We woke up next morning very fresh to a beautiful sunny day. Excited on seeing such weather, we got ready and headed off to Kotagiri by public bus. A note here- Tamil Nadu local buses are very timely and cheap. A trip to Kotagiri costed us Rs.15 pp and took 1 hr 15 mins. Buses to Kotagiri are available almost every half an hour. Once at Kotagiri, we decided to have some breakfast. We went to a eating joint near the bus stand that mainly served locals and had a tasty breakfast of dosa and vada on Banana leaves..yum! After some googling, we decided to do the Longwood Shola hike ( 3 kms) with the forest guard. We got a shared jeep and the driver took Rs.70 for two of us and left us at the entrance. We paid for the guide ( Rs.120) and started the hike. There was a large group of 8-10 people who also went with the guide and were a noisy lot. Whatever little chance we had of sighting wildlife was gone by this picnic like commotion created by this group. Other than that it was a quiet walk in the forest with streams and lots of leeches. We carried some salt, so were able to get rid of them easily.
After completing our hike and ensuring we have no more leeches in our shoes, we went to the main road, took a bus back to the bus depot and caught another bus to Aravenu, which was close to the Catherine falls ( 5 kms). The hike to Catherine waterfall was extremely picturesque dotted with numerous tea estates, valleys and small clusters of houses of the tea estate employees. The path was motorable bus we hardly saw any vehicle beyond the bifurcation to right after the Darmona tea estate ( approx. 1 Km from starting point at Aravenu). We made a stop at Darmona tea estate, visited their factory and clicked some pictures. It rained intermittently during the trek followed by bright sunlight. The play of cloud, rains and sunlight made the place look breathtakingly beautiful and mystical at the same time. We reached the fall in 1.5 hours . The fall had a lot of water due to it being rainy season. We sat at a small cement structure in the tea estate and had some fruits and other snacks that we were carrying. We were feeling blissful but tired. The hike back was a tough one because most of the way was downhill while coming. We had to stop every 300 m at some of the stretches, such was the incline. However, the scenery made up for it and we kept boosting each other’s morale to keep going. After an arduous 1 hr 15 mins, we were back in Aravenu. We could feel the sweet fatigue of hiking in our muscles and the memories of the hike floated in our minds. It was one of those moments when you just feel happy to ‘be’. We caught a bus back to Kotagiri, had some very good chai and took a bus back to Ooty. It was a day well spent and we decided to treat ourselves fish, chicken shawarma and juice in Ooty. After a drink we called it a day and crashed in for the night.
On a bright sunny morning midweek, in Bangalore, I looked and the sky and started wander lusting more than usual. The images that came to my mind were those of untouched mountains, green fields and drama of clouds. There was a long weekend coming up in the last week of September for Eid-Ul-Fitr and I hadn’t planned anything yet. Some online research led me to the Nilgiri mountains. The most popular tourist spot is Ooty. However, owing to my dislike for crowds and over-development I decided to make Ooty just a base for sleeping and explore other more secluded places like Kotagiri, Upper Coonoor and likes. Made a quick call to a friend who agreed to join, booked room at 60% off through goibibo, packed my back pack and I was ready to go.
We started on September 24th , Thursday. As our objective was to reach Ooty as soon as possible on 25th , we decided to make an unconventional connection. After office we took the train ( Kannur express) to Mysore in the evening and reached Mysore at 11.10 PM. It was raining heavily and the last bus to Ooty from Mysore KSRTC bus stand was to start at 11.30. I called the bus stand and informed them that we are on our way and may be 5 mins late. In spite of the rain, luckily we got an auto from the railway station to bus stop at Rs.50 ( 2 kms) and made it on time. The bus was a deluxe coach with comfortable push back seats and we started at 11.45 PM.
I soon fell asleep and woke up 2 hours later to find the bus standing by a tea shop. We got down and had an omelette from the shop and some granola bars that we were carrying. We saw a lot of buses and cars around and realized something- We were at the edge of Bandipur forest and no traffic is allowed to pass through the national park till 6 AM , so as not to disturb animals and maintain safety for vehicles. This meant that the bus would be parked there for the night. I however could see the silver lining of this event. When the bus starts early morning and passed through Bandipur and Mudumalai, the chances of animal sighting will be high as it is during dawn and dusk. It turned out to be true.
After sleeping for a few hours in the bus, when we woke up at 6, the bus passed through winding roads of the verdant forests and we were able to see a lot of animals. We saw herds of spotted deer, Barking deer and peacocks in Bandipur. I spotted three bisons grazing in the woods and three elephants including a baby elephant by a stream in Mudumalai forest. Steaks of sunlight were filtering through the heavy foliage to the place where these beautiful beasts stood and it looked magical. The bus was moving and I was unable to take good enough pictures… but then there are some experiences to be felt and captured in one’s mind.
After crossing Mudumalai, the bus started climbing up and the scenery around changed to green mountains and valleys heavily punctuated by beautifully manicured tea estates and low hanging clouds on the mountain tops. There was another quick stop at a small restaurant in from of a tea estate and several hairpin turns later we were in Ooty around 9.15 AM. Like expected, Ooty was crowded with too many hotels, shops, eating joints and everything that you would find in a city. We quickly found our hotel, dumped our luggage, freshened up and slept for a couple of hours to recharge our batteries after a long travel. We woke up at noon and had an extremely tasty meal of parotta and beef curry at a nearby joint. We got a short spell of rain but the rest of the day was cloudy but dry. We went to the bus stand and caught a local state bus to Coonoor. Buses to Coonoor are available every 10 mins and cost you Rs.10.
The bus left us at the Coonoor main market. After having a cup of tea we decided to hike up to the Highfield Tea Estate which was 5 Kms from the bazaar. This can be done by car as well by following the main road to Upper Coonoor but what I have realized through my numerous hikes around the globe is that hiking gives you the opportunity to see and explore the place like no other. So we started chit chatting amongst ourselves and walking up the steep incline that Google maps was leading us to. The road went through residential areas and gardens. We saw school children coming home, met locals and asked for directions. They were surprised that we were not in a car J !
Once we reached the SIMS park of Coonoor, we ignored Google’s initial directions and took the cobble stoned by-lane ( on the left of the main road turning up) to the Highfield tea estate. We made sure in maps that it led to the same place. This was the best decision we took that day. The lane was quiet, being used only by la few locals as a short cut and flanked with trees on both sides. It was really peaceful and not steep either. We met a creepy guy , which is sadly so common in India and he kept following us. He even asked if we were alone. We ignored him and kept walking. After passing whimsically named estates like “Faraway” and such, we finally reached Highfield tea estate. The scenery was beautiful and the staff proactively invited us for a free factory tour and tea tasting. I could not resist buying the very good quality tea at very reasonable prices. We spent some time loitering around the tea estate, walking the little pathways between the tea shrubs and finally left for our way back. It was extremely fulfilling watching the dusk setting in, sitting on a tree trunk by the tea estate. Caught a bus back to Ooty, had dinner while talking about our eventful day and went to sleep.