Tea Fields and Mountains- Hiking Through the Western Ghats

Tea Fields and Mountains- Hiking Through the Western Ghats

Leaving Ooty, we decided to get a private bus to Kodaikanal in the state of Tamil Nadu as the public bus did not go directly there.  That meant a $10 ticket instead of a $2 ticket for the 9 hour ride, which we thought was worth it for a guaranteed seat and not crammed full of people standing, as is usually the case for public buses.  When we got on the bus we noticed there were speakers all around the ceiling, including a massive subwoofer in the back.  We were a little nervous about the implications of that, and sure enough, as we left town the driver started blaring music at an impressively high level of decibels.  Luckily, it was pretty chill music instead of the shrill Indian pop music we usually hear blaring out of cars and trucks.

Could have been a lot worse.  We have noticed that the general consensus with music of any kind in India is that louder is better.  When we visited a rose garden in Ooty, we heard loud Hindu mantras being played long before we reached the roses.  Upon emerging upon the garden-covered hilltop, we discovered that the mantras were being blared from speakers at a temple on the next hill over, a good mile away.  It must have been ear-splitting up close, and it was an urban area.  I can’t imagine that all his neighbors were cool with that.  It went on all afternoon.  Curious.

Our first day in Kodaikanal we took a long hike up a hill and out a ridge to a protruding rock called the dolphin’s nose which was overlooking the many valleys below.  We were above the clouds, so depending on the wind we either had amazing views or it looked like the cliff was the end of the world, with nothing but white cloud from the cliff to the horizon.  Pretty cool either way.

 

Before we started the hike, we noticed a vendor who was selling bags of baby carrots for just 10 rupees, about 15 cents.  I couldn’t pass up that deal, so I bought one and stuck it in my pocket for a snack along the way.  An hour later, we started passing by some monkeys by the side of the road, and before I knew it I turned my head to see that one of them was right next to me reaching for my pocket with the carrots.  Cheeky monkey!

I had to sprint away as I found myself without my trusty monkey rock to drive him away.  Usually when traveling in areas with monkeys I carry a rock in my pocket to pull out and threaten to throw at any furry little bullies who get too close or aggressive.  They know what a brandished rock means and always run away.  I’ve had some ugly run-ins with monkeys in the past that I won’t get into at this point, but that’s why I carry the rock.  Luckily, this time they did not give chase.  Whew!

We made it to the viewpoint, but it was a bit farther away than I expected and the hike home seemed a lot longer.  It ended up being a 12 mile day, so we were exhausted but content knowing that our high-altitude training for the Himalayas was progressing nicely.

Along the way we met a very small Indian man (Jen is always pleased when she’s taller than the men) who offered to take us through the forest on another day hike to a different view point.  As we didn’t know of any other hikes in the area, we agreed.  The next day we met him and hiked to a quaint waterfall and then to the view of the Pillar Rocks, huge columns of rock that have split from the mountainside and now stood independently.  Along the way we saw peach and pear orchards, hiked through a forest that smelled deliciously of warm pine, and warily spied more monkeys along the way.  I kept my carrots well-hidden and there were no further incidents of Simian aggression.

Once we got to the pillar rocks, we saw that bus after bus had driven Indian tourists up to the same spot.  As seems to happen whenever there are large groups of Indian tourists around us, we turned into instant celebrities and had to stop for a number of pictures with our adoring fans.

The next day we booked another private bus to Munnar, back in the state of Kerala.  When it was time to go, the driver showed up in his own car as there were only three Israelis and ourselves going that day.  I guess they save money that way when it’s a small group.  When passing back into Kerala from Tamil Nadu we had to pass a police checkpoint, and the driver told us that we can stop to be searched at each of the five checkpoints or pay 50 rupees (less than a buck) to avoid the search.  If he was telling the truth, it seems a pretty poor security procedure indeed.  He may have been scamming us, but we thought it was worth the money to avoid any unnecessary dealings with the authorities.  The police are not paid well so it’s commonly known that they will shake you down for a bribe any time they deal with you.  So, maybe he was telling the truth and it was just a formalized bribe system.  Who knows?

When climbing the mountains to get into Munnar, we followed a very steep, narrow, winding road.  Really no more than one lane with occasional shoulder room for passing.  Does that mean that everyone drives slowly and carefully?  Of course not; it’s full speed ahead as usual.  Does it mean they wait to pass until there is a safe amount of room?  Of course not – passing cars is a moral imperative at all times in India.  If a vehicle is in front of you, you must pass it immediately no matter what the risk of head-on collision or plunging off a cliff.

Being in any vehicle in India is a truly terrifying experience, and it’s only compounded on mountainsides.  It’s bad enough in a car, but on the way up we passed a group of white tourists on bicycles speeding down the mountain.  They were all senior citizens, and half of them didn’t have helmets.  I don’t know who sold them that tour, but clearly safety was not a consideration.  As we passed them, we cringed at the looks of sheer terror on their faces as they passed literally within inches of our car.  I can’t imagine what it was like for them when they passed a bus.  I wondered if maybe they were all terminally ill and had nothing to lose by the experience.  I still shudder at the thought of it.

We spent our one full day in Munnar hiking.  Our hotel was situated high in the hills above town, right in the middle of the ubiquitous tea fields.  Very picturesque.  For our hike, we walked through the tea fields and up to the top of the nearest mountain.  We found a trail leading along the ridge so we could walk from peak to peak admiring the emerald green tea as far as the eye could see.  Another ten miles of enjoyment to get us in shape for Nepal.  India can be quite beautiful once you get completely away from the pollution and noise of the towns.  Although I guess that’s true of most places.

Next stop, we head back into the jungle go on some safari hikes to look for wild elephants and tigers.  If you hear from us again, we didn’t get too close to them.  Feel free to leave a comment if you have questions or just want to send us a few words of encouragement 🙂

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