It was around 6am when I hopped off the bus in Udhagamandalam and all of the water in my face cells promptly froze. I’m not even shitting you. Ooty (as it’s commonly known because Udhagamandalam just looks like drunk texting) is cold at this time of year. Fucking cold. We’re talking frost on the ground, people. Actual frost! I’d forgotten about that, it had become one of those things I heard tell of on my Facebook newsfeed but considered it some manner of myth, or some far away terror that simply didn’t happen to me, like earthquakes or volcanoes or daytime television. I shuffled up to the YWCA where I had a dorm bed booked and waited until I was allowed to check in. They have this rule whereby if you check in before 9am then you have to pay for the full previous night and whilst ₹200 wasn’t going to have my bank fleeing for the nearest dark corner to curl up in and cry, the tight fisted backpacker in me was morally against it. And anyway, I could smell food cooking and I wanted it in my facehole so I was happy to wait and told the guy that it was no problem, I’d have some breakfast, read a book, there was no rush and rules are rules. It seems, however, that if you’re cool with the rules then the rules can be bent a little. After I’d stuffed myself full of idli sambhar he checked me in before the official time with a smile and said, “We will just put today’s date.” Bless him.
But I actually like the YWCA despite the obvious emphasis on the C. Apparently, according to the signage, Christ was the head of the house, the unseen guest at every meal and the silent listener to every conversation. He’s a stalky litte bugger ain’t he. The dining room was watched over by an unhappy looking white Jesus mask type thing which the housekeepers pray to every morning as Casio keyboard instrumentals piped into the room from what appeared to be the only CD they owned. I loved it. I was serenaded by ABBA, songs from Grease, general hits from the seventies and eighties including a couple of Boney M classics as I sipped my chai and played “guess the tune” with other travellers.
Sleeping in the dorm is like sleeping in a fucking fridge though. I remember thinking how cold Munnar was at night. Munnar is a veritable tropical paradise compared to Ooty, it’s a good job I’ve spent the last three months carefully cultivating my winter coat. Or failing to shave my legs. Whatever. Oh, but they do have 24 hour hot water, you just have to switch the geyser on for 10 minutes and you can fill a bucket (nope, no shower) with water hot enough to melt flesh. It’s fabulous. But bucket washing when it’s this cold requires a certain technique whereby you strip, wash, dry and dress the top half of you, then stand in the bucket of water to wash the bottom half of you and all without contracting hypothermia, please.
But anyway. Ooty. When I was in Kodaikanal and was chatting to the banana growing yoga teacher from Chennai and I told him I was coming here next he replied, “Oh. I hope you won’t be disappointed.” Honestly? I do wish I’d stayed in Kodai instead. Once you’ve been to Munnar and Kodai you absolutely don’t need to come here unless you have your little heart set on the mountain train you either have to book well in advance or spend half your life queuing for in the morning. Apart from that it really can’t offer you anything different. The tea plantations are browner and less stunning than Munnar, and the views are eclipsed by Kodai and Vattakanal where, as my new friend said, beautiful is an inadequate word. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice here, but it’s just that. It’s nice.
I did go on a guided walk though which was organised through the YWCA and here’s the thing; The reason I’m happy to pay for guided walks rather than wandering off on my own (apart from my utter lack of a sense of direction and thus my tendency to get very very lost) is the guide’s knowledge. This guy didn’t have a fucking clue. Either that or he didn’t give a flying fuck, one of the two. Every question we asked him he just shrugged and said, “I don’t know.” I mean, it was a nice enough walk. The first part of it, we might as well have been in England. The landscape was all green (ok, brownish) grass and rolling hills and rabbit shit. We walked past a tribal temple and apparently the people around here and animist, which basically means that nature is god. Yeah, I can get on board with that. But that was all the information we were given before we were lead on through eucalyptus trees which locals use to extract the oil (and no, he didn’t know why eucalyptus trees have flakey bark), tea plantations and villages we didn’t stop in. At one point one of the group, an Israeli women, lead us off into a village to admire the Pongal artwork out the front of the houses. I was thinking our guide wasn’t taking us in because the villagers didn’t want him to, but they were pleased we were there and allowed us to photograph the art as one guy proudly told us his daughter had made the patterns. Pongal is kinda like the Tamil Nadu new year and the harvest festival. They gather the crops in, freshly paint their houses and temples, use coloured powder to create the amazing designs and give thanks to the gods for the food they’ve been given, and ask them if they can please have more next year. Again, this was all explained by the Israeli who had visited several villages and had spoken to people and not by our guide who had wandered off to wait for us.
But one thing Ooty does have that the other hill stations don’t is… wait for it… Thunder World! Wait, I think that needs capital letters and more R’s for effect and perhaps some extra exclamation marks…
They have a camera exhibition called Third Eye which houses a fuck off massive great big camera which was apparently invented to photograph trains, right through to modern day digital cameras. There was one shaped like a machine gun which they claimed was used on battlefields during WWII, and a weird looking little box thing which apparently takes 15 photos at the same time. If they ever get any information boards up it’ll be pretty cool but until then it’s kinda just a camera graveyard at one end and something that looks like a bad display at Curry’s that a disenchanted employee threw together whilst drunk at the other.
Big Foot is the dinosaur part of it and again, there are no information boards but I’m guessing that the bones and skeletons on display are more likely to be casts than actual bone. But if that’s Big Foot then what’s Jurassic Jungle? Pretty shit is what it is. Both that and the haunted house. At some point a cute little stuffed tiger jumped out at me on a mechanical arm and even I just raised an eyebrow. Me, who screamed like a little bitch in the haunted house on Brighton Pier which is a proper old school mechanical effort where apparitions illuminate and rattle a bit. The 5D cinema was pretty cool though, you’re on some manner of roller coaster in a world made from graphics circa Playstation 2, the GTA3 period, and there are eagles and the track keeps breaking. I think the first three dimensions are the picture which is aided by the glasses they give you which make you look like the Pet Shop Boys, the fourth dimension is the moving seats which could do with a bit more movement and maybe more rumbling, so I’m guessing the fifth must be the kids’ bubbles they blow into the room. It’s good though. In testament to its effectiveness, Andreas ducked more than once.
Then there was the Vortex. Oh. My. God. It’s a spinning tunnel of light and as soon as you step onto the walkway you fall left. I’m 99% sure the walkway is level, but the spinning lights make you think it’s not and I clung onto the railing as I slid to the end and tried not to be sick. Andreas fucking loved it. I couldn’t get him out and once I realised he was enjoying himself and not having a minor breakdown as I first thought I retreated to the outside world of stability where my brain knew what was what and my stomach contents weren’t threatening mutiny.
And in other news, the minute I’m at the age where no one will judge me for wearing socks with sandals I’m gonna be all over that shit. Day times here are slightly too cold for sandals but too warm to be wandering around in trainers so I resorted to this attractive woolen sock/camo sandal combo which I have to say is remarkably comfortable. Seriously. As soon as I turn forty I’m investing in some Argyle socks which pull up to my knees and a proper pair of leather Jesus creepers and yes, am going out in public dressed like that and I’m not even gonna be sorry about it.
Udhagamandalam (Ooty), Tamil Nadu, India
Stayed at: YWCA