The last few months had been particularly hectic. Perhaps it was a combination of the intense schedule both at work and home. I really needed something to unwind and detach myself from all the fervour. A holiday away from everything was really due for me and my family. Since it was summer, beaches were ruled out. This left us with hill stations. I checked the logistics for hill stations in north and east India. The prices were exorbitant since I was booking very late. Back to the options in south India, I had to choose between Munnar, Kodaikanal, Coorg and Ooty. I wanted a place that the children will like and one that will not be too long a drive from Bangalore. The natural choice was Ooty. I had been there with my wife about 14 years [phew… time flies!] ago. So I knew what to expect from the place. Taking care of the logistics was a breeze. The chosen dates were 21st to 25th of May. I booked a cab from BookCab.in, which is something I recommend for folks who don’t want to drive long distance. Finding a good hotel was a challenge though since it was tourist season in Ooty. I dint book any fancy resort since we are not the type to relax at a resort the entire day. Instead we prefer taking in the sights of the place and visiting everything that is meant to be visited. After many hours of searching I booked our stay at Rose Park Residency. We are not of the adventurous type and hence I usually pick a place which is at the centre of the city. Rose Park Residency fit this bill perfectly.
My elder daughter was a wee bit disappointed about the destination, since she wanted to visit some foreign destination. Peer pressure catches on very early nowadays. Moreover she wanted to carry her Harry Potter novels for the vacation, which I refused to. This only increased her disappointment, but she finally agreed to tag along for the holidays.
With everything set, D-day arrived finally. On the morning of 21st May the cab arrived ahead of time. We started from home at nine in the morning. The driver introduced himself as Mr Devegowda. I wanted to ensure that I was not too much into the drama that had engulfed Karnataka politics in the last couple of weeks. And so I reconfirmed that his name was really Devegowda. The guy was clearly embarrassed repeating his name! Speaking to him, it was easy to guess that he indeed liked his namesake and the rest of his clan; his inclinations were clearly to JD(S). He recommended that we take the NICE road to Kanakpura and there on to Mysore and Ooty. I usually let the drivers do what they think is right. This time, after quickly reconsidering the driver’s name, I agreed even before he completed his suggestion.
For most part of it, the drive was uneventful. We stopped at a quiet place after Kanakpura to have our packed breakfast. Thereafter it was nothing but miles and miles of travel. My wife and children went into a deep slumber. Along the way, the driver asked if we wanted to stop at Bandipur. He mentioned that it was on the way to Ooty and that we had to pass through it. And so, our first stop was Bandipur.
We reached Bandipur at about 2 PM. Monkey menace was at its peak here. They used to attack anyone who had a bag assuming that it contained edibles. Even folks carrying water bottles and aerated drinks were not spared. The weather was a bit sultry. Since we had not planned to stay at Bandipur, we could only go on an hour-long safari. I waited in a long queue to get the tickets, which I felt were expensive. There were clear disclaimers that sighting animals during the safari was a matter of luck and that the authorities were not responsible if it was not our lucky day!
Vehicles are not allowed to ply in these forests from 6 PM every evening until 6 AM the next morning. This was to ensure safety of the animals at night in these forests. It was heartening to see that the government had taken measures to protect them. The forests were really dense and this forest range is unique in that it is at the intersection of Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu borders. Each one had their own forest ranges namely Bandipur, Muthunga and Mudhumalai respectively. I have been on safaris in all these three places and I can vouch that Bandipur is the only safari where the chances of citing animals is high. [In this part of the world, the safari at Nagarhole National Park is the best however] The safari lasted for about an hour and I must say that it was worth the ride. The rickety mini-bus took us through winding paths into the Bandipur reserved forest. During the ride we saw umpteen numbers of deer; many peacocks; many monkeys; quite a few elephants; a few woodpeckers; a bison and a langur. Not a bad outing even though the majestic Tiger eluded us predictably. Even after all these years, I truly enjoy such rides into the forest to see animals in their natural habitats. Hence it was no surprise that my children were screaming with joy at every animal that they saw during this ride. They recollected the experience for many hours later. I found it very amusing that in all this action, the guy sitting next to me in the bus fell asleep. At one point he was snoring loud enough to simulate the roar of the tiger which eluded us. It fails my imagination as to how someone can sleep on such rides!
We started from Bandipur at about six in the evening, towards our destination. Even along the way, we saw numerous deer and a few elephants. We entered Tamil Nadu border and drove through the Mudhumalai forest range as well on our way to Ooty. As expected, the Mudhumalai range was devoid of any animals, at least during our drive through. After exiting the forests there are two routes towards Ooty. One was only 30 kms long and the other was closer to 60 kms. The driver mentioned that the shorter route had a lot of hair-pin bends and was not advisable. I let the driver choose the longer route. Darkness descended very quickly and it was a long drive before we arrived at Ooty. We were welcomed with a slight drizzle. We reached the hotel at about nine in the evening. Rose Park Residency was not very impressive. As anticipated it was suited only for bed-and-breakfast needs. We had a quick dinner and hit the sack. All of us fell asleep in a matter of minutes.
The second day started with a lot of action. There was no electricity and hence there was no hot water. All the guests in the hotel were demanding hot water and the poor staffs were doing everything in their capacity to manage the expectations. Even though delayed, we finally managed to get ready. We then had a healthy breakfast, following which we packed some of it, since we were not sure about the quality of lunch along the way.
Today’s agenda was Pykara lake; Pykara falls; Film Shooting Spot; Pine Forest and finally the Botanical Gardens. Our first destination was Pykara Lake, which was the furthest amongst all the other tourist spots mentioned above. So our plan was to visit Pykara Lake and then visit the rest on the way back to Ooty. It took us an hour to reach Pykara Lake. There were not many tourists, which made for a pleasant experience. The lake, with its pristine waters, surrounded by pine forests and other kinds of vegetation, was a welcome break from Ooty. Tourists never return without going on a boat ride in this lake. We were no exception. We avoided the speed boats since my family is scared of them. We took to one of the slower boats which took us on a 30 minute ride into the Pykara lake. There are warnings aplenty at all boating docks and the one at Pykara was no exception. However this was the first time I saw a warning that read “Selfies not allowed on boat rides”. I could not help smiling at this safety warning. Every technology indeed comes with its own share of risks and threats. We thoroughly enjoyed the boat ride and even flouted the selfie warning; expectedly no one really cared! Thereafter a short drive and a long walk took us to Pykara falls. Since the falls were cordoned off for safety reasons, we could only look at it from a distance. I felt it was a suited only to take pictures and nothing else.
We then trudged our way back to the car and in no time, the driver got us to the place called “Shooting Spot”, known thus due to the umpteen movies that are shot here. We had our packed lunch here and went on a long walk up the mountain and its shallow valleys. The place reminded me of Pahalgam in Kashmir, albeit an impoverished version of it. The children went on a horse ride, which kept them giggling all along. After relaxing quite a bit here, we headed to the pine forest. Scaling the gentle slopes of the pine forest was an adventure of sorts. The chill wind and the tall trees lowered the temperature and gently gave way to the sun as we reached the lake at the end of the forests. As we relaxed at the lake bed, the ambience coupled with our weariness posed a mighty challenge to stay awake. We had to coax each other to get back to the car and headed to our final destination of the day, the Botanical Gardens. Incidentally, this was the last day of the annual flower show. Hence we did not see any garden; instead it was just a sea of people everywhere. It was a forgettable and disappointing experience. There were loud announcements being made throughout the park, which piqued us even more.
There was one noteworthy incident though. Out of nowhere and what I felt was without any reason, the national anthem was played. Immediately all the commotion was replaced by complete silence. Everyone; and I mean every single person in the park, stood up for these few minutes. Most of them joined in singing the national anthem. Thereafter it was business as usual. We quickly exited the park and headed towards Commercial Road in Ooty. The ladies spent time shopping before dinner. We finally reached our hotel and crashed in no time.
We must have been very tired and slept really well, since none of us woke up until 9 AM the following morning. Today we planned to go to Conoor. The agenda was to visit some notable places in Conoor which the driver would recommend. And if we are lucky, we wanted to ride in the famous toy train back to Ooty. The start to the day was much more organized today, since there were no issues with the electricity. After a heavy breakfast we started towards Conoor. The driver recommended that we visit Dolphin’s nose, Lamb’s Rock and Sims Park. It took us more than an hour to reach Conoor, thanks to a traffic pileup along the way. The journey until Conoor bus stand was uneventful. Thereafter the short journey to Dolphin’s nose was just magical. We had to pass through many tea estates; cobbled tree covered roads; accompanied by a light rain and a subtle mist. I felt we tourists and our vehicles were the only uninvited guests in this tranquil stage. The roads were narrow for the most part of it. At some spots, it was just broad enough to allow vehicles to pass each other. The tree cover was really dense in some parts. We spotted a couple of streamlets along the way as well. The air was as fresh as it could be. A light mist engulfed us and very soon visibility was nil beyond 50 feet. Now this was Conoor at its best. It was acres and acres of tea estates along the way. This memorable drive finally got us to the place called Dolphin’s nose. I could not understand why the place was called Dolphin’s nose since I never saw anything resembling a Dolphin’s nose. However it was a really nice place was to visit. It provided some stunning views of the surrounding peaks, valleys and terrains. The chill weather only added to the experience. We devoured the sights; took some pictures; some window shopping at the local shacks and finally started our way back.
To be continued…