Coonoor - Ooty's little cousin !
"Heritage train station and more !"
The highlight of this town is the wonderful little train station which is exactly one hundred years old in 2008. The city is about 20 KM from ooty and is a trading centre for Nilgiri tea. The town boasts of a historic botanical park called Sim's Park.
Hiking in the Nilgiris
The Nilgiris are a great place to hike, or would be if anyone hiked. When I told people I wanted to walk places they gave me strange looks. I walked out to one place that was unfortunately a tourist destination (called “Lamb’s Rock”), and even more unfortunately allowed vehicles to drive tourists to the tourist destination. It was perhaps 3 miles through relative wilderness, but with busses and cars and everything else driving too fast on a road that was too narrow to accommodate them, steep hill up on one side and really steep hill down on the other, and no walking path. Oh, and everything has diesel engines, so the fumes, oh the fumes…
The next hike was spectacular, though, and made up for it. I hired a car to take me to a point called St. Catherine Falls, which was further away than Lamb’s Rock, and with limited and circuitous regular transportation to it—read, no tourists—and then hiked the 10+ miles back on a shortcut road through those tea plantations. There were very few vehicles, and people were incredibly friendly along the way.
I did manage to get to a wildlife reserve (Mudumalai) where there were elephants. The reserve staff’s idea of viewing wildlife is to pack 20 people in a bus-sort-of vehicle with no shocks and drive around really fast, lurching to a halt whenever an animal is spotted, allowing a couple of minutes for riders to ooh and ahh before taking off again fast, knocking over everyone who has stood up to try to take a photo. Most of my shots of elephants are actually of the man on the other side of the bus flailing madly to stay on his feet with a gray blur behind him, which I swear really was an elephant. The driver I hired to get to the reserve said there were herds of elephants and guar (bison) outside the reserve, but I didn’t see anything besides tracks.
Some things I’ve learned in the Nilgiris:
- Tea smells awful when it’s alive. The first person to steep the leaves was taking a real leap of faith. The plants are very pretty, though.
- All those flowers you buy as exotics in the US are from the Nilgiris, and they’re all weeds.
- Monkeys are aggressive, and aren’t really that cute, although the babies are fun to watch. And they have very interesting feet, which you get to see up close because they are aggressive.
I also learned my favorite phrase in Tamil thus far: Kette corringe - seegaram po! Bad monkey - scram! There was a small band of monkeys living in the area, and every morning they’d test to see how far they could come into the restaurant. One of my fellow guests was a girl about 4 years old, beautiful with huge brown eyes and curly black hair - every morning she’d stamp her feet at the encroaching monkeys and shout that at them, and they’d slink back out.
It did turn out to be a useful phrase, sort of. The morning I was leaving the Nilgiris I was packing up in the bathroom and heard rustling in my bags and…as I came around the corner I found a little monkey with a banana in one fist and a bag of chips in the other. I stamped my feet and shouted “kette corringe - seegaram po!” and the monkey scrambled out, holding onto food with all appendages. I chased it across the room and out the sliding glass door and found several much larger monkeys on the balcony waiting. They promptly ripped open the chips and spent the next half hour eating and glaring at me. I had breakfast in my room that morning, not, as I had hoped, peacefully contemplating the mountains from the balcony. Oh well...