Posts Tagged ‘tea’

The Coonoor Chicken

All the guidebooks tell you that the way to arrive in Ooty is on the mountain railway from Mettupalayam, but that’s south of Ooty, and in Mysore I was well north. While I was sorry to miss the train ride, I have to say that the trip up by road wasn’t too shabby, either. My tour bus took the scenic route, scaling the mountain by way of 36 hairpin bends – at each bend a signboard listed the number still to go. I enjoyed the views of mountains and waterfalls, but wasn’t too impressed with Ooty when we finally arrived.

But then I only got a glimpse of the town, and a slightly longer look at the touristy lake area, before I left for Coonoor. The drive down the mountain was a bit more hair-raising than the drive up, as we quickly descended into thick mist. I was splurging on the Gateway Hotel, formerly the Taj Garden Retreat, and was welcomed with a flower garland and the news that I had been upgraded to a suite in one of the cottages. With a sitting room, bedroom, dressing area and bathroom I had the biggest quarters of the whole trip, but it was rather dark and far enough from the main building that the expensive wifi only worked in the sitting room. The Gateway didn’t really deliver the colonial-era ambiance I had expected – it was nothing like the Windamere in Darjeeling, although I did get hot water bottles in the evening.

Cottage at the Gateway Hotel

High season in the hills is April to June, when people go up to escape the lowland heat. There seemed to be plenty of people about in December, but the weather wasn’t great, with afternoon mist hiding the view and one day of heavy rain. Fortunately the morning was clear the day I had a car and driver for a visit to the nearby viewpoints, although I had yet another (male) Indian driver who didn’t want to listen to his (female) passenger’s instructions, and it took a call to the hotel to get me to the tea “factory” I wanted to see.

Tea plantation overlooking Conoor

Not that there was any shortage of tea – all the gentler slopes near Coonoor were blanketed by an apparently smooth layer of vivid green bushes. I had visited a tea factory in Darjeeling and seen the leaves being processed, so here I just wanted a shot of the ordered slopes backed by the steeper, forested hills in the distance, while the operation my driver favored was too close to town. I really preferred the views of the craggy hills and of the Catherine Falls across the valley to the regular rows of close-cropped tea bushes, and I did get to enjoy those in sunshine.

The Nilgiri Hills

The Catherine Falls

That afternoon I indulged in a massage in the Gateway’s spa, so by dinner time I was feeling pretty good. The Coonoor Gateway had the same menu as the one in Mangalore, but they also had a big buffet, and they REALLY wanted you  to eat that. But I hate buffets – the food is never as good when it’s been sitting around, I always eat too much, and even so I never feel that I’ve eaten enough to justify the price. I discovered that if I wanted to order off the menu, the hotel would like me to call the order in from my room, and then come down in half an hour to eat.

So I ordered chicken curry and dal makhani and rice, and waited half an hour before wrapping up for my walk to the dining room. The curry tasted fine, but I noticed it wasn’t as hot as could have been.  You know where this is going, don’t you? That night I got really sick.

Now I rarely, rarely get sick when I travel – I have fragile feet but a tough digestive system – but luckily I was carrying an antibiotic just in case. Even so, I spent the entire next day in bed, subsisting on toast and pineapple and listening to my iPod. I had intended to try for a seat on the mountain train up to Ooty (unlike the Darjeeling train it turns out that you can, and should, book tickets) and was only somewhat mollified by the pouring rain that might have kept me indoors anyway.  I will say that the hotel staff showed appropriate concern, wanting to call a doctor and giving me extra time in the room before I left the next day.

Tea, au naturel

Fortunately by then I no longer needed instant access to a bathroom, but I arranged a car and driver for the trip down to Coimbatore instead of taking a bus. The mist held off and I loved the scenery, but I was concerned about the four or five hours I would have to kill before boarding the night train to Trivandrum. My driver left me outside a restaurant near the station, and I nursed a big lassi for an hour before gingerly tackling some rice and channa (chick peas). Then I carted my pack over to the station – to find a minor miracle.

A sign by the electronic departure board just inside the entrance pointed the way to the AC waiting room. Not only was it open, it was clean, quiet, and provided with deep leatherette arm chairs and sofas flanking glass-topped coffee tables, with racks for luggage at one end, and not quite so clean but acceptable toilets at the other. Only a handful of passengers shared a room that could easily hold twenty. The explanation for this miracle? Entry cost 15 rupees an hour. About 30 cents. I had no hesitation in handing over 45 rupees and settling in!

The afternoon mists

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