Oooty and beyond.

Trip Start Feb 19, 2006
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Trip End Oct 01, 2006


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Friday, May 5, 2006

After getting my tools and supplies from Mysore, I headed out toward the famous Ooty, which is meant to be cool, being in the mountains and all. About 150 kilometers from Mysore, one can see the mountains off in the distance.
I left noonish, and went out through the road less travelled, asking directions on the way where the signs were in hindi. Luckily everyone seemed to know where the roads were.
I chose the name Rocinante for my motorcycle for a reason. Don Quixote was a crezy old man, of course a little older and crazier than myself, and for those that know the story, the most famous scene is him thinking that a windmill is a monster, and he of course tries to strike down the beast with his lance. The trusty steed he rides is, of course named "Rocinante. . "
Many kilometers passed, and I found the turnoff to Ooty. A lot of the signs were in English, they are trying like hell to promote tourism here, knowing that the rupees brought in by sightseers would boost the economy, and give some more people jobs, which many so desperately need.

The road to Ooty was of course the back way in, not the way most westerners take, and the obligatory waving and smiling was happening all over in every town. Being on the Harley of India, and being a rare westerner is like being some sort of movie star. All are curious, and most, especially children, wave and call out "hello!" in the small villages.
Becoming thirsty, I of course stopped at a small shop stall, you can tell the ones that have cold cokes by the stacks of refillable bottles in front of the shop in plastic crates. I ordered up a cold coke, and a "neeru" the tamil word for water. When I thanked the man by saying "nan-dri" they all seemed a little surprised and impressed that I made the effort to speak at least some rudimentary Tamil.
I took a seat among the staring men hanging around, and rolled a cigarette. They were all interested in this, though few smoke here, and most who do smoke bidi, which is like smoking a dried oak leaf with a tobacco stem in it. One old-timer was doing just that.
The old man had quite an interest in what I was smoking, I told him "tobacco" and they all understood. I also motioned to him that I would give him one if he wanted to try.
He did, and I rolled one and gave it to him. .
The other men crowded around to see what his reaction would be to this new kind of smoke. I inhaled mine painlessly, and when the Grandfather inhaled his, he stifled a cough, probably in the same way a teenager tries to drink a shot of whiskey without flinching. . The men all around saw this, the old man smiled, and all broke out into gales of laughter, including myself.
Inhaling another pull from my own cigarette, I put my hand to my chest and explained, "strong." Strong, they all repeated, and there was much back patting and shaking of hands.
Not a lot happens in these small towns, and these things are quite an event. But I have miles to go before I sleep. Or should I say Kilometers. . .

About 20 kilometers up the pitted road, I came to a gate, a national forest sanctuary, and the border of Tamil Nadu. The toll was 7 rupees, and still there was none of the oft-mentioned baksheesh demand that people had so often told me about. They just took my ten, gave me back my 3 rupes, and waved me on. The old man at the gate admonished me, "care, driving, take care, bad road, elephant. . "
Bad road. hmmmm. . Nope, I haven't seen anything like that here in south India. Elephants, on the other hand, now that is a different story. As the road wound up the mountainside, not full switchback mode yet, I did see a couple of elephants, including a mother and her baby. The baby was at least a yearling, not so small anymore, but was still having a go at mama's teat for nursing nourishment.
I stopped, the pachyderms only perhaps 20 feet away, and Mama looked at me with wise and semi-intelligent eyes, before shooing junior away from the nipple and moving back off down the roadside, browsing for tree fruit. .

A bit later, the road started to climb. Up and up, and up I went, the temperature dropping with the altitude. One must drive slowly up here, as the local buses, when on the switchbacks and hairpin curves do not obey any kind of road rules, such as driving on the left side. It is almost as if they drive by Karma, and just hope that no-one is coming up from the inside. It is also customary to honk the horn, at least to let any oncomers know you are there, because some of the swiitchbacks rise 50 feet or better, and so are completely blind curves. It also is not always possible to hear another vehicle coming down, for many of them coast to save petrol, though at the cost of their brake linings.
At long last I began to get to some level road, with tea plantations and pine trees. The sky threatened rain, and it was growing a little chilly, I had not felt goose bumps in quite a long time, and the sensation was familiar, and not uncomfortable. At last! Cool again!
So scouting the town of Ooty, I did my normal. Found a lodge that did not look in tip-top shape as the resorts are always too expensive, and went in to make a bargain. 200 rupees, the woman said. I countered again with 80, and finally we settled on 100, and that was a room with an attached bath. Not a very clean room, the pillow must have been stuffed with concrete, and the mattress was not much better, but nevertheless, it had an Indian-style toilet, and though it had no shower, it did have the indian-style shower, a bucket and a small pitcher. The water runs very cold in Ooty, so I came out refreshed, to say the least. .
After a walk down into town, I found a couple of Kingfishers, of course warm, and scanned the marketplace. A kilometer away was a resort area, and for 85 rupes, I got myself some real dark chocolate. 250 grams, or about 9 ounces. Strong, and with high cocoa content. A real treat.
After my walk, I put the kingfisher in some of the cold water, sat down to write by candlelight (as the power was off again) and contemplated my next move. With all of the commercialization (there is an amusement park with a go-kart track, and paddle boats in the river) I started to realize that this was not the place for me, no matter how comfortable the temperature might be. . I resolved to go to Munnar in the morning, and enjoyed a bit of chocolate, a cold beer, and some writing before retiring.
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