Our last week or so in India has been one of extreme transits and short stays in multiple locations. The end of phase one occurred as Jill really wanted to be in China for Chinese New Year. So from Pondicherry we did a 9.5 hour train trip to get to Bangalore. Bangalore is a big city with all of the usual bits of temples, churches, architecture etc. we had a nice day wandering around parks, gardens, the tipu palace, the lake, all capped off with afternoon beers and a meal at a pub called ‘Plan B’. The Canberra crew will know the significance of this.
From here we took a 7 hour train ride to Coimbatore which was little more than a transit stop with a meal and a few hours sleep. This flowed on to a 1 hour ride to Metupalaiyam where we met up with the Nilgiri Railway which was a 5 hour train ride through the Nilgiri mountains to the town of Ooty. Now this can best be described as a toy train trip and it was fantastic. The 5 hours are essentially a 50 km climb on a steam powered locomotive using a rack and pin setup to be able to climb the steep sections. The journey goes through the middle of the Nilgiri mountains which greatly resemble Australia’s Blue mountains, west of Sydney. This journey stops frequently to fill the steam engine with water and is utterly charming.
As an aside I learned from my mother that this is the part of the world where she grew up. I knew she was born in India and knew my grandfather was in the British army and there were some moves. But throughout this journey she has been dropping little family history gems in the random e-mails that pop into my inbox. She apparently grew up in a town called Wellington and was schooled at Coonoor…both of these the little toy train went through. Quite frankly this is the cleanest part of all of India (but will not be for much longer). Despite the locals taking pride in the area…and big signs in the train and all around…the Indian tourists continue to use the world as their own personal garbage bin. (I think I will have to do a sideline rant on the attitudes of the Indians attitude towards cleanliness, hygiene, the toilet and rubbish).
The entire area up the Nilgiri mountains is fantastic and is one of the nicer parts of the world. Blue mountain views, a steam train, low level clouds intermittently, tea plantations, the lake and people who take pride in the local area all combine to make it a great place to escape to for a few days. The highest peak of the range is Dodddabetta peak which is higher than mount kosciuszko and the surrounding area was the home for a rogue tiger that had killed 12 people and at least one cow in recent times. Sadly about 3 days before we got there they found and killed it. The parks people tried with tranquilliser guns but as the locals were losing money as their shops could not open…(excerpt from newspaper)…On Wednesday, hundreds of them ventured into the forest armed with sickles, logs and iron bars to kill the tiger. Though officials from forest, revenue and police managed to convince them that such adventurism would only hamper the experts’ efforts, the pressure seems to have weighed heavy on the hunting party which shot to kill, not capture, when it was finally spotted in the evening.
After a night in Ooty we did the reverse journey down the hill on the train followed by an overnight train ride to Chennai which in all was over 17 hours of train commuting. A nap, a meal, a shower, a sleep… then a flight to Calcutta, had a nap and a meal planned but hit the filthiest hotel on the planet near the Kolkata airport so we opted to sit in the airport for 7 hours rather than stay in such filth…then a flight to Kunming in China.
This hotel was something to behold…we had to cross one of India’s many open sewerage drains along with a seething mud pit just to get into the property…upon arrival I noticed the grey pillow cases and commented to Jill…she turned them over to find that this was the clean side as the other side had drool stains and god knows what else…the sheets were dirty….at this point it was time for a proper inspection of the joint…the one inch yellow ring of baked in urine around the toilet was the clincher…Jill hit rampage mode and all but dragged the manager up by his ear…
He made stupid faces and suggested that it would be better with a new pillowcase…and then it started…those that know Jill well will not need an explanation and those that don’t I’m sure can understand what followed…I even weighed in from time to time when it seemed the process was stalling…but in reality Jill was well in control…needless to say we did not stay, got our money refunded, blacklisted the place through the Indian WOTIF equivalent, listed them on trip advisor as the filthiest hovel on the planet and returned to the airport to sit and wait for 7 hours for an overnight flight to China.
All in all quite therapeutic.