No planning and low expectations.
Travel trips bring sanity back to life and god (if he exists) knows that i surely needed one. The Coonoor travel trip came when Parul suggested that Coonoor may be better than Kanyakumari. Since i was open to any place, i said yes. Coonoor, quite frankly, is the best thing that has happened to me since i have moved back. Here is the story (Keep in mind this is going to be a long post) -
In any travel trip, all my planning involves that (a) i book a place to stay and (b) There is a way to get there, typically a car. Once these two are done, i do nothing more. I stand by it very strongly because - (a) It forces me to go there and talk to people there. And local people have more experience about things. (b) Low expectations. So i am always happy when something unexpected comes along the way and it makes me happy. (c) And lastly, i am always happy to do nothing and just enjoy nature/read a book/spend time alone with me. So even if nothing happens, i am happy that i got to spend time with me.
In US, even with the above facts, it was still quite organized because my interaction was limited to the people at tourist information centers but in India, its the local people and i think it makes it even better.
The stay - Parul mentioned that somebody offers cheese making course at some farm at Coonoor. Fascinated by discussions around farm stays in India, i googled and came to know about Acres Wild. Acres Wild made all the difference to my trip from an ordinary one to a great one. Acres Wild is run by Mr. Mansoor Khan and his wife. At his website, Mr. Mansoor has mentioned things to do, places to eat/visit and everything about Coonoor that he has found so far. I never read any of that until Parul passed a link which said that Masnoor is actually a film director behind movies such as QSQT, Akele hum, akele tum etc and is a cousin of Amir Khan. He is now a full time manager at Aces Wild and now give lectures about Peak Oil highlighting some of the fundamental issues behind problems that the world is witnessing today.
At Acres Wild, Coonoor, what followed were some of the fundamental discussions with Mansoor. We also ran into the founders of Printo and some other folks and together, it seemed that a group of like minded people had got together and every one of us were searching for solutions to probably the same question. The discussions with all of them not only gave interesting insights about how people think and atleast made me glad that i was not alone.
Mansoor is a candid person and he is quite frank about his work at Acres Wild. At the farm, he is trying to make a case for sustainable living with cows, chickens, farming, ponds fishes, bio gas and trees. They make cheese, bread, soaps as well. His place is a must place to live at Coonoor and if i go ever again, i would not settle for anything else. He admitted that the farm is his way to prepare for the inevitable and giving back to his descendants in a small manner that he could. The place is quite simple, serene and has a view that just makes staying there quite addictive.
First i thought that i would buy a car before it starts but that seemed like a big decision in short period of time. So, i went with a self drive rental car. Many people were surprised to see that we were driving a cab without a driver. It was fun to see the reaction on their faces.
The route included going to Mysore but in order to get to Ooty/Coonoor we crossed Banthipur forest reserve and Mudumalai tiger reserver. Both are fantastic places to drive through with trees both to your left and right. Near Ooty, there is the Ghat road with 36 hair pin bends and it was fun to drive on them. It took us 8 hrs.
The trip (Mar8-11): If there is ever a need to read a primer on things to do at Coonoor, just read the below itinerary, it is quite the best.
Day 1: We left Bangalore about 6:30 am. The breakfast was at Kamat Lokaurachi. A cooperative like place serving good authentic south indian food in a natural setting. A must-be place to stop (You may find these lines repeated several times.) Lunch was skipped and we reached Ooty at about 3 pm. We had booked a youth hostel which turned out to be quite bad. So we ditched it and went to a hotel. In the evening we went to the botanical garden and at first just sat there to let the weather sink-in (It was great) and then went for a walk to see trees. Its a good botanical garden and that 40 min walk is recommended. Dinner was at Shinkow's (a recommendation mentioned at Acres wild site). Shinkow's is a 60 year old chinese restaurant serving good chinese food at reasonable prices.
Day2: We started again at 6:30 am and left to Coonoor. First we visited Lambs rock. We parked our car about a km away from Lambs rock and did a small hike from there. On the way we took a detour to a kattcha road which crossed a rivulet and went to a tea estate. We were happily strolling there until we were shooed away by the tea leaf pluckers. Lamb's rock also has a 500m trail and its quite good. Then we drove up to Dolphin's nose which gives a 270 degree view of Nilgiris. After this, we checked in to Acres wild and there, it was so serene that we decided to just spent the day there doing nothing. Having got the evening free, i took the free time to update my blog after a month and also started the movie - The lives of others. Writing blog while watching sunset behind Nilgiris just made me happy.
Day3: Got up and took an hr walk around the farm. No plans for the day so far. Mansoor gave a recommendation about a tea tasting tour and we were generally thinking of going to Rallia dam. Everything fell in place when we read this article - http://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/metroplus/article398839.ece and the number given below coincided with Mansoor's recommendation. The breakfast was bread and home made garlic cheese (delicious). Then we went to Tranquilitea for Tea tasting and it is a must-do there. Sandeep gave a fantastic overview of how tea's are made and what is meant by different forms of tea. Sandeep's family has been into tea business but he realized that a lot of quality tea is only made for export, So he created Tranquilitea to let Indians get a taste of it. His tea estate and farm house has awesome views of the town. It was my first time tasting tea and i liked it. Tea has to be made at 70 deg Celcius and for exactly three minutes to get the right flavor. Tea leaves also need to be plucked with care - two leaves and a bud to get the right flavor and texture. There were so many other things that can be only learned by years of experience and here it was to us told by a person who was our age but so much passionate about the craft.
After Tranquilitea, we went to Raliah dam. To get to dam, you have to park your car near a temple and walk from there. And then we got lost while going to dam. Getting lost is one of the best things per me when it is morning. Eventually we found it and it was beautiful. A body of water surrounded by trees in all directions. At the dam we met Mr. Raj Shekhar who started talking about the dam and lives of Toda tribe there. There is a 12 family Toda tribe about 3 kms away from dam. RajShekhar has a frequent contact with them, we heard stories how Toda tribe are so strong, their women give birth and are at work next day; how they don't trust the alopathic medicine and knows how to use natural leaves/herbs for basic wounds. And other so many stories in a simple 15-20 min walk.
After Raliah, we went to the Green shop at Upper Coonoor. Green shop is a fair trade shop and i was too excited again to see the locally made items with such great finish. Ended up spending 1K Rs there. Next, we had lunch at the Thali place next to Variety sarees shop. We also went to the antique shop but by then i was too tired to do anything. (Driving in ghati roads although is beautiful but taxing as well). At Acres wild, i finished my movie and then the whole evning/night was spent in a lively discussion with Mansoor, Parul, Printo founders and their friends.
Day 4: We headed back to Blore. Again the drive was beautiful. At the national reserve we spotted laguna monkeys, deers, peacocks etc. There was late lunch but it was at Ants cafe Indranagar. Again a must have place to visit. It was also on my todo-list.
All pics can be seen at -
There are also some videos but they need to be edited out.