Ooty, Tamil Nadu, India
17 – 18 August 2014
There is a difference between a solo traveller and traveling alone. At least that’s what I feel. Traveling alone usually ends up with a end goal – to meet up with a person or a group of individiuals. Solo travel is more of a jouney to rediscover self just by changing your geography. Sounds a bit romanticised doesn’t it? Someone asked me: ‘What is the one thing you would like to do if there was no strings attached in your life?’ I couldn’t think of an answer since normally I am known to have a quick retort of one kind or another. Can freedom from strings truly be liberating? I mean some strings are necessary to keep yourself grounded to the realities of world, have a social connection with your loved ones, have that special hug that only your mom knows how to give. I can easily say ‘To disappear’ will suit as the correct answer here, but would I really want to be forgotten?
Considering I have a travel blog, its a irony that I never used to have the “travel bug”. Yes, like everyone else in this world I wanted to see the world renowned cities, experience the haute couture, to see the views that is replicated on a cinematographic platform, but the giant concept of travel bug never captured my fascination. I used to think it was because of the nomadic life my father had because of his job profile. But unless you start adulting, you don’t feel the need to grow. I finally got to experience that one solo trip that is just all for you because you wanted to go somewhere, and do something according to your own wish, and not follow the crowd.
Coming from a cosmopolitan city like Mumbai, I do not fancy Bangalore. I still havent figured out why, but I don’t. Ok maybe, except for this one random cafe that I found on one corner that surpassed the standards of Cafe Coffee Day and Starbucks. But thats about it. The urbanity of Bangalore has never been appealing. I know its a contradiction to the fact that I am from Mumbai. But it is what it is! From a travel perspective, it is an excellent hub to travel across South India.
As a medical intern, it is not possible to be a subject to simple whims and fancy, hence I kept my itinerary very short for my first travel. Meet-up with friends in Bangalore for one day and take a overnight bus to Ooty. Travel, recuperate or vegetate in Ooty and then back to pavilion.
My day in Ooty, aka Udagamandalam (I know it’s a mouthful), starts with blinking your eyes open to stinging sensation of a foggy chilly morning. All I knew about Ooty was that it was founded as a resort town for the British Raj surrounded in the lush landscape of the Nilgiris and is now a popular tourist destination as a hill station. But the weather definitely made your Mumbai girl contemplate whether you are correctly equipped in the clothing department in a town where the temperature stays constant around 13 degrees all year long. Seeing everyone wearing woolen turtle necks and scarfs and hats really wasn’t reassuring at all.
As a first-timer on a splurging expediton on a meagre internship stipend, I chose the Lakeview Hotel. The booking price (I had somehow saved up a lot for it), along with the general ambience of the location, coupled with the helpful face of the staff nailed my choice as a perfect getaway location for a solo girl traveller. I am a kind of person who likes my minding own business unless explicitly asked to put my nose out of a joint under certain extenuating circumstances. The concept of secluded cottages, allotted for each guests, ensured plenty of privacy and while making sure that you are not completely alone.
The key point of travel is to learn about a place. As a solo traveller it is more important to do your research. This not only saves up your time, but also helps you establish what your comfort zones are. There are lot of trekking places in and around Ooty. And those with the adventure fever can truly have a gala time trekking up the hills and communing with the nature. I prefer my feet to be grounded and not to huff and puff around a lot, and hence chose leisure spots more inclined to tourists, and more commercialized. Public transport have a fixed rate based on mileage, so no worry of getting cheated there. So this was my check list.
My favourite place would be this under-rated place called Thread Garden a visual tribute to Indian craftsmanship. Each and every artifact inside this museum, from a single petal, grass, stem, to a leaf has been made single-handedly by threads.
Ooty is incomplete without taking a stroll through the infamous Pine Forest. Coming from the glamour city of Mumbai where all things Bollywood has paved way to numerous dreams and wishes for the masses, I have a solid grip on the cinematic references. Every Indian has either laughed, mocked or despaired over the overuse of lush forest landscapes and actors serenading each other with cheesy lines while running amongst trees. When foreign destinations were still a high budget aspect for a movie, Ooty and its pine forest provided the much needed mysticism. I had a guide/ horse trainer who was equally into the bollywood cult and was happy to impart with such wise details of each and every song from different movies that has ever been shot there.
After a forest, the next most Bollywood thing to do is to take the train. I mean come on… DDLJ and the infamous train scene in the end. We all wanted a Raj, but we all did curse Simran by the end of the movie. The romance of train journey is something that every Indian has experienced at least once in their lifetime. Coming from an era when planes where a sign of privilege, trains were the next best way of exploring the Indian subcontinent. The iconic Nilgiri Toy Train began its journey in 1899 and since has been declared as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2005, mostly on account of being the one of a kind railway track to use a meter gauge railway line, with a rack and pinion mechanism to help the train climb steep hills. Starting its journey from Mettupalayam and spanning a scenic route of 46 kms, this 5 hours journey will be a transformative experience of serenity, beauty and a full camera roll.
After experiencing the whole safari world in Thailand and Singapore, this would be my first safari in India with the Mudumalai National Park. I was not holding out high expectations but I was pleasantly suprised to see well-maintained animal sanctuary and habitat. But seriously, you have to be careful about the timings you choose to go. If you are hoping for an excited glimpse of the Tigers, then you just might run out of luck. Pro-tip, go for the bus service provided by the park authorities. They will take you through the lesser traveled tracks, unlike the preferred jeep services. And you definitely encounter more wildlife, though camera enthusiast might find it difficult to take pictures over 20 other necks craning over the same view.
Overall, You will be charmed by the town, because of its beauty, and its enthusiastic Hindi-speaking locals, and the romantic cosy atmosphere that is present year around. I will call it a successful first trip, and a worthy one in my book.
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