Saturday, January 07, 2006

Jungle of life

After leaving Riga behind, we had our first cup of tea, and another, and then another at the nearby shop in the Madras Regimental Center area. We then asked directions to Sims Park. We saw more people at the gate of Sims Park than we had seen till then and we were a bit bothered that it would be crowded. But our fears were unfounded as there weren't that many people and the park was H.U.G.E! This photo shows how little we felt in comparison. Posted by Picasa

To that individual who wrote that Riga was a bungalow. If so, then I must be the Queen Elizabeth! Posted by Picasa

Hotel Wellington Riga

Riga Residency signboard suddenly came upon us as we turned a bend, a good 2 kilometres after we first saw the signs of Wellington and Coonoor.
Earlier the day when I had called up the hotel number, a Mr Clifford had introduced himself as the General Manager. In a very suave tone he informed me that they'd be delighted to have me at their esteemed hotel for a daily consideration of Rs 1200 plus taxes. This experience with a little bit of Googling had led me believe that this was a restored bungalow turned into a hotel. I expected superlative Raj-era hospitality.
Cut to the present, almost 1AM at night. The person manning the front desk acknowledged our booking and alloted a room 209 to us. The hotel was dark as a number of lights were turned off. The lift wasn't working. The room we had taken was a suite. It was benumbingly cold. I immediately asked for extra blankets and a room heater. What came was a small white box that could barely keep itself warm, leave alone keeping the room warm. It was a Philips room heater and blower made in England. I wondered whether it was left behind when the British left India. The bed was so cold that it felt like lying on hard ice. The windows weren't that good and cold seeped in. The whole room was so depressing with mold forming over the walls. It felt a total rip-off having to pay that much for such a sorry apology of a hotel. The water in the taps was cold like a knife. Water dripped in the bathroom and made it even worse. Somehow I fell asleep. Next morning looked even more desolate as there was no sign of sunshine where our room was. After tea was served in a chipped cup, we decided to beat it.
Back at the reception Mr Clifford was present. His beaming face darkened when I pointed out the inadequacies of his establishment and demanded to know why he ran it so poorly. He acknowledged that he had taken over under new management two months ago and things were likely to get better. I saw then that he was running the hotel hoping to earn enough to improve it. But with experiences such as mine, people were only going to give that a bad name. Hopefully, he'll spend some money to make it livable and then invite tourists. Posted by Picasa

When the music's over turn off the lights

Mysore came in after 8 PM. We didn't know the roads well and it took quite a few u-turns and reversals before we hit the road towards Nanjangud (It wouldn't make sense to ask for Ooty, we were told). On the way we saw such a wonderful spectacle that we were rendered speechless. The Mysore Palace is indeed very beautiful. It makes sense to maintain our heritage buildings just for the sheer pleasure of appreciating beauty. We made a note to visit Mysore sometime and see the palace in detail. As we entered the road towards Chamundi Hill a road forked to the right for Nanjangud. At the fork a Kamat Hotel stood beckoningly. At 8:30PM food sounded a great idea. Mini meals with jowar roti tasted just too good. After a leisurely eat topped with paan (or beeda as it is called there) we climbed back into the car for the drive to Ooty.
The last time I had traveled on this route was in 2000 with Jags, Sanju and Avi. I didn't have a good recollection of that trip and there was some trepidation in our minds. Fuel was running low and we were looking for a place to refuel. I was scared as I had a faint remembrance of a mountain road and I feared that there would be no petrol bunks there. The first few petrol bunks that we met were unable to dispense fuel as there was a power cut and the pumps couldn't run. We finally found one and the car drank it's full happily, not the least because fuel there was cheaper.
We sped away in the early night along an incredibly good road that compared only with the road to Mangalore. In an hour's time we reached Gundlupet after crossing Nanjangud in a blur. Sleepy towns all. Soon we entered the environs of the Bandipur forest. Such a pretty sight with dozens of deer walking around. At 10:30 it wasn't a very odd time for deer to venture out for a post prandial walk. At some point we also came out of that and entered into Tamilnadu (Mudumalai said the signboards). There was a fork in the road - the right went via Gudalur and the left via the Mudumalai forests. The Gudalur route said it was longer by quite a bit and so we took the other one. Couple of kilometres drive along spellboundingly beautiful forests with rabbits and bisons lazing around, we reached a gate across the road. A majestically mustachioed forest guard let us know that the road was open only from 6AM to 8PM. As it was around 11PM we weren't allowed to use that route. We were dejected to have to drive back upto the fork and then take the route via Gudalur. However, another wizened old man sidled up to us and informed that for a consideration of Rs 20 they would open the gate for us. It immediately became obvious to us that it was allowed to take this route after all. The rule was only to allow the guards to make a quick buck. Unfortunately I hadn't cared to have change with me and I had to act generous doling out Rs 50 for the gates to open. However, the drive beyond the gate was immensely beautiful. Moonlit jungle roads with animals standing lazily at their positions on the roadsides was an unforgettable sight. We drove slowly, careful not to scare or hurt any of them. And it would be bad manners to have camera flashes disturb the nocturnal frolic of the owners of that forest, so we could take no pictures. But boy, was it pretty!
The climb to Ooty had 36 hairpin bends and it was such a lovely climb. The fact that there were almost no vehicles on that road made it even more fairytale. Imagine climbing up to heaven on a moonlight night. The lands below unfolded in delicate layers with a cluster of dimly twinkling lights here and there wherever there was a town or village.
After a thrilling drive we reached another gate. Here there wasn't a guard and except for a scooter in front of a temple there wasn't any sign of human habitation. We honked awhile and then resigned ourselves to the fact that we were stuck there at around midnight. For a moment, we thought that we could open the gate ourselves but decided against that. This was a jungle after all and it was not wise to rile the guards at midnight. Veerappan used to roam around exactly in these jungles. It wasn't possible to bring ourselves to drive ourselves all the way down the 36 hairpins. We settled down for a wait till something happens. Soon another jeep came from the other side and also waited. The driver got doen and went somewhere behind the temple. In a couple of minutes he got the guard along with him. The guard unlocked the gate and we sneaked past.
Soon we entered Ooty town and a call came from home enquiring whether we were snug in bed. I had an idea that Wellington was halfway from Ooty to Coonoor. But as we took directions and drove along we found that it was almost at Coonoor. Driving through Ooty at midnight, we found that it was almost deserted except for a Coffee Day joint where we asked for directions. Finally, finally, at about 12:45 PM --- almost 10 hours after we left home --- we entered the Riga Wellington HotelPosted by Picasa

Hands upon the wheel

30-December-2005 was a holiday and a niggling thought at the back of our mind said that we should make the most of the 3-day weekend over the New Year. However, lazy bones move slow and it was after 3 PM that we could finally start off. We chose Wellington as our duestination and Hotel Riga as the roost for the night ahead. In my wisdom, I decided to go via the outer ring road till Mysore Road. On the way, we stopped for a wee bit at Family Mart, Kanakapura Road. I wanted to buy a case for the new camera but there weren't any at Family Mart. The collection there wasn't very impressive overall and I had a suspicion about the quality from a quick, first look. And a cool badam milk set me back by Rs 56 on the mini food court there. I don't think I would go there again. Back to the road, it took us all of 2 hours to reach Mysore Road and it was a relief to feel the free flow of traffic on it. However, construction of the 4-lane highway is still on and it is a pain having to switch over to the wrong lane every now and then. Somewhere enroute the setting sun made for a pretty shot. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Mithun Chakraborty ka hotel

On the top of the hill, a brisk two minute walk from the Willow Hill, stands what Outlook Traveller has termed as the biggest hotel in Ooty - the Howard Johnson Monarch hotel. The view from it's grounds are great. As we walked into the hotel, the central heating provided welcome respite from the biting December cold. At the reception counter a prospective customer was receiving the news that no rooms were available. Not one to give up easily, the clearly purebreed bhodrolok wanted to know about the availability of Mithun babu. Monarch had a New Year's eve program for Rs 2000/- per couple. However a quick look at the preparations underway provided a picture of things to come - unappetising at best. Overall, it looked a good place to stay in and definitely worth an enquiry next time we go to Ooty. Posted by Picasa