Skip to content


6 September 2008

Okay, since I’ve been AWOL for a little while now with the being out of station and out of motivation, I will now attempt to complete my most daring feat yet – complete two major wandering-related posts in two days! (Gasps from the crowd, hesitant and then enthusiastic applause, scattered “Hurrah!”s.) So hold on to your lederhosen, everybody! (No, I didn’t go to Germany. I’m just amusing myself with the idea of you all clutching embroidered short pants.)

So, as you may have guessed from hints dropped in earlier posts, Mike came to Chennai at the end of July for his second visit to India this year. Now, he wasn’t supposed to be here in July, but being the wonderful husband he is, he surprised me with an earlier-than-planned visit, which was awesome. Most of this second trip again consisted of our hanging out in Chennai. I was still working for a big portion of his time here, but I think that was okay with him because of the jetlag and his working on some big project for Grubhub. However, as much fun as it was just to hang out, Chennai isn’t so much the destination city, and I knew we needed to get out for a little bit, if only to make me let go of the “my world” mentality (and stop grousing about socks on the floor) and just travel with Mike out of either of our worlds. So we headed out into western Tamil Nadu near the border with Karnataka into the Nilgiris Mountains and the hill station Ooty, a much needed respite from the heat.

Come On, Ride the Train

At times, it continues to amaze me how large India is, and at no time does this strike me more than when I’m planning a trip by train (plus a teensy-weensy, short ride by toy train). When I look at the map, it doesn’t seem like Ooty should be a nine-hour overnight train ride away, but it is. So Mike gets his first Indian train experience. For those of you who have seen The Darjeeling Limited, you’ll have a little idea of what the trains are like. (Rabbit trail: Just the other day in Thailand (I love being able to say that) a guy from Australia told me that movie made him think India isn’t nearly as scary as he thought it would be and maybe now he’ll visit. Of course, then I told him, “Remember that bit about the poisonous snake escaping on the train? Yeah, I could see that happening.” I’m not so sure he’ll be booking that flight to Delhi anytime soon.) So, my trip with Mike was quite a bit different from that movie as we didn’t ride first class and it was only overnight, not multiple days, and there was no personal porters, so maybe it’s not all that the same after all.

Anyways, one thing The Darjeeling Limited does not show clearly is the true nature of the Indian train station or maybe that’s just because they didn’t come through Chennai. Thousands of people perch on every inch of horizontal space surrounded by boxes, luggage, plastic bags, the mail, street dogs, beggars, coffee men, etc. My flatmate commented the other day that, after a year in this city, it is easy to forget how overwhelming the train station can be to newbies. I’m thinking I should apologize to Mike for not being very sensitive about this, especially since once I get in the train station, it’s no-nonsense, bust-through-the-crowds, get-on-the-train-and-then-you-can-breathe (but not before then because, as in many places in India, it’s just better not to inhale). I think Mike handled it all right, though, and we made it to the train with a few minutes to spare.

We rode in A/C 3rd class, which means that there are three narrow bunks on each of three sides of a small compartment (with no door), so you share space with at least 8 other people. I say at least because children can be brought on to share a bunk with a parent. I’m not sure what the age limit is, but I have seen what seems like whole families sharing one berth. However, in this class, you do get A/C, which makes it more expensive, and therefore a little less crowded. I love riding on this type of train and sleep really well, being rocked to sleep by the sway of the train. I’m not exactly sure what Mike thought of it, though he didn’t complain much, so that’s a good thing.

Mike relaxes on the train, hoping the big guy on the bunk above is below the weight limit.

Mike relaxes on the train, hoping the big guy on the bunk above is below the weight limit.

The only problem with the overnight train (or really any Indian train, for that matter) is the bathrooms. I’m not going to say much here other than that, when riding the train, I work at perfecting the art of dehydration, so as not to have to check the status of the toilets on the train ever. My one piece of advice, though, is, if you’re ever on an Indian train, suck it up and use the Indian W.C. (squattie) and not the English/Western W.C. Just trust me on this one.

So we made it to Mettupalayam, which was at the base of the mountains we had to go into and not actually Ooty itself. Which meant another train ride. No overnight train this time though, but rather a UNESCO-certified “toy train” pushed by a steam engine up the mountain. It was definitely an “I think I can, I think I can”-type of experience, and at times, I felt like one of the Christmas toys, wanting to stick my head out of the train-car window and squeak in my little, toy-ish voice, “You can do it, little blue engine!” It was definitely an experience, though I’d say Mike was not exactly enamoured with it, probably because even I couldn’t fit my femur between the back of our seat and the seat in front of me. Oh, and it could have been because we had to stop every hour to take on water or that it took us five hours to go about 50 kilometers. Really. But hey, the sights were beautiful. And we lived – which is very important and often highly underrated.

Mike enjoys a few minutes stretching out on the toy train. This seat was filled by the second stop though, so it was a short-lived comfort.

Mike enjoys a few minutes stretching out on the toy train. This seat was filled by the second stop though, so it was a short-lived comfort.

"I think I can, I think I can..."

I think I can, I think I can

Enjoying one of the many stops on the way up the mountain

Enjoying one of the many stops on the way up the mountain

One of the many, many views that made the train trip worthwhile (though you might not want to ask Mike what he thinks)

One of the many, many views that made the train trip worthwhile (though you might not want to ask Mike what he thinks)

“No Tigers, Only Panthers”

In reading about Ooty before we left, I learned that Ooty is apparently much maligned as a formerly beautiful British hill station that has fallen by the wayside into a run-of-the-mill, dirty Indian town over the past 20 years or so. I’m not really sure if I can answer those criticisms since Mike and I didn’t stay in the town proper for more than the few minutes it took to catch an auto out to our hotel nestled into the hills. And by “nestled” I mean, high enough up the side of a mountain on barely-beaten tracks that our auto not built for off-roading had smoke coming out the back by the time we arrived and Mike’s head was slightly flattened from hitting the ceiling a few too many times. I slipped the auto driver an extra Rs.40 to help replace the tires. Yeah, pretty pathetic, I know…

Our little hotel was wonderful – had a pretty good restaurant, was very quiet, had a breathtaking view, and – possibly the best part – was delightfully chilly. I’m not sure if Mike shares that last sentiment with me, but I loved being cold, wrapping myself in blankets and actually having to wear socks other than to pad my feet while running on a treadmill. There was a fireplace in the room, which would have been nice if they didn’t start the fire with a newspaper ball soaked in diesel that fills the room with smoke and makes you start thinking about stop, drop and roll and suck the clean air off the floor and all that. But it’s the ambience that counts, right? We just spent our entire two days in Ooty curled up in blankets reading books, and that pretty much sums up our whole trip.

Snuggled up with Harry Potter... that sounds much worse than I meant it...

Snuggled up with Harry Potter... that sounds much worse than I meant it...

Probably the best part of the place, though, was its isolation. For the first time and the last at this point in India, I was able to be completely alone outside (well, Mike was there, but you get my point). We hiked up Tiger Hill, where the hotel was located, and there was no one else there, just trees. It was glorious. On our way down, we did see an Indian family on their way up, but other than that, it was just us. So magnificent.

And that isolation lead to probably the funniest moment of the whole trip. As Mike and I were heading out on our hike, the hotel manager (I think) stopped to chat with us and gave us directions to get to the trail up the mountain. Mike mentioned that that was the way he had gone on his run that morning, but that there had been so much fog and mist he couldn’t see very far in front of him. And then Mike said that, as he ran into this blinding mist, he began to think how utterly alone he was and then how this place was probably called Tiger Hill for a reason. At this, the manager said, “Oh no no no, sir. No tigers, only panthers.” Well okay then, perfectly safe…

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Unity permalink
    7 September 2008 12:51 am

    So, glad that you got to have some much needed “alone” time–it sounds fabulous. Now, Mike did mention the train ride, but he in no way did it justice–you describe it better.

  2. 7 September 2008 1:29 am

    Cause panthers can only eat a leg off of you, as opposed to your whole self eaten with nothing but fingers and entrails left. Hmmm. Not sure how I feel about either option. Can you brainwash my husband into hikes through Indian hills? Why didn’t he get that gene? Sounds like a very fun adventure!

  3. Mike permalink
    8 September 2008 11:53 am

    Ok, I need to weigh in on some issues here.

    1)Socks. I get it. I’ll pick em up when I surrender my bachelorhood and you come back. But until then, its an all out, no holds barred, sock,lederhosen,slipper,reef shoe bonanza. Just the other day I tied a sock ’round Chili’s neck and we all had a good time watching her try to escape from the smelly thing. Good times.

    2)You know, I really did enjoy the trip. I’m not so much of a wimp that I can’t handle a few hours on a train that Liliputians would complain about. I just twisted the larger portion of my body into another dimension for the trip. The key is not to think of “up”, or “down”, but rather “in the direction of greater utility”

    3) I am smiling in all of those pictures. Bring it, India! Ok… well…. the Giardia was a little bit of a tough bit to handle, but honestly, its a lot easier than dieting.

  4. Dana permalink
    15 September 2008 6:24 am

    okay so i’m reading 3 posts in one sitting. i’m getting very caught up with you today. I’m only through post one, so there may be more comments to come. anywho. . .

    i love your scarf that you’re curling up with (and with hp). last time i went shopping with unity and mildred, i kept looking at all the scarves – they’re very trendy right now – but they didn’t understand that i wanted to wear scarves in the summer (it’s because all the celebs are doing it), so when you get home you can come scarf shopping with me 🙂

  5. 19 September 2008 8:49 am

    So with you on the W.C.–people don’t really believe that squatties are better than hovering and keeping your balance over the Western style toilet.

  6. junaidnavas permalink
    4 December 2008 11:04 am

    hey great post !

    which hotel did you stay in ooty ?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: