Friday, November 11, 2011

11-11-11-India









11-11-11 - November 11, 2011 was another very interesting day and our last day in Ooty. We started with a visit to the Toda Tribal Village located a few km out of town. The village is in a Unesco Cultural Reserve and is home a few hundred Toda people who are of great interest to anthropoligy because they practice fraternal polyandry (women marry several brothers) and worship their special breed of buffalo. When we got to the village (5-6 stone huts), our guide John told us to remove our shoes and walk across a small field to the tall temple building. This was a little disconcerting since I am a terrible tenderfoot at the best of times and their were quite a few buffalo droppings around. However, we made it OK and also saw a traditional house.

We then drove back down the to the eucalyptus distillery. This was a smallish wood and thatch building from which a lot of smole was pouring. Inside were a couple of men tending a fire that was boiling eucalyptus leaves and distilling the oils into a series of big cauldrons connected by metal pipes. Everything was very dark and smokey inside and it was hard to breath. Outside were the dried up leaves that had already been processed and would be used for future fires. No wastage. Later we saw women in the eucalyptus forest gathering leaves from the forest floor in the traditional manner and carrying the in bales on their heads to the distillery. Eucalyptus is used for all sorts of illnesses and we use it in Canada as a chest rub for colds.

Next it was back to the Ooty train station to take a trip on the narrow gauge railway down to Coonoor - 5 stations away. The train is pretty primitive with open windows, fairly hard benches and a conductor who jumped on and off at every station. He was also the brakeman. The scenery was lovely - all the hills and eucalyptus trees and colourful hillside villages - plus the terraced fields of carrots and bottom fields of cabbage. We were in first class and with us in our section were two young Indian doctors who were on their honeymoon. We had fun chatting with them. They both worked in a hospital in Cochin and were surprised when we said we don`t have dowries in Canada.

After a Thali lunch in Coonoor, we went to visit a tea plantation and tea factory. Only the top three leaves of the tea plants are picked - every 20 days. The leaves are dried and then pushed down a hole (by a lady sitting in the middle of them) to the part of the factory below - where the leaves are fermented and dried some more and then ground up and packaged. The two young doctors from the train were just ahead of us on the tour and we took mutual pictures of each other. Then it was tea tasting - very sweet milky tea - masala (made with cardamon), chocolate tea (tasted like hot chocolate) and regular. As usual there were as many people taking photos of us and we were taking photos of them. The little girl in the photo was just a fellow tourist in the tea tasting shop. We bought some very expensive silver tip tea (only the top leaf and not ground up) and hope we can squeeze it into our suitcase.

Back at the hotel, Mike spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to get our carpets through Canadian Customs. Hopefully that is now settled. Meanwhile I read the autobiography I have been reading - `A princess remembers` by the Maharani of Jaipur - what a great book about the experiences of a wealthy women of the ruling class before and after Independence. I think she was about 10 years younger than Jessica. Which reminds me - Gopal, who was our guide for the Road Scholar tour, was also a prince from a small place in Rajasthan and his son went to school with the current young prince of Jaipur.

It is amazingly cold here at night - however I am feeling much warmer now that I have a big wool shawl from Tibet. We have settled our bill and will set out tomorrow morning with our driver to the much warmer climate of Mysore.

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