Nilgiri here we come (Wednesday 3rd, Thursday 4th and Friday 5th May)

When Mood Music
2006-05-03 23:00:00

Before the wedding, Suriya had told me she’d arranged for me to see the Nilgiri hills. Being a complete tea-head, I was very keen to go there, even though I was still distressed by what had happened on the night of the wedding. The following lj-cuts are very picture-heavy. Don’t bother if you don’t have broadband!

INCOMMUNICADO (WEDNESDAY 3RD MAY)
I was insistent that I needed to get a new cellphone before we moved on. Suriya and others took me to a cellphone shop in Salem which looked as though it should be able to help. They offered tri-band Nokias which would take my previous phone’s SIM card at affordable prices. I was able to confirm that my SIM card was still working but I couldn’t get any of the models I was offered to dial out. (With rather bitter hindsight, I realise this may have been because I didn’t try to make the phones roam: they may have defaulted to a network that didn’t get on with my UK service provider.)

I couldn’t find out why I couldn’t dial out because the shop workers spoke almost no English and I spoke no Tamil but I was, as far as I can recall and could understand at the time, promised another try once we got to Nilgiri. I think Suriya said that the person with whom we’d be staying was a cellphone vendor and I know I asked her if he spoke good English (to which she appeared to say yes) but he wasn’t. (He was a driving instructor.) I can’t explain how this occurred: again, I don’t believe Suriya told me any deliberate untruths but I’m sure I tried to use vocabulary she’d understand.

TRAVEL AND ARRIVAL IN NILGIRI (WEDNESDAY 3RD MAY)
Anyway, Suriya, Rajesh and I took buses from Salem to Coimbatore and thence to Metturpalayam. All of this journey was intensely hot. A final bus wound up and up into the hills to Kotagiri.

"" painted-head bloke in a bus station. No idea what it’s about
"" Nilgiri scene
"" Nilgiri scene
"" more political grafitti
"" tea plantation, Nilgiri
"" Nilgiri scene

When we arrived at Kotagiri, we then went to a single-story building that I was told is owned by David Padmanaban. It has a closed verandah behind which are four apartments and a shower/toilet room. There’s a double garage next to it, in which are kept the cars belonging to my latest hosts, Madhan and Geetha. Again, I was given a warm greeting and I got on well with Geetha especially. Her english is very good, as is her cooking (even though she said she was embarrassed by it). Madhan let me try my SIM card in his cellphone and I was able to call home, so I now knew that the card hadn’t been at fault this morning.

I can’t recall what we ate that evening but I do know that I enjoyed it. I talked quite a bit with Geetha while Rajesh spent a lot of time playing with Madhumeeta, Geetha and Madhan’s two-year-old daughter. (I seemed to scare her no matter what I did.) Geetha told me that she and Madhan had married when she was about 17 and he was 27 because her father was dying and she needed to be associated with a man. When I protested that this was ‘bullshit’, she said that she was well aware what this word meant, that she understood what I meant (and may have tended to agree: it wasn’t legally necessary) but that she needed a man for many important social functions. Fortunately, she had already met Madhan and they had a strong, loving, relationship. She jokingly said that if, however, he even looked at another woman she’d divorce him like a shot. Madhan contrived to look suitably innocent and injured before laughing with her.

She’s been able to continue her education since her marriage, eventually earning a degree in history. She now works in ‘data conversion’ which interested me because of some of the things I’d seen and heard about after Leckie & Leckie became part of Granada Learning. She and her family were about to move to Trichy in southern Tamil Nadu (which apparently didn’t please her landlord: her brother-in-law) and so she was looking for new data-conversion projects. (I’m sure there are folk who read this blog who might have such work: if so, email me privately and I’ll put you in contact.)

Rajesh and I slept in the apartment next to Geetha, Madhan and Madhumeeta’s: I’m not sure where Suriya slept.

"" Madhmeeta
"" Mudhan, Geetha and Madhumeeta’s neighbours in David Padmanaban’s apartment in Kotagiri
"" me drinking ginger chai, Geetha and Madhumeeta
"" Suriya, Rajesh, Geetha and Madhumeeta

 

OOTY AND ABOOTY (THURSDAY 4TH MAY)
I was keen to try to have a last full day with Suriya and Rajesh that was free of the unpleasantries that had marred the start of the week and to try to put our friendship back in order, or at least have an enjoyable last time. I knew that the next day I’d be travelling on to Kerala while they’d return to Goa.

In the morning, a taxi arrived: it turned out someone had arranged for us to be taken to Kotagiri’s park, then to Doddabetta (the highest point in the Nilgiris), then to Ooty and then back to Kotagiri. First, I insisted we were taken to a cellphone shop: I found a model that should have worked but the owner wouldn’t let me dial out to confirm this so we moved on.

For what they’re worth, here are some photos from Kotagiri’s park:

"" Nilgiri temple
"" in a park in Kottagiri
"" in a park in Kotagiri
"" in a park in Kotagiri
"" in a park in Kotagiri
"" Rajesh in a park in Kotagiri
"" in a park in Kotagiri
"" Bruce and Suriya in a park in Kotagiri
"" some random lads who wanted to be photographed

Doddabetta is very commercialised: in a way this was fortunate because my camera batteries ran out of charge and so I bought some new ones: this is where I confirmed that even Duracells don’t last anything like as long as my rechargables. There was a telescope house from which you could look out at the surrounding countryside and some lovely views. I hope my photographs do the area some justice.

"" Doddabetta
"" Doddabetta
"" Doddabetta
"" Doddabetta
"" Doddabetta
"" Doddabetta
"" Doddabetta
"" Doddabetta
"" Doddabetta
"" camera and battery-seller at Doddabetta
"" Doddabetta
"" random bloke who wanted to be photographed

After this, we were taken to Ooty, where we had lunch – rice, ‘drumsticks’ and various condiments (including banana bhajis) on a banana leaf – in a fast-food, pack-them-in-and-feed-them-as-much-as-they-want-of-the-same restaurant. I was impressed by this Indian equivalent to McDonalds: good food served without paper and plastic waste for very little money. We then found a cellphone shop where I finally bought a new cellphone. It works and I may end up being the only whitey in the UK who has a phone marked with Tamil characters.

We also finally arranged for Suriya to buy her new glasses: I had given her money to buy them over two weeks ago. (She hadn’t asked me to do this: it was entirely my decision after I’d volunteered to try to mend her old pair but hadn’t been able to do so.) She’d kept prevaricating, initially saying they’d be cheaper in Tamil Nadu and then saying each day we were in Tamil Nadu that she’d buy them the next day. I had become a little annoyed by this: I wanted her to have what she obviously needed and was concerned what had happened to the money: from what she’d told me previously, it was conceivable she’d given it to someone else. In the end, to get lightweight lenses and the bifocals on her prescription, the total cost was 1200 rupees, 200 more than I’d given her so far. I stress I have no qualms about this amount: the food, accommodation and guidance she’d given me far outweighed this and friendship is priceless anyway!

I was keen to rent a pedallo on the lake, partly because I thought some physical action might help me clear my mind of the tension that still clouded it but mostly because it looked fun. It was, but it was very hard work too. My backside complained for quite a time afterwards. We also passed a political candidate: I have no idea which party he stands for.

"" Suriya and Rajesh boating on Ooty lake
"" boating on Ooty lake
"" boating on Ooty lake
"" Ooty park – the area was filled with these beautiful trees
"" a political candidate

We were next taken to Ooty’s botanic gardens where I took what must be very usual tourist photos: judge for yourself!

"" Suriya, Rajesh and I at Ooty botanic gardens
"" Suriya, Rajesh and I at Ooty botanic gardens
"" some friends of Suriya at Ooty botanic gardens
"" Ooty botanical gardens
"" Ooty botanical gardens
"" fossilised wood at Ooty botanical gardens
"" Ooty botanical gardens

Our final destination was Ooty’s rose garden. It’s apparently a hangover from the Raj and was lovely. I’m still, er, puzzled by the names people give to roses: here’s a few examples.

"" Ooty rose garden
"" paving slab at Ooty rose garden
"" why give flowers silly names?
"" why give flowers silly names?
"" why give flowers silly names?
"" why give flowers silly names?
"" why give flowers silly names?
"" why give flowers silly names?
"" why give flowers silly names?
"" Ooty rose garden
"" she wasn’t beautiful
"" and she had far too many thorns
"" aww pwitty
"" so is this
"" for Jane Ann
"" in the rose garden
"" why give a rose a stupid name?
"" why give a rose a stupid name?
"" reproducing Australia: a dunny and a gum-tree. The dunny was locked so I took a leak behind it.
"" the backside of Ooty
"" the backside of Ooty
"" pretty!

 

THE END OF A LOVELY DAY (THURSDAY 4TH MAY)
I finally fulfilled a promise to Suriya to show her how to email. The tension had almost disappeared by the time we returned to Kotagiri but re-surfaced when the taxi-driver needed to be paid another 500 rupees. I’d paid 300 in the morning and was again in the frame, despite an expensive day. 11 pounds for a day’s travel and sight-seeing isn’t much* but, and I made this clear (I hope) to Suriya, I should have been told in advance!
*and no-one had asked me for money for food and accommodation during this trip: if they had, I’d have been very happy to reimburse them because, with the exception of David and Shakila Padmanaban, none of my hosts seemed very well off. I didn’t even want to take advantage of rich people’s hospitality so I hope that later I’ll be able to balance things.

Geetha had cooked brown chickpea curry and chapattis – utterly delicious. (She apologised that she’d used brown chickpeas but I told her that I think they gave a better flavour. (This is my honest opinion: they add a nuttiness that white chickpeas just can’t.) We also discussed the possibility of getting back to the main train line via the Nilgiri mountain ‘toy train’ and which I was insistent I wanted to try. I thought it went from Kotagiri to Metturpalayam but I’d misread my guidebook. (It goes from Ooty to Coonoor and then down the mountains to Metturpalayam. Madhan this evening and the next morning made a lot of enquiries and it was eventually arranged to for us to take a bus to Coonoor and the train from there.

"" Madhumeeta and Rajesh
"" Rajesh and Madhumeeta
"" Mudhan, Geetha and Madhumeeta

 

GOODBYE BLUE SKY/FULL STEAM AHEAD (FRIDAY 5TH MAY))
In the morning we were woken early by yet another election rally. I wonder if anyone simply votes for the party that disturbs them the least? We arrived at Coonoor the next morning about mid-day after some moderately hair-rasing bus journey, towards the end of which we passed some political activists who gave me one of the flyers that’s in a later blog entry.

"" Rajesh, Madhumeeta, Suriya, Madhan, Geetha and neighbour
"" some girls on the buss who asked to be photographed
"" Nilgiri scene
"" religious procession
"" temple
"" political activists who gave me a flyer
"" sign in Coonoor

The bus stopped in the middle of town and we had to waddle quite quickly to the station. There we were able to buy normal (jam-packed compartment) tickets but Suriya said we’d get on a reserved coach and buy ‘reservations’ from the conductor. It wasn’t clear whether this would be legal or baksheesh: it turned out to be legal. (If we’d bought our tickets yesterday we could have bought reservations at the time.)

Because the coach was tiny and had no luggage racks, I chained my rucsac to a vacant platform outside the back of the passenger compartment. For this, I received a angry shouting from two rail-workers. I wasn’t pleased by this, was still stressed and shouted back at them, while complying. (If they’d explained why quietly, I’d not have done so. It turns out this is the place where the person who ensures the rack and pinion are engaged stands.)

The journey itself was very exciting and I hope my photos do it justice. As we descended, so the climate became hotter and hotter: I wasn’t in Scotland any more (or even in Kansas) but back in mainstream India.

"" notice at Coonoor station
"" Coonoor in Tamil, Hindi and English
"" Coonoor station
"" the toy train!
"" on board the toy train
"" the officious flag-waver
"" view from the train
"" the conductor selling us our ‘reservations’
"" view from the train
"" view from the train
"" view from the train
"" view from the train
"" view from the train
"" view from the train
"" view from the train
"" last view of tea-plantation
"" view from the train
"" view from the train
"" Where’s King John and the barons?
"" view from the train
"" view from the train
"" view from the train
"" getting steam up
"" where I wanted to put my kit
"" It’s Thomas
"" our carriage

Finally we pulled into Metturpalayam. There were lots of soldiers on duty. I wondered out loud why: was ‘Auntie Sonia’ visiting? A soldier nodded and I asked him to confirm: she was about to arrive and campaign for next week’s election.

We took a final bus to Coimbatore where I commited another lapse of control. I’d been slow to get on the bus but Suriya had saved me a seat at the front next to her. I didn’t want to try to get there because that would involve bashing my rucsac-laden way down the crowded aisle and tried to get her to let someone else sit next to her. This didn’t communicate and finally I was persuaded to join her. When I got there, I thought I would be more comfortable standing and said so. However Suriya kept trying to take my rucsac off my back. I snapped and shouted at her “stop organising me!”: this probably embarrassed her a lot as well as upsetting her: I’m not at all proud that I caused her to cry.

I apologised as best I could and sat cursing myself. A few minutes later she said that it was now nothing and that I could forget about it. (I couldn’t: while I’m sure it’s fine to tell someone that I can make my own decisions, it’s not OK to shout. Suriya had babied me a lot and done things that had I couldn’t appreciate, even though I could see [often with hindsight] that they were her trying to be a friend in the way she thought was best. This is only a reason, it doesn’t excuse my loss of temper.)

By the time we got to Coimbatore, we were talking normally again. We ate dosas in the bus-stand cafe and then somehow got to the station. Various enquiries told us that Ottapalam was the last stop on Suriya and Rajesh’s route before it turned north towards Mangalore so I bought a ticket to there and also ended up paying for Rajesh and Suriya’s tickets to Mangalore. (This was hardly any money and Suriya told me she intended to pay me back.) I also asked whether she had money for the journey from Mangalore to Colva. She said she did.

However, later on during the journey she asked me for 200 rupees to cover this part of their journey. I was shocked: I asked her why she’d told me she did earlier and she told me she’d misunderstood my question. This was when she promised to pay me back everything. I also told her she was fortunate I had this much money with me: I would have had time to go to an ATM in Coimbatore but now there was no chance. I did have two 500 rupee notes but since we were in a compartment in which there were 20 people sitting in a space designed for 10, I wasn’t going to risk displaying my ‘wealth’ to all and sundry. So at the last stop before Ottapalam, I dashed off the train, got a 500 note changed at a book-stall and gave her the 200.

We arrived at Ottapalam at about 10pm: I said goodbye to Suriya and Rajesh and phoned home. I also enquired about trains south to Ernakulam: there would be a train at 4am but I needed sleep and so got an autorickshaw driver to take me to a hotel. Since then I’ve stayed in Ottapalam, blogging, thinking, feeling and trying to get my head together. Suriya’s been in contact and I have to write to her because phoning doesn’t allow me to say what I need. Now that this blog is complete and as soon as I’ve written to her, I’ll be able to move on, at least figuratively.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.