Monday, December 29, 2008

And on the fifth day, they rested

This is our day in Ooty. No formal plans have been imposed on us, we are free to do what we want. Some of us have formed small groups, some have set out in pairs, many are doing their own thing. No prizes for guessing which category I fall into. The rest day has been perfectly timed. By yesterday evening, everyone had been pushed just up to their limit and even ten minutes more would have been too much. But people who choose to cycle 919 km are not what you’d call normal, so one group has decided to take a break by running up Doddabetta. When I left the hostel, another one was talking about relaxing with a little light cycling to Pykara Lake (about 30 km). Several people had already taken energetic walks by seven in the morning (including – hold your breath – me).

Ooty is sub-zero cold, there was frost in the night. The hostel is an indifferently maintained Colonial bungalow, a grand old house full of draughts and ghosts (and cyclists, now). It is highly picturesque but not comfortable in extreme weather when the fireplaces can only be ornamental. But I like it, in spite of its inconveniences – it feels like visiting your grandparents or something equally nostalgic, a sentiment that seems all-pervasive here.

It’s there in the giant Christmas trees growing everywhere, the pines, the hill roads, the lake, the names of the places, the architecture, the roads, the weather, some of them not even consciously remembered. In my walk from Fern Hill to Charing Cross, I stopped at a cafĂ© and it felt as if my book was waiting for me to return here to finish.

Yesterday, Thejesh and I went looking for tea soon after we got here and ended up climbing through a fence into an overgrown graveyard on Fern Hill because I like old churches and reading gravestones (each is a story, most of them not sad, just natural parts of the passing world). Among the ones that were not faded, were many from the time of World War I. An unexpected find was the grave of Vivekananda's stenographer, complete with an epitaph written by the great man himself.

I was persuaded to go out for yet another walk later and saw the stunning Fernhill Palace. It used to be the Mysore Maharaja’s summer retreat and may or may not be a hotel now (even the security guards seemed undecided on this point). While we wandered around the palace, we heard the Ooty train go past and the whistle sounded like a steam engine! As soon as I finish posting this, I will be rushing down to the station to take a photo of the four o’ clock train.

This morning I happened upon two other old churches, among much else, one with a million steps to collapse on, the other with a startlingly bare altar. I think they’re renovating, but for a moment when I turned my camera towards it and saw just bare wall, it seemed like the apocalypse.

Tomorrow we’re on the road again. I hope to do some of it on the Nilgiri Mountain Railway. It’s 100 years old this year, shortly to be 101. But away from the hype of the newspapers, it doesn’t even feel like the ending of the year, just as one day following another as it should.

I’ve been walking all day, with a bottle of water, an apple I found in my bag and random fruit I bought on the way. It’s been a long time since I went on a holiday on my own, so I’ve had a wonderful day.


Anonymous said...

this makes my eyes clouded, not tears....... but some insect got into my eye ! I really envey the cyclists that went up to Pykara and dodepatta, Did you know from the road over pykara you can see the Pykara Dam and the Emrelad Dam like small studs, that your mother loves to wear on her ears ? Its great. From Dodepetta , were I was once struck by lightening, or rather the table we were sitting on having tea, one can see, during the day time the whole of mysore and Kudoraimuk ( Horse head) and I can tell you it looks exactly like a horse. When you went up Elk Hill you should have taken time to see my pear and plum trees..... but of course they would have cut down all those to make houses..........It makes me to cry some more ! achan

Anonymous said...

Yeah liked that walk through graveyard. May be I have a new hobby now :)

Btw I am Thejesh. I have an H like any other south Indian :)

Anonymous said...

check out the comment i left on prasanth's blog


Anonymous said...

My favorite uncle, my fathers only younger brother, (who was the only kind person to comfort me after a beating from my father or mother for some some small crime committed at home ), was the Station Master of connoor rly station in 1970 !

How I envied him! In his crisp white uniform and the starched green and red flag he held in his hands, in control of all the trains that passed through his station. At that time the train had to come level with platform, which was a dead end, and to proceed to ooty, the train would reverse and get on to the main line a few feet up !
With a great whistle, and full throttle, the Steam Engine at the rear would go past the station, the brakes man in front and the guard at the rear and the most imortant man the engine driver at the rear and his assistant would salute the Station Master ! by waving the green flag, and he responded by waving his own !

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