South India Day 4: Kochi to Ooty
Today was mostly a travel day spent in the car from Kochi, in the state of Kerala, to Ooty, or more correctly, Udhagamandalam, in the state of Tamil Nadu. Our breakfast was another delicious buffet at the Kochi Marriott, and knowing that we had a long car ride ahead, we ate our fill. The pickled pineapple was amazing. Rajesh was waiting at 8 a.m. sharp and we were ready with our luggage and said goodbye to Kochi.
In total, the drive lasted around 7 hours, and I think we only stopped one time at a roadside restaurant to use the restroom and buy some water. I also couldn't resist the fresh onion pakora and bought an order for 30 rupees (around 50 cents). After leaving the checkpoint between the two states and entering Tamil Nadu, we drove through a few small villages and then a fairly large city, Mettupalayam, before starting up the winding mountain road. The drive up the mountain reminded me of a tropical version of the drive from San Bernardino to Big Bear Lake. At a certain elevation, conifers and Bonnet Macaques appeared and lined the roads. The monkeys didn't seem to take much notice of all of the honking tour buses, cars, and freight trucks.
Cramped and hungry, we finally arrived at the Hotel Bouganvilla (sic) and spilled out of the car and into our rooms. I had mixed feelings about this hotel at first, but most likely I'd been spoiled by the Marriott. The Bouganvilla is quaint and small and comes equipped with an incredibly sycophantic 'manager/driver' with a perpetual Cheshire cat's grin. Luckily, for Stacy and me, Adam took on the task of all communication with this person. After a twenty-minute merry-go-round of a debate, Adam somehow convinced him that all three travelers had legs, were used to walking, and would, in fact, be able to walk the one mile to town and return, alive.
After a 15 minute stroll down the hill to town, there was still adequate daylight to explore the crowded little town of Ooty. With its open sewers, feral dogs, cows, goats, horses, etc., it was hard to imagine this place as a British Hill station a hundred years earlier, populated by wealthy British people escaping the summer monsoon. We passed by some beautiful small temples and asked some helpful policemen to guide us to the tourist office. At the tourist office, which was located in the Nilgiri District Library, we were given some directions and a fairly good map of Ooty. Ended up eating at a very clean restaurant called Adyar Ananda Bhavan. Dirt cheap food and delicious. The strange thing was that even though the restaurant was fairly crowded, there seemed to be as many employees standing around as patrons. After dinner and before our ascent back up to the hotel, I decided to buy beer at the TASMAC. Alcoholic beverages in Tamil Nadu can only be sold in government run 'stores', which are basically a barred hole in the wall in a dungeon beneath the street. You kind of point and then pay. Very strange experience, but I'm glad I tried it. It was kind of like going to the DMV to buy a bottle of beer. Up the hill we went in the dark and made it back to the Bouganvilla (alive). A few bottles of strong Kingfisher, a few rounds of Uno with Adam and Stacy, and I was off to slumberland.