck (not sure, after all they don't walk around with name boards, do they?), One Langur, 4 Elephants, Two Bisons and that's it. No tigers and definitely no animals that's remotely "Wild". That also brings the curtains on Day2 in Ooty.
The only positive about this Safari was that we were spared of any further prosecutions from our co-passengers. At least we will not be held responsible for not denying 22 human beings the chance to see their wild cousins. That night I slept peacefully!!!

Must-Do: Do you really have to do anything here?
Must-Don't: Aggravate the monkeys.

My Rating: 3/10

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Pykara Falls, Ooty.

Day 2. Second Stop.

After spending a blissful half-hour at the Shooting Locations we hit the road again. A few minutes later, our driver cum guide pointed out the Kamaraj Dam. He told us that, this was where Mani Ratnam shot the final scene of Roja with Arvind swamy escaping from the Pakistan (other side of the dam) and entering India (this side of the dam). The Dam is closed and tourists are not entertained here. We continued and reached Pykara Falls a few minutes later.

Pykara is the largest river in Ooty. The Falls is a double cascade of 55 and 61 meters. Even before your reach the Falls the sight of the huge trees and the river flowing next to it takes your breath away. Its truly an image that will remain embedded in your head for a very long time. We took a long somewhat-winding steps down to reach the banks of the Pykara, right where the first cascade is. There's a Warning Board erected reminding the tourists of the slippery nature of the terrain including the number of fatalities recorded here. Its a very wise warning as we found out a little later with a personal experience. Thankfully we were well away from the waters when there was a tiny slip-and-fall resulting in a sprained ankle and broken slippers.

So here we were, enjoying the sight of the first cascade and suddenlywe saw this tremendously courageous/extremely stupid dog trying to cross the river right where the first cascade is. We really had no clue what in the whole wide world prompted the dog to cross the river, but he was doing it and doing it quite confidently too. For not a second he seemed to look like a trapped dog or feeling helpless. He was just jumping, swimming, strategising, contemplating, sniffing, sliding, slipping, recovering his way to the other side. The breadth of the river, we guessed it to be about 150 meters. Thankfully it was a happy ending much to the delight of the entire crowd who started clapping and whistling at the end of this ordeal.

After the doggy-antics we moved on to have a look at the second cascade. After finding the perfect vantage point to watch both the cascades, we were really thrilled by what we saw. Its truly a beautiful sight and therefore a must-visit if you are visiting Ooty. After a while we walked back and found a safe spot to wet our legs. Let me warn you again, that the entire place is very very slippery. After much care we went down to touch the water. Not suprisingly it was freezing cold, which prompted us to get out of it pretty fast. Before walking back to the bus we stopped to buy slippers(which were thankfully available) and some hot-hot mirchi and vazhakai bhajjis. We were about half an hour late and got some real nasty stares from our co-passengers. It was as if we had single-handedly spoilt their entire weekend trip by failing to report back in time. As for us, we didn't bother much :-)
All in all, great place to visit. The only downside however is the dangerous terrain that will keep you away from enjoying the river.

Must-Do: Take pictures of the beautiful locale. Use the "Open" Trash Cans provided.
Must-Dont: Throwing caution to the wind.
Must-Buy: Try the hot Mirchi and Vazhakai Bhajjis. Entry fee of Rs. 2.
Watch-Out: Stupid river-crossing dogs, slippery rocks/stones/earth/trees/leaves and everything that you can touch!

My Rating: 7/10

Friday, August 21, 2009

Shooting Locations, Ooty.

Day2. First Stop.

By now we were resigned to the fact that Guided Tours are the only way to see places in Ooty. So on Day 2, we decided to undertake one such guided tour in a Swaraj Mazda. After a series of pick-ups scattered across Ooty and few exchange of brick bats between the various tour operators on account of bad planning and some surprise last minute bookings (that would be us) we finally were off to see Ooty.

The driver announced to us in Tamil and broken Hindi that we would be touching the following places:
1. The Gymkhana Golf Course
2. Pine Forest
3. Shooting Locations
4. Pykara Waterfalls
5. Boating in Pykara Lake and
6. Safari in Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary.

The first stop as expected was the Gymkhana Golf Club, except that it was not really a stop. Only the Swaraj Mazda stopped there for like a minute, so that the driver could tell us it was the GGC. Apparently only the Gymkhana Club Members have access to this golf course. Not surprisingly, this Golf Course is the most beautiful sight you'd get to see in Ooty, as its not open to general public and hence is well maintained. After the 2 minute stoppage for the driver's recitation and attempt-in-vain to click pictures through the window, we were off to the next destination - The Pine Forest. The less said about the Pine Forest, the better. A vast slippery area of symmetrically planted Pine Trees with oodles of garbage sums up Pine Forest. Off to next location - the Shooting Locations.

My heart was already beginning to sink when I saw the long line of Swaraj Mazdas, SUV's and Mini Buses parked outside the Shooting Locations. After buying some Bhel Puri (for breakfast) we went in to explore the place. The locations in question is a green carpeted hill that spreads over a vast area and climbs a good height from where you get a good view of the surrounding areas. Standing atop this hill, a sudden realisation hit me - Im in Ooty. This was the Ooty I had in mind when I set out of Bangalore. And here I am. Finally something that looks remotely Ooty-ish. Looking at the glorious green plains and the foggy moisture-filled air I could recollect a zillion Bollywood, Tollywood, Mollywood, Collywood, Sandalwood movies picturised here. It was the perfect location for the umpteen song sequences. The place had it all, a steep green hill for the heroine to run into the arms of her knight-in-shining-armour, a lush carpeted slope for the hero and heroine to roll down the hill cuddling each other, the zillion trees at the foot of the hill for dancing around them, a pond where the hero can throw the villain into in the climax of the movie, amazing cloud formations that can rain any second for the heroine to seduce her guy by getting all wet, horses that will enable a chasing scene, a forest where the heroine about-to-be-raped-but-saved-by-the-hero can run into, flowers that the cameraman can zoom into as soon as the hero and heroine come closer to kiss each other et al. Its a total riot for the Indian film-maker. Give him this location and he will make a movie out of it.

I was shook out of my filmy khayals by a horse-mounted tourist who wanted to know how to apply the breaks on the horse. Having realised we had a time schedule to keep we headed back to the Swaraj Mazda only to find we were the only ones back. We then decided to not stick to any time stipulations, but that lead to some unpleasant stares and below-the-breath cursings at our next destination. But that's for the next blog to tell the story.

Must-Do: Take pictures of the shooting landscapes. Check out the brakes on the horse before you mount it.
Must-Don't: Make the lives of film makers difficult by trashing the place thereby rendering the place un-shootable.
Must-Buy: Too good to be true weird-looking carrots.

My Rating: 7/10

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Sim's Park, Coonoor.

Day1. Third and Final Stop.

Sim's Park was our last tourist attraction in the auto-rickshaw-guided-tour. I was never really interested to go to this place (botanical gardens are not my cuppa coffee) but apparently that's the only place we can go which is in close proximity to Coonoor Railway station. I would ideally have loved to visit places like Law's Falls or The Droog, but apparently they are not part of the rickshaw driver's package tour.
But before we entered Sim's Park we needed to attend to our growling stomach. Right next to Sim's Park is the Pomological Institute and the Pasteur Institute. But no you don't get food here. Between these two institutes is the Mahalakshmi Bhojanalay. The MB is run by a North Indian staff. The impressive menu has some 6 North Indian Thalis covering each state. When asked whats the food composition/difference between each of the Thalis, the waiter gave a sheepish smile and said they had only One North Indian Thali. Great. We ordered it nevertheless. The food was edible and nothing more to add about it.

So after a filling lunch (unlimited Rotis and Rice) we set out to Sim's Park. It was pretty much as we expected. A Botanical Garden! The speciality of this park is that it was established in 1874 by Mr. J.D. Sims (have no idea who that is...) and has a wide variety of Trees and covers some 12 acres. It has a lake inside it, where you can go boating and that's about it.

Not wanting to go back to the Hotel Room, we decided to walk aimlessly around the park. And that we did for about an hour or so until blanket worms started falling from the sky. But whatever time we spent there was worth the entry fee we paid ;-)
The quietness and greenery of the place soothes the mind and is very physically and emotionally relaxing. Do visit the Sim's Park only if you have enough time to kill while in Coonoor.
Must-Do: Buy an entry ticket ;-)
Must-Don't: Spoil the serenity and cleanliness of the place.
Caution: Blanket Worms falling from the sky.
My Rating: 4/10

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Lamb's Rock, Coonoor.

Day1. Second Stop.

Lamb's Rock is a scenic picnic spot about 9 kms from Coonoor. Its en route the Dolphin's Nose which is a mere 5 kms away. At 5700ft MSL you get a good view of the vast expanse of vegetation even as far as the Coimbatore Plains. Of course all this depends of the mist conditions, which on its day can reduce the visibility to as low as a couple of meters.
There's nothing much to do here but climb some 500 mts from the motorable road and then enjoy the view from up here. As far as the eye can see, its Nature at its best. Sky, sun, fog, mountains, greenery are all packed together as one bundle by the Supreme forces and dropped on your lap. Make the camera your creative companion on your visit to Lamb's Rock. Most parts of the cliffs are unsecured and hence need to be tread carefully. But do explore what little of the area you have up there and spend some leisurely time being at peace with oneself.

Must-Do: Carry a Camera to capture the images that will later act as stress-busters ;-)
Must-Don't: Littering. Get too adventurous and spoil the fun for others.
Caution: Monkeys and cliff-edges.

My Rating: 6/10

Also check out:
Dolphin's Nose and Catherine Falls
Shooting Locations
Pykara Falls
Katteri Falls

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Dolphin's Nose & Catherine Waterfalls, Coonoor.

Day1. Ooty to Coonoor by Toy Train.

Ogling at Catherine Falls from the Dolphin's Nose has been the numero uno purpose of our short trip to Coonoor. The Dolphin's Nose is located some 16 kms from Coonoor Railway station. There are three ways of reaching Coonoor. First is to reach Coonoor by the World Heritage Monument Nilgiri Mountain Railway Toy Train, then probably hire a car or auto rickshaw and cover the places in a day. Second, you could take a local bus from Ooty to Coonoor and then hire a car/auto rickshaw. Third is to hire a car from Ooty and see the places in Coonoor.
You cannot come to Ooty and not take the world famous toy train ride. Hence we arrived at the station to take the tickets for the journey. To our dismay we found a long queue waiting ahead of us. To make matters worse, we heard that there were minimal tickets sold in each ride. To make matters still worse, the frequency of the trains is pretty low. The next train after the 9:15 ride is at Noon. We were almost resigned to the fact that we will not be getting the tickets and started thinking about Plan B. Luckily we got the tickets, but they were First Class tickets which cost a whopping Rs. 100 compared to Rs 4 for the Unreserved class. But we took it and off we were to Coonoor. The ride to Coonoor if nothing is very lacklustre. The views is amazing at times, but soon you get bored of it. The slow, shaky and creaky ride becomes monotonous and consumes a full one hour before you reach the final Destination.

Coonoor railway station, like the Ooty railway station is characteristically British. Amazingly they have stood the test of times, human exploitation and natural decay. Just as you walk out of the platform a swarm of cab drivers surround you. As a general principle I generally avoid such blood suckers and venture out of the Railway station before I start asking around. Exclusively hiring a cab would cost around Rs 400 for 4 hours (which I felt was a little on the higher side) and I was in no mood to share a cab with others too. Hence after a bit of loitering around, having some hot coffee and buying some Home-made chocolates we finally decided to take an auto rickshaw to see a few places around Coonoor. For Rs. 300 we were to see Catherine Falls from Dolphin's Nose, the Lamb's Rock, Tea Factory and Sim's Park spanning some 3 hours. A bit expensive, but at least we had the auto rickshaw to ourselves.

The ride to Dolphin's Nose is one to die for. Miles and miles of carpeted tea gardens keep you company all the way up. As you keep climbing higher and higher into the mountains, its get mistier and mistier. For most part of the climb the visibility is anywhere from 0 to 1 metre. But visibility is apparently not a handicap for our Auto Raja. He's been zipping through the mountainous terrain like Schumi does in Monaco. He obviously wants to show us Coonoor in 3 hrs.

My travel philosophy has always been "Starting early is starting right". But apparently this philosophy does not hold true all the time. Despite reaching Dolphin's Nose at a leisurely 11 AM we surprised to see that Catherine Falls, for which we had come all the way was blanketed by a thick layer of mist and fog. We could not even tell if there was a waterfall in the designated place or not. A few local vendors and our very Auto Raja pointed out to the general direction of Catherine Falls. But we could never be sure of it. We were already ruing the futility of the trip when suddenly a gust of wind blew over Dolphin's Nose, paving the way for a clear view of Catherine Waterfalls. It truly was a sight to behold. In vast expanse of green, the tiny stream of milky white seemed odd yet very earthly. Though a five second glance was all that was required to retain the image in our heads, the view was available for what looked like an eternity, to seep into every blood vessel of our bodies.After a few minutes of clear view the wall of mist was back. We took this reprieve to shop for some spices and Tea leaves.

Back from spice-shopping, the mist had cleared considerably now to get a more clearer view of not only the Catherine waterfalls but also the neighbouring Mettupalayam. A few Kodak moments later, the fog was back to haunt us (it was around noon by now) and we decided to bade goodbye to Catherine Waterfalls and head to our next destination - Lamb's Rock.

Must-Do: Try to reach here around noon by which time some of the mist clears. Buy spices and different varieties of tea.
Must-Don't: Throw caution to the wind and get adventurous. Littering.
Must-Buy: Tea leaves, Spices, Oils.

My Rating: 6/10

Ooty, Tamil Nadu

Exactly 62 years ago when British Colonists returned India to its rightful citizens, they also surrendered a few remarkable places that they had built from scratch. So prominent was their creation that till today, they stand testimony of time, heritage and a multitude of human exploitation. One such place that has braved years of human pounding is the beautiful and misty Ooty. Beautiful and misty are the two words you'll hear continuously in a series of blogs on Ooty and Coonoor coming up here.

Ooty a.k.a Udagamandalam, to start with is a bag packer's ultimate nightmare. Much of the blame should be attributed to the inadequate public transport system. There's only one train service here - The Nilgiri Mountain Railway - plying between Ooty and Coonoor covering 5 stations including Lovedale, Ketti and Aravankadu. The bus service is minimal, as some of the places-to-visit are not on the route maps of either the State Transport buses or the Private Transport buses. The problem is more evident in Coonoor. The auto rickshaws costs a bomb. Some guys even charge Rs.50 to cover a 1km stretch!!! So the only option left is the private-tours-and-travels services. You can either exclusively hire a vehicle or (thankfully) share the vehicle with others. The downside of such guided tours is the deadlines you need to follow and the nasty stares that you tend to get from co-passengers for causing a delay in coming back, as we found out.

The second spoiler about Ooty is the HUGE number of tourists, almost rendering me say that Ooty has gone past its sell-by date. Huge influx of tourists in itself would not have been much of a botheration had there not been the vast majority howlers among them. Yes, every 500 meters you would hear a howling mob from their Tata Sumos and Toyota Qualis' shattering the peace of this sleepy town. Or worse you may see yourself caught in an ancient jeep with 8 noisy screaming, shouting, howling girls.

Ooty is a perpetual cool (as if that's a surprise) place. The Railway Holiday Home (thanks to an Indian Railway spouse) did not even have a hook for the ceiling fan. The solitary heater and hot water geyser is a life-saver in this place. Its cold and misty in the mornings, afternoons and evenings. The nights are just freezing. I do not want to imagine how its going to be in December.

Ooty is plastic-free zone but the never-ending swarming tourists bring more than their own share of plastic trash and litter the places. Some of the places we visited were so trashy and stinky that we were too tempted to cut short our 3 day trip.

Despite all this, Ooty is a must-visit-once place, especially if you live somewhere in South India. A trip to Coonoor in the World Heritage Monument Toy Train to watch Catherine Falls from Dolphine's Nose, the vast expanse of the Nilgiris from atop the Lamb's Rock, the beautiful shooting locales of Ooty, the breath-taking (literally too, if you are not cautious) Pykara Waterfalls, the perfectly alligned Pine Forests, the drive through Mudumalai Forest Area and to top it all a visit to Katteri Waterfalls makes the whole trip worth the effort. The bad memories and experiences are pushed into the background. What remains in the memory is the beautiful and misty locales of this age-old hill station.

Must-Do: Carry enough warm clothes, shoes, socks, bathroom slippers and the like.
Must-Don't: Take Ooty off the tourists' map by littering the already trashed-up place.

My Rating: 6.5/10 (Down-Rated after second thoughts)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Chunchi Waterfalls, Bangalore

Driving out of Sangam we were exhausted, hungry and thirsty. A nice bath and hitting the bed would have the ideal thing to do. But we had promised ourselves to go to Chunchi Waterfalls on the way back. Its not everyday you drive down 90 kms and not see the major attractions in the area. So we kept our promise and drove towards Chunchi. And ain't we glad we kept the promise!

So Chunchi Falls is nestled in the Chunchi Hills near the Chunchi Village. Luckily its not too far from Sangam. Some 5 kms after Sangam en route Bangalore, you need to take a right and then travel through the Chunchi Village to reach the Falls. I had not done much R&D on Chunchi on the net and had no clue of what to expect from this place. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, since when I first set eyes on the waterfalls I had to hold my breath. The mouth made an extended Wow and the brain stimulated a million neurons. While walking down to the waterfalls I was praying for some water...lots of water. But after scanning the area I was pleased that there wasn't much water there. Tiny stream of water meant, we were able to get to the head of the falls for a breath-taking view. But sadly the pictures doesn't bring out the true breathtaking-ness of the place. You have to be there to believe what Im talking about.

From the head of the Falls its a big drop. Wikipedia tells me that the height of the Falls is 250 feet. The terrain is quite rocky and getting to this place is an adventure in itself. Another amazing sight adding to the view-from-the-top is the rock formations. The formations below your feet look as if somebody just picked up a giant ice-cream scoop and went to work on the rocks. And the side walls are as if the same person took a huge chisel and started hammering away in one direction. These rocky formations have been smoothened to perfection by the gushing waters.

After a while we realised that we could get down one tier and get a look at the Falls. Going down there is again an adventure in itself. But worth the effort in gold. From this lower tier you get a good look at the waterfalls. Looking at the hypnotic water dancing down the rocks makes you want to get up there. If you incredibly stupid you get actually climb one of those rocks and touch the water. But we decided against it and only remained an eager spectator as we saw one of those stupid morons do his thing up there. After literally standing on the edge of the cliff for some time, we deposited ourselves on the rocks at a safe distance from the edge. Now we could really feel the exhaustion creep-in. To fight the fatigue building over us, we lay on our backs for a few minutes in the blazing afternoon sun. The cool breeze kissing our body undermined the sun's vengeful rays. As if on cue, the clouds also took position to block the rays. You couldn't ask for more. Where in Bangalore could you lie on your back facing the sun directly in the blazing afternoon sun?

Like all good things we knew we had to bring this trip to an end. We climbed back the rocks and got to the place where we parked our bikes. By the time we reached there, we had been squeezed of every ounce of energy from our body. The coconut water vendor licked his lips as he saw his prey dragging their feet towards him. Two tender coconuts later our bodies started to show signs of life. As we started the ride back I give Chunchi one last passing glance and promised myself a second visit here, before I die.

Getting-there: 5 kms before Mekedaatu (see previous post) take a left and drive through Chunchi Village. Keep asking the villagers for Chunchi, and they will point their fingers in the right direction.
Must-Do: Take an adventurous trip down to the first tier of the waterfalls.
Must-Dont: Try to be too adventurous and get to the water or try to get to the bottom of the waterfalls. Littering as always.
Caution: Paramount on the agenda. Keep your self hydrated.
Extra-topping: Undertake a trip to an adjacent waterfall about a kilometer away.

My Rating: 7/10

Monday, August 10, 2009

Sangam and Mekedaatu, Bangalore

Mekedaatu has been on my travel plate for more than a month now. After 2 cancellations, I finally seized the opportunity to undertake this trip. As is the case with most water-y places, August is the right time to visit the place. The fiery monsoon ensures there's enough water at such places.
Mekedaatu, meaning Goat's Leap, is where River Cauvery runs through a deep gorge.
Coming to the etymology of the place:
Legend has it that, the ravine is so narrow that a Goat can leap over it.
Folklore has it that, a goat was once chased by a tiger and in sheer desperation to save its life, leapt over the ravine and survived. In reality though, forget about a Goat, no living creature can cross it. Period.
Mythology has it that, The Goat that leapt over the the ravine was none other than Lord Shiva. Its always safer to settle down with a mythological version. There's never an argument on that one!!!

But getting to Mekedaatu is not so simple. You first need to reach Sangam before you make your way to Mekedaatu. Sangam, as the name suggests, is where two rivers meet. Cauvery and Akravathi meet here to make this place look magical. Here you need to take the coracle and get to the other side. Water here is pristine yet dangerous. If you are not a seasonal swimmer, its advisable to curb your instincts of jumping into the water. But yes you can always wet your legs and embrace the river within a safer periphery. The river bed is dotted with huge rocks and boulders and its always advisable to exercise caution when venturing into the waters.

After being at peace with nature for some time we headed for the rickety bus that would take us to Mekedaatu. Rickety is probably an understatement. The bus looked so old and fragile and dilapidated, that we had second thoughts about taking the bus. We could of course walk the distance of 4 kms if we choose too, but decided against it. The Rs.40 we paid for the round-trip was probably the most we spent on a 4km-jumpy-bumpy-rollicky and most uncomfortable ride ever!!!
By the end of ride, an X-Ray of our anatomy at this point of time would have revealed some interesting finds. Mekedaatu is pretty much as it looked like, in the pictures(hmm... as if thats a surprise!). The point of interest, is more like a bottleneck, and because of it the water gushing out of it is ferocious. The fiery nature of the water can be judged by the rock formations all over the place. The curvatures in the rocks is so smooth and refined, only nature could have sculpted this masterpiece.

There are plenty of areas here that one could explore. The only prerequisites being lots of courage and a little bit of agility. Fear is one factor that you would encounter here at close quarters while exploring the place. Along with fear comes exhilaration and mad adrenaline rush. Your moment of bravery lead you to what looks like an unexplored heaven. A cave-like opening with very minimal water gushing in. Its perfectly safe here... if you successfully make it to this place!

We had great fun exploring this place and just sitting there lazily listening to the thunderous roar of the water just a few feet away. Its not just Mekedaatu and Sangam that appeals to your senses. The last 10 km stretch before you reach Sangam is a rider's paradise. Pollution is quite literally non-existent. Try breathing-in the air while riding at 60 kmph and you would know what Im talking about. Since we started by around 6 from Bangalore, we reached Sangam by 8:30 and that included a breakfast stop at Kanakpura. Surprisingly the Tiffin Center at Kanakpura was not only edible but tasty too. The entire length of the ride once you leave Bangalore is very scenic. The roads is bad in patches only. There are also times when you drive through some old-world villages. Its as if time stood still here and only the roads progressed. After spending a couple of hours we finally decided to move on. By the time we climbed back up from where the bus dropped us off, we were half-dead. Luckily we were greeted by a man selling lassi. Quickly gulping three glasses, which were thankfully priced reasonably at Rs.5 a glass, we caught the bus back to Sangam. I say thankfully because both of us were running out of cash, as we made a critical mistake of forgetting to withdraw cash for the trip. What worried us more was the fact that there was one more stop for the day - Chunchi Falls. And that's coming up in the next blog.

Getting-there: Take the Kanakpura road out of Bangalore -> Reach Kanakpura -> At the forked road, take the one on the left -> Follow the road to reach Sangam.

Toll Gate: Rs.10.
Sangam Parking: Rs.10 (Bike)
Coracle Ride: Rs.40 (both ways)
Bus Ride: Rs.40 (both ways)

Must-Do: Wet your legs at Sangam. Explore the rocks at Mekedaatu while exercising caution.
Must-Don't: Try to be too adventurous. Extra baggage (including Food, warm clothes, bags) that will make your rock-climbing tedious. Carrying too much food also lead too much littering. So please avoid it.
Caution: Order of the Day.

My Rating: 7/10

Monday, August 03, 2009

Manchinbele Dam and Dodda Alada Mara, Bangalore

Come Sunday and I had to hit the road. We were looking for the closest getaway from Bangalore and so zeroed in on Manchinbele Dam and Dodda Alada Mara. The Big Banyan Tree is a mere 30 kms from Bangalore and Manchinbele Dam another 10 kms further.
We started right by starting early. 6 AM sounded good on the blueprint. While execution though, we found it could have been a little more earlier. There was already a fair bit of traffic by then. The four of us in two different bikes converged at Corporation Circle around 6:15 and then hit the Mysore Road. Good roads - except for a 2 kms stretch (which will be mentioned later) - need a special mention for this trip. The route is pretty straight-forward. Some 15 odd kms on Mysore Road, you would arrive at Sri Rajarajeshwari Dental College Signal. You cannot miss this unless you are flying over!!! Take a right at this signal and follow the road. Taking no diversions, we reached Dodda Alada Mara in pretty good time. But we did not stop here. We wanted to get to the Manchinbele Dam, before the Sun hastens a forced retreat, back to the comfort of our homes. This also turned out to be a wise decision. We are getting good at this travelling stuff ;-)

The route to the Dam from here does not involve rocket science. Talking about rocket science, you could consider the ISRO station here as landmark on the way to the dam. This is where the road takes a low-down. The well-laid roads finally give way to typical village roads. This red-sand-and-concrete-stones road thankfully extend to only about 2-3 kms. From then on till Ground Zero its back to good roads. We were just limbering around driving at a sinfully slow pace soaking the beautiful village atmosphere when the breathtaking sight of the Akravathi river hit us like a bolt from the blue. The Akravathi looked comfortably cuddled between the mountains. Once you reach this place you'll find a forked road. The one on the left leads to the Dam while the other to the right follows a long winding road to the banks of the river. The right looked more exciting and we took it. The road downhill is bad, which makes it a little more adventurous. Driving slowly here, serves two purpose - keeping your head in place from falling off and enjoying the sights and sounds(or the lack of it) of the place. The serenity of the place is in stark contrast to the noisy nuisance of Bangalore. To our surprise we even found a BMTC bus (227A or something like that) drive past us, leaving a storm of dust behind it.

After spending close to an hour at the banks of the Akravathi, we decided to hike the mountain. But rough terrain, slippery rocks and cribbing co-hikers brought the hike to an abrupt end. We decided to drive a little more, but not having found anything more interesting we decided to drive back. On the way back we sighted the Dam a good 5-6 kms away. Thats when we actually remembered that the actualy purpose of the visit was to see the dam and now we were leaving without seeing it. The Manchinbele Dam is a miniature one by any standards. It has only three gates to it and basically it serves as a drinking water reservoir for the neighbouring villages. Having seen enough, we decided to leave the place.

The next stop obviously was the Dodda Alada Mara.
Some quick facts about the Big Banyan Tree:
1. Its very old. About 400-500 years old.
2. Its Big. It covers about 4-5 acres.
3. Its infested with monkeys.
4. It has a temple in its premises. There's always a temple right!!!

Burnt corn, disgusting bhel puri and refreshing tender coconut water marked the end of yet another perfect bangalore getaway weekend.

Getting-there: Take the Mysore Road -> 3 Kms after Kangeri, take right at Sri Rajarajeshwari Dental College -> Dodda Alada Mara in Ramohalli Village -> Left at Chikkapa(or was it Chandrappa) Circle -> ISRO -> Manchinbelle Dam. Best to keep asking for directions though.
Must-Do: Spend lazy hours at the banks of the river. There's boating too for those interested. Take pictures of Dodda Alada Mara for been-there done-that sort of thing.
Must-Don't: Litter of course. The biggest contributor to the litter being alcoholic beverages.
Must-Carry: Ear plugs to protect your eardrums from the blaring noise of the temple loudspeaker.
Caution: Stray dogs getting under your wheels on the Mysore Highway. Monkeys snatching food.

My Rating: 5/10 (Collective Score)