Yes, I saw the wires. And no, the place is not all wires. And yes, I need to improve my photography.
End of June is not exactly the best time to be travelling to Central Tamil Nadu. Especially when our friendly Gormint is trying to improve the infrastructure. So in short, the drive was hot & it was dusty. But they did do a good job of improving the infrastructure. And while they were at it, they also made all maps redundant. Because as the NH 7 moves up in life to a 4-lane track, like all things that move up in life it has also moved out of the neighbourhood. Post Krishnagiri, the NH 7 has a different alignment, and all towns till Thoppur have been passed by.
After a pit stop at Salem, a combination of stupidity & lack of road signs caused us to travel an extra 30 kms. We did go through some pretty countryside though. We re-joined the NH some where near Namakkal. Which is where the heat & dust comes in. And the constructions. And the heat. And the bikers coming the wrong way. And the heat. And the speed demons. And the heat. Well, actually it wasn’t that hot. But it felt like it. But what I don’t understand is, why in the name of all that is holy, there are no places to eat along these new fangled highways. Not that there are no places at all, but The Wife didn’t like the looks of them. And what The Wife doesn’t like, I don’t like. Or at least I have to say so.
Since we were travelling after almost 6 months, we decided to splurge. We ended up at the Gateway in Madurai and thanks to the country jaunt, we reached in the middle of afternoon. The place is incredibly green & there is a visible drop in the temperature. Or rather a sense-able drop. It’s on a small hillock called Pasumalai just off the highway. You’ve to admit the Brits did choose the most sensible way to live & work on the sub-continent. As opposed to the steel & glass structures that we seem to favour nowadays. For this is the erstwhile residence of the MD of the erstwhile J B Coates company and reportedly boasts of South India’s first swimming pool.
Getting around in Madurai seems to be fairly easy. Autos go everywhere. Predictably, they don’t go by the meter. The bus service is fairly efficient and fairly un-crowded as well. Not to mention unbelievably cheap. A 7 to 8 km ride costs all of 2.5 INR. That same ride will cost you 70 to 80 INR in the autos. Buses & cars don’t go all the way to the Meenakshi Amman temple so walking will be involved. And I’m assuming that that temple is one reason most folks go there. There are tons of other stuff to see there though. In Madurai, the temple leitmotif cant’ be escaped however. If that’s not your thing then you can go visit the palace. It is called the Thirumalai Nayakar Mahal. From the temple it is a 3 km walk. And of course, we did just that. The entry to the palace is INR 10 with a 30 INR charge for still cameras. Of course, all foreigners fork out more. That’ll show them. Going around colonising. There is work going on to spruce up a Light & Sound show here. The work is expected to complete by August of ’09. Crossing the lane opposite the palace will bring you to the St. Mary’s Cathedral Church. But besides walking around the Meenakshi Amman temple we didn’t do much of significance at Madurai. Except laze around at the Gateway. Watching the peacocks. Which are in hordes at the Gateway. Come to think of it, besides the walking we didn’t do much. But such is the effect of heat.
Onwards took us to Villa Retreat in Kodaikanal. Now for someone with an obvious bias towards the Nilgiris, Kodai didn’t enthuse enough. Again, besides one very long walk around the lake & a half-hearted attempt at going to Bear Shola falls we didn’t do much. Plus Villa Retreat has one of the best views going so there was not a lot of incentive. It’s right next to Coaker’s Walk. Right, so we did that too. For those who don’t mind exerting a bit, the walk around the lake is highly recommended. It’s around 5 kms and besides the lake & pretty houses around it, the view will also throw up assorted honeymooners doing what honeymooners everywhere do. Trying out goofy stuff which somehow makes abundant sense in the hormonal period when you’re finally getting some on a regular basis. The point is, there is plenty to look around in Kodai. The interesting thing is that there is an Observatory, but it’s only open on Fridays during the off season & that too only for 2 hours from 10 to 12 in the noon. It’s a solar observatory before any of you ask. The peak season runs from March 15 to June 15 when it is open in the evening too. However, if you give prior notice, they’ll allow you to visit at night. This option was not exercised for the simple reason, that I didn’t know it existed.
That was sort of the end of the vacation. We wanted to extend, but Villa Retreat was full up. But we had a couple of days in hand & figured it wouldn’t hurt to extend the vacation by a day. A lot of research done by the slacker writing this, (basically clicking on the first links Google threw up) told that the route from Kodai down to Palani was scenic. Considering the heat we encountered on the way in and the fact that The Wife was rather partial to tanning quite fast and the fact that she expressed her displeasure at that state of things quite vocally & frequently, we decided to take this route. The real reason was of course that I wanted to enjoy the drive.
And the drive didn’t disappoint. Especially, the drive down from Kodai to Palani is worth the superlatives it gets. And at this point in time – middle of 2009 – I have to say that the TN state roads are the best. It is smooth, it is empty & it has signs all the way in Tamil. But that’s alright. At least they didn’t change their alignment. The plan was to hit Salem & stop off at Yercaud. Some ways through we hit a fork on the road – well not really, but it was clearly visible on the map – which promised Yercaud 123 km to the right & Coonoor 123 km to the left. The Wife being very partial to Coonoor, indicated that a lot of brownie points could be scored by bearing left. So bore left is what I did.
Well since it is Coonoor, the 1 day extension turned to 2 days. We stopped off at The Wallwood Gardens and did what we did all vacation. Walked some more. We walked towards Tiger Hills for no other reason than the fact that it was there. The mist precluded any activity apart from looking at the mist, but there were folks who squinted hard as they were shown around the tea factory there. The rest of time was spent eating and some more walking. Thankfully, not in the heat this time.
We decided to take the scenic route back. Well not all of it was scenic, but some of it allegedly was. So we went down the Mettupalayam route. Right up to Avinashi, the state roads are excellent & the drive very pleasant. At Avinashi they give you the tour of the town, presumably because of the work going on on the NH 47. There is work going on, but the roads are excellent. We took the right at Bhavani towards Mettur and as we knew, the road didn’t disappoint. What did disappoint was the heavy tipper trucks that seemed to be piloted by speed demons. At Meccheri, we took the left to Pennagaram the plan was to get into Bangalore via Anekal. All the way upto Pennagaram that was the plan. That’s when it went kaput. Due to extremely bad roads from Pennagaram to Anchetti, we had to detour to Hogenakkal. The road from Hogenakkal to Anchetti was bad as well. But Anchetti onwards, the roads reverted back to the 2009 standard TN state roads. So before you quibble about where the scenic route sections are, the drive from Meccheri to Pennagarm was wonderful. The drive from Hogennakal to Anchetti was too, but you might appreciate it more if you had a vehicle with good ground clearance. But the best was the route from Anchetti to NH7 near Denkanikota. It helped that around that time, it started raining, not heavily, but just enough for the weather to cool down. And in this case, country roads did take us home.
In the last holiday season – considering Diwali to New Year’s – we went to the Nilgiris twice. Thrice, if you acknowledge that the holiday/festival season starts in August in India. Why this munificence in our custom? Simply because sometimes, a place makes you want to keep going back. Like the song that you want to keep playing all day, sometimes even in your head when all is quite in the night.
Right, so now that we’ve got the attempt at poetry and mood out of the way, the more prosaic reason is that The Missus loves the place. That is not to say I’m not. Far from it. The one reason we like it is because the once you wrap your head around the fact that there is not much to do in the Nilgiris, it is the perfect place. To laze that is. All that jazz about fresh air and similar enticements aside, there is a lot to be said for the benefits of doing nothing. Though the best way to appreciate the Nilgiris is simply by ignoring all signs to the various points and walking around. I understand that that is not exactly in the lazing territory, but it can be if you have no particular aim than knowing what is around the corner.
If staying closer to town is your thing, then try Neemrana Hotels’ Wallwood Garden. On the main Coonoor Kothagiri road, this is an old colonial bungalow converted to a hotel. Though, the folks who will run the place will make you feel like you’re in a homestay. They do not have a regular fixed menu, and you’ll need to let them know if you’re eating in before hand. And once you taste the food, you’ll insist on dining in. The food is to die for. The rooms are named after the trees found in the Nilgiris and the rooms with the best view are in the bungalow proper. The bungalow is pretty close to the Sim’s park. Which is an advantage if you are an early riser. That way you can beat the tourist hordes that come in. The park early in the morning is a nice place for a leisurely stroll.
If on the other hand, isolation is your thing, then head over to Red Hill Estate. This is about 28 kms from Ooty near the Emerald & Avalanche dams. Though to really appreciate the isolation you should travel during school and college exam periods. Feb to mid-March is recommended. This is an old tea estate that lets out place to stay. It is on the expensive side at INR 5000 for a couple all inclusive. However the view is to die for. Your hosts, the Vijaykumars, are very helpful and will arrange for walks within their property. Red Hill is pretty much at the edge of the Nilgiris – or rather cultivated Nilgiris – and a short distance away is the Mukurthi National park. It is also near a lot of forest areas, and it would be advisable to get permits to go in here before you get to Red Hill. If you let the kind folks at Red Hill know early on, they’ll help you out too. For short walks around the estate, you’ll be hard pressed to shake off your buddy for the stay, Moby, the resident mutt. Don’t be afraid of his boisterous welcome, for he really is quite friendly.
However, if you’re looking to base this as your centre of discovering the Nilgiris, then this might be a little out of the way. 28 kms can be quite a distance in the hills. But then if you have all the time in the world, then this is the exactly what the doctor ordered.