We got up at 5:30 and, since the restaurant was not yet open, we ate the wheat flakes, soya milk and bananas that we had bought the day before – in our room. The night clerk was still up from the evening before. Mr. Joshi from Far Horizons arrived punctually at 6:30 and told us the driver would be along in 10 minutes. When Mr Suresh arrived in our nice new Tata Indigo car they carefully loaded our two red bags, my small black backup and our green bag (which Elspeth gave us for travelling and which I like to use for spare food when we are travelling independently) into the trunk and we sat in the back seat. Off we went in the fairly cool morning air. Mr Suresh is a wonderful driver and we feel very confident with his driving in all the complex Indian traffic. However, we were a little worried that morning because he obviously lacked sleep. He had driven all the way from Chennai (16 hours) the day before and arrived at 5:30 in the morning – meaning he had had only one hour of sleep before he had to pick us up. He is slight and dark and wears a line painted on his forehead which I think means he is a follower of Shiva. He old us he would be our driver, guide, body guard and family friend.
We drove through Kerala and crossed the border into Tamul Nadu. The car was nice and cool and we buzzed along through traffice passing through a couple of very busy towns. It is interesting how quickly one becomes used to a new culture. Nowadays we aren't always reaching for the camera when we pass a bullock cart or a sacred cow wandering through the traffic. It seems quite normal to us.
We stopped for a short coffee break at a roadside complex and also for early lunch at a thali restaurant. Suresh showed us how to eat the various thali dishes – there was a definite order building up the spiciness from dish to dish and then having salt yogurt followed by a sweet rice dish. He ate in the traditional way using only his right hand and mixing the various sauces with white basmati rice. As foreigners we used a spoon. While we were there he got a cell phone message that the road up to Ooty was blocked with falling rocks and mud because of the heavy rains. We decided not to worry and after I while he went off to talk to some other men and came back reporting that the road was OK.
Shortly after lunch we came to the beginning of the hills – where the hot plains end and the very windy ,twisty, narrow road up to the top of the Nilgiri Hills begins. The drive was very dramatic – with 14 hairpin bends and many many other blind corners and sharp turns. There was quite a lot of traffic on the road – mainly trucks (lorries) and express buses coming down hill. It was more than exciting every time we passed a truck or bus or met one coming down the hill. The scenery was spectacular – high misty peaks with very long cascading waterfalls all over the mountains. It had been raining heavily in Ooty which must have been the reason for all the waterfalls. When we got to the top we were above the mist and clouds and in among the tea plantations, terraced fields of vegetables, colourful villages and busy people – all wearing sweaters and jackets and wool hats over traditional dress - despite the sunshine. We arrived in Ooty town and were taken to our hotel – very swish and modern - up a steep road and having nice views over Ooty and the surrounding hills.
Later in the afternoon we went for a short walk. It was beginning to feel bitterly cold and found that Suresh was staying in the car in the hotel parking lot. We knew that our bus driver and helper ah stayed in the bus on our previous trip but it didn't seem so bad since the bus was huge and the weather was warm. Suresh assured us that he had blankets and had been to the temple for a blessing and to be refreshed – so we believed that he was OK and said goodnight.
We had a lovely dinner in the hotel restaurant and were quite entertained by a tour group of English people who were obviously having a great time touring South India. They seemed to be more varied in age than the Road Scholars and were very jolly – pushing tables together so they could sit as a group.
Our room is very nice and we are very glad that it is equipped with an electric heater since it is very cold here after the sunsets. Apparently it never snows (because there is no rain during the winter) but ice cubes (i.e. frost) does form.