Thursday, April 19, 2012

Upper Bhavani, Ooty

Much like the previous evening, most of our day 2 morning was spent trying to figure out where we could next go. After getting turned down from officials from a couple of places we headed towards Upper Bhavani. Upper Bhavani is a dam built over the Bhavani Lake. It is located apparently at 7470 feet above MSL. The 20+km ride from Avalanche/Emerald Lake to Upper Bhavani took much longer than usual. I'm more than sure we lost our way somewhere and took a roundabout route. My co-travelers though refuse to buy that theory. Instead of the 20kms I'm pretty sure we travelled at least 40kms. The argument is still unresolved.
So, after much travelling we reached the gates of Tamil Nadu Electricity Board owned Upper Bhavani Dam. After paying Rs.50 to a drunken policeman a.k.a guard we gained access to the Dam premises. With paucity of time we had no choice but to rush to the dam, absorb the sights and head back. I can bet that on a different day of a different season, Upper Bhavani will offer breathtaking views. But this was not the day. With nothing much to do and not wanting to get caught in the wrong side of the Bandipur forests before the gate closes for the night, we headed back to Ooty and subsequently to Bangalore. Thus ended another semi-disappointing Ooty trip.

Getting-there: Upper Bhavani is 60 kms from Ooty.

Must-Do: Ogle at the green sea of tea gardens.
Must-Don't: Visit during summer

My Rating: 4/10

Emerald Lake, Ooty

With Pykara Lake and Glenmorgan done and dusted with, it was time to make our beds for the night. Hotel accommodation was something we have not even considered as a Plan B. The primary purpose of this trip was to camp in the wilderness of Ooty. But this task seemed harder to implement than thought. Apparently, one needed to obtain permission from the Forest Department to camp in the wilderness. And whomever we asked we were told that no permissions were given to camp near the lakes for fear of wild animals et al.

With a thin ray of hope we approached the Forest officials to obtain permission. But being a long weekend and the lateness in the hour we could contact anyone for the permissions. This was followed by more questioning of the local store owners and hawkers for a safe place to set our camp near any of the lakes for the night. With light and hope fading fast, we had to take a call. We finally decided to go to Lake Emerald and see if we can set a camp without or without permissions. If that was not to be, then we will settle for hotel accommodation somewhere in the area.

And it came to be that we arrived at Emerald in pitch darkness. Except for a bungalow next to the lake, there was no sign of humanity in the immediate vicinity. But before pitching our tent here, we needed to be sure that we will not have any trouble with the authorities or the wild animals. So we asked the people who lived in the bungalow and a few more people further ahead in the next village. Upon enquiry we were told that this place is neither frequented by wild animals nor will there be any objections in setting up a camp here. Armed with this info we pitched our tents here. We were in the process of starting a fire when we heard a man raising a battle-cry from the other end of the lake. He also started using his torch light in our direction whenever we used ours. First we ignored, but his insistenance got a few of us worked up. We weren't sure who or what it was all about. One thing we knew for sure that we did not want to give up this vantage camping point. So if the mystery man was a Forest Official who was trying to shoo us away, then that’s a risk we did not wish to take. To compound our problems a little while later we heard a loud sound, something like a gunshot. Now this really shook us up. The mystery man just turned into a frightening man. Was it really a gunshot we heard? Or do we really want to confirm it was a gunshot? We decided against any adventure and just call it a night sans the campfire and dinner.

I had a rather sleepless night thanks to reverberating gunshot sound and the merciless cold of the Ooty night. At 3AM I abandoned all efforts to catch a decent sleep and slipped out of the tent. To my delight I found that KB was having a similar night as I. We decided to make things right by starting a fire. At 3AM we were sure the mystery man would be fast asleep. But to our horror the moment we got our fire started, the yelling started. Not wanting to risk hearing another gunshot or similar sound we put out the fire and went in search of a different location to start the fire - away from the watchful eyes of our mystery man. We found a comfortable location and started the fire. It was a herculean task to start a fire considering that all the twigs and leaves we collected were dripping wet with the moisture of the early morning. But we persevered and soon we mastered the art of fire making against all odds.

The growling sounds of the stomach called our attention to have food. Since we had all the material resources to cook soup, the two of us worked in that direction and pretty soon we were sipping a hot cuppa soup with the sun rising in the horizon. It was a scene unlike I had ever witnessed in Ooty or any other location. This was the high point of my two trips to Ooty. And probably the "best" memory I will carry in my heart for the years to come.

After the sun was out in its full glory we finally figured out our Mystery man. The man across the lake was just a farmer, who was protecting his farm from possible intruders. So much for all the worries and the sleepless night we went through. But then, the mystery of the gunshot still remains a mystery.....

Getting-there: Emerald and Avalanche Dam is where you should be headed to reach Emerald lake.

Must-Do: Enquire for permissions to camp for the night. Tents, Sleeping bags, Lighter, newspapers and bullet-proof vest  will come in handy.
Must-Don’t: Littering

My Rating: 7/10

Glenmorgan, Ooty

Glenmorgan is what Ooty's not. It is quiet, serene, clean and devoid of tourists. The place gets its name from one of the oldest Tea Estates in the Ooty region. Glenmorgan is also an "electricity" town. There is a tiny and scenic lake at Glenmorgan that acts as the fountainhead for the electricity board that was established here. The lake here is unlike any you will see anywhere in Ooty. It is literally nestled in the lap of the Nilgiris with tea gardens encompassing it. The atmosphere is so serene that it will put your mind and body at ease.

A little ahead from the lake lies a deserted bungalow. A narrow winding path from here will take you to one of the most exciting viewpoints of Ooty. The view from here is absolutely spectacular. From the ranges much higher than where we stand to the deep valley down below, the contrast is quite striking. The color composition is also a distinct feature here. From the green magnificence of nature to the mighty brown ranges to the Azure blue of the sky dotted with the pristine white clouds - its nature at its best.

The winds here are so strong, you can hardly hear the person next to you talking. Apart from this there are (were) two mini architectural wonders here. One, a huge well big enough to swallow Bangalore’s Utility building and two, a cable car that starts here and takes you downhill. Both seem to be out-of-favour now with the authorities and are no longer in operation. The couple of hours we spent here was well worth the time and effort. This is the real Ooty if ever there was one.

Getting-there: Follow the signboards and ask for directions.

Must-Do: Find the deserted bungalow and get to the viewpoint. The Viewpoint is also accessible from the power plant.
Must-Don’t: Photography near the power plant.

My Rating: 6/10

Pykara Lake, Ooty

They say life is all about second chances. Who wouldn't like to wipe their slate clean and make a fresh start? But the harsh reality is that despite these second chances, life sometimes refuses to correct its course and we end up making the same mistakes all over again.

Almost 3 years ago I swore to myself that I would never go back to Ooty. I had started then that Ooty is well past its sell-by date. The lack of proper transportation, the trash-littered streets and lakes and all the overcrowding in these tiny little pockets of hamlets has taken away the colonial charm of this once sleepy town. But when an offer was made to wander in the mystic meadows of the Scottish Trails I bit the bullet and succumbed to the temptation. The pictures and experiences portrayed in various blogs seemed to good to be true and had to be experienced. The bad memories of the previous visit had to be erased and a rosy picture to replace it. But alas, it was not to be so.

What started off as a Scottish Trail transformed into a location-hopping trip much like my previous trip. The downside of going location-hopping in Ooty is that too much time is wasted in just getting to the place, what with all the uphill/downhill drive along the winding Ghat roads stretching the travel time from point A to point B. To top it all, our timing wasn’t that great either. After crossing a rather misty Bandipur and Madhumalai Forest (coming from Bangalore) we stopped at the Indian Coffee House in Gudalur and had a sumptuous breakfast. A few enquiries later, we were headed to Pykara Lake or as the signboards say - Pykara Boat Houses. And thus begins the saga of catastrophic disappointments.

So Pykara Lake is where a tourist can take a few pictures of the locale and maybe go for a ride in one of the boats and then head to some place more interesting. There's nothing very spectacular about the view either that will prompt you to stay long than half an hour at this place. To add to our woes, with the approaching summer, there wasn't much of a green cover to make the view scenic.

Getting there: Pykara Boat House is about 11 kms from Ooty on the Ooty-Coimbatore Highway.

Must-Do: Avoid it if you boating is not your poison.
Must-Don’t: Littering

My Rating: 3/10