Saturday, 12 May 2012

Nilgiri Express... UNESCO World Heritage Site

If you want to add a dash of Bollywood in your Ooty trip, don't forget to embark on the famous "Chaiya Chaiya" track from Dil Se. Let me confirm your guess, yes... it is the famous UNESCO World Heritage Site... Nilgiri Express.

Nilgiri Express waiting at Ooty station

We heard a lot about this train and the track. So when we planned for Ooty, we purposefully included Coonoor... just for a ride on this train. The desire was so strong, it made us procrastinate our Ooty trip because we didn't get tickets of this train. So, for this trip, my wife made advance booking around 2 months back. The reason is, the train has only three reserved compartments and they get sold out like hot-cake. Although, unreserved tickets are available on the very day, but there is a mad rush for a proper seat.

  We booked two first class tickets in Uam Onr Passr (56139) which leaves Ooty(Udagamandalam)  at 9:15 am. Consider yourself lucky if you get a seat on the right side of the train while going from Ooty to Coonoor and exactly opposite on the way back. This is because most of the scenic valleys show up on this side of the train.

  There are a total of 4 stations between Ooty and Coonoor, though the train won't be halting for  long in these stations. All these stations are like small toy stations. 

  The train passes through several tunnels, beautiful lush green valleys, eucalyptus forests, tea plantations. It goes very slow, just like any other toy trains, so that you can enjoy all of these, take snaps, store them in your memory for eternity.

  Here are the snaps, though we strongly believe that its merely 1% of what meets the eyes:

On the way to school

Passing through the woods

One of the several turns


Through the eucalyptus forest

Coonoor station

Passing over a bridge

Scenic track

Settlement in the valley


Tea plantation

Open greenary

Valley downhill

One small tunnel

Nilgiri chai

    It's nice to see that the government has preserved this track so well. 

    Some pointers to help you in your planning:

    First Class fare: Rs. 255/person
    Train name/number(Ooty->Coonoor): Uam Onr Passr (56139) (train back to Ooty is also there)
    Schedule departure: 9:15 am (other successive timing are also there)
    Time to reach Coonoor: 1 hr 15 min (approx)
    Time of our visit: Early November, 2011
Bon voyage.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Madikeri, Coorg... Weekend getaway

We planned for it for some time... that is for sure. However, the sudden excess temperature in Bangalore was perhaps giving us a bigger push..."Go go... get to some hill station". 1st May was near. So, get set go to Madikeri, Coorg.

  The trip in short:
  Start Date: 28th April, 2012      Return Date: 30th April, 2012
  Places visited: 
        Tibetan Monastery (Golden Temple)
        Kaveri Nishargadham
        Dubare Elephant Camp
        Abbey Falls
        Raja's Seat
        Raja's Tomb
        Madikeri Museum
        Omkareshwar Temple
        Bonus: Mysore Zoo (on our way back)
  Travellers : Me and my husband
  Transport: Our good old Sparky (Chevy Spark)
  Stay: Hotel RajDarshan (just next to Raja's seat)

Day 1:

 This time it was an extended weekend of three days and we decided to set for a much awaited trip to Coorg.We got up at 5 am on Saturday (OMG!) ,which on normal weekdays is like a big NO NO... to us.
So we started at 6 am to avoid Blore traffic, got our tank filled(yes,of our car's of course ;) ),and hit  Mysore hubby was the driver and me the navigator.Our GPS was a bunch of papers with maps on them that we googled for a couple of days.

Here are the maps.......

Mysore Road is clean and smooth till Mysore though you may find some minor jam at Bidadi and Ramanagara(Silk City).We drove at a leisurely speed of 60 to 80Km/hr though most cars zoomed past us.

After Srirangapatna and just before Mysore there is a big signal at Columbia Asia Hospital.We took a right from here to get on the Ring Road...just to avoid the city traffic..........but pheww it wasn't a very good plan as the roads were under construction till Hunsur Road.

From Hunsur Road to Kushal Nagar the road is very scenic with blossomed gulmohar trees on both sides of the road.The number of good restaurants in this stretch(around 120 kms) is pretty scarce.

 Spot 1: Tibetan Monastery (Golden Temple)
  Enroute to Kushal Nagar is Bylakuppe where we stopped(around 11:30 am) to see the beautiful Buddhist    Monastery. Include this in your must see list and don't miss tasting the Tibetan food there.
  There are souvenir shops around. So you can buy things like wind chimes, laughing Buddha, hanging masks, crockery with engraves of dragon etc. So happy shopping.
   Here are some snaps from the place:

Spot 2: Kaveri Nishargadham
  We left Golden temple at around 2:30 pm. for Kaveri Nishargadham which is around 8 kms from there. For both these destinations, keep your eyes to the left of the road, as the banners will direct you to the by-lanes to these places. 
  It started raining as we reached Nishargadham. Entry fee is Rs.10/person and Rs.10 for parking. The entrance is a hanging bridge which leads you to the actual park. The bridge swings a little and some people seem to enjoy it very much... so very much that they jump on the bridge to make it swing harder. This is how it looks:

  So what is inside the park?
  A deer enclosure, by which you will find a cucumber/mango shop... not for you. You buy it and feed the animals. Fantastic. Have a look.

  There are few tree house like watch towers. Although we didn't give it a try because the stairs were made of round woods and it was drizzling. But you can give it a try :) .

   And there is river Kaveri. Many people take a quick dip there. But again, we didn't.

  Then we headed for Madikeri. 
  We didn't book any hotel from B'lore, although we did good research on the options available. We even locked on KSTDC hotel(Mayura valley view) mostly because of its proximity to Raja's seat. And on reaching the hotel, we found that the view from here was spectacular indeed. However, there were no rooms available, not just in KSTDC, but in many other hotels we called up. However, Lady Luck was on our side and we found Hotel Rajdarshan, a fine hotel just 100 mtrs from Raja's seat. They have their car parking and decent double room at Rs 1250/day. They had power back-up and hot water supply. And their restaurant is pretty okay.

  Spot 3: Raja's Seat
   Raja's seat was very close to our hotel so we decided to see the sunset there just after checking in the hotel.According to legends the Raja used to see the sunset from here.It is a protected monument.The entry fee is Rs 5 per person.There is a small light n sound show everyday from 6:45 to 7 pm.
You do get a lot of fresh air though its nothing more than a common park.
There is also a toy train ride and you can book the tickets on spot.

Back to hotel and had dinner at the hotel restaurant. And that was all for the day. 

Day 2:

  It was cloudy till 7-7:30 am in the morning. So we got out for the day at around 8:30 am.
  Before that, we planned for the day over a couple of cups of tea. Google map is always handy while you are on the move. We planned to visit only Dubare Elephant Camp, Abbey Falls, Raja's Tomb, Madikeri Museum and Omkareshwar Temple. There are of course other places like Tala Kaveri and Somwarpet etc. But we didn't go for these simply for the reason that they are around 40-60 kms from Madikeri and we thought that it would be really hectic. After all, it was supposed to be a let-go-off-the-stress weekend trip. So...

Spot 1: Dubare Elephant Camp
You can get to Madikeri either by SH 88 or SH89. We went through the latter just by chance.......but it was a bonus for us.It is a long stretch of curvy road through the scenic coffee plantations on both sides,though it is narrower than SH 88.However the 2km stretch before the Dubare camp is terrible (88/89 wont make any difference).

Once there you have two options to reach the elephant camp.You can either raft across the water body or simply take a boat(both can be shared).We took a boat and it costs 20 bucks per person.
In the camp you can see elephant bathing,taking instructions or can enjoy a elephant ride.However for any of these you need to be present there in specific time the way,everything costs :)

Here are some more snaps

Spot 2: Abbey Falls
 We drove back to Madikeri(around 28 kms) and went straight for Abbey Falls which is another 8 Kms.The road is narrow with one hair pin curve which is very much manageable.
After car parking we walked a little down to see the actual falls......much before you see it you hear it.
Its a spectacular falls worth spending some time.There is also a hanging bridge from where one can see a straight view of the falls.We felt that in monsoon the beauty of the falls will be much more.

Now here's the video of the falls..

Spot 3: Raja's Tomb

  We spent like 1.5 hours at Abbey falls and then headed back. Raja's Tomb is on the way back. The place comprises of three tombs, One for the King, One for the Queen and the last one for the High Priest. This place seemed a little less crowded than the rest. The interesting thing about this place is the architecture used for these monuments. It appeared to be a mix of different cultures and religions, much like that of Omkareshwar Temple. 
   You can also enjoy a nice panoramic view of the city from this place. Here are some of the snaps from Raja's Tomb.

Spot 4: Madikeri Museum

The museum is in the city and very close to Madikeri Police station.Inside is a church which houses artifacts mostly of the 16th century.Photography is prohibited inside the museum.

Interestingly whenever we found a high rising wall,or a cliff some people would be there to show that they are more physically and mentally fit than the rest of us.Here's one chap........again highly not recommended.

Spot 5: Omkareshwar Temple

  So after spending some time at the Museum we drove straight for Omkareshwar Temple, the last destination of the day and thus of our trip. Omkareshwar Temple is pretty near to Madikeri. From our hotel(near Raja's seat), it is a 5-10 minutes walk to this temple.
  This temple stunningly resembles the similar work of art as that found at Raja's Tomb. It is also believed to have architectural inputs from different cultures. Here is a snap:

Marketing and dining in Madikeri
The next thing that was in our mind was to do some local shopping and of course tasting some  Kodava cuisine.We brought big cardamon,tea leaves,tamarind toffee and coorg honey.The price of these things are much less in Coorg when compared to Blore.

For tasting Kodava cuisine,we went to a restaurant named "Coorg Cuisine " on the recommendation of the shopkeeper.We decided to taste a 1)  typical kodava mutton dish made with a lot of coconut and 2)  bamboo shoot fry with rice balls.Mutton dish was okay but the bamboo shoot fry was pathetic.We felt that Kodava cuisine is good but the restaurant could not deliver it properly.

You can check "Crystal Court" which was also highly recommended by the shopkeeper.We could not taste the food there because by the time we reached that restaurant their al-a-carte
serving was over :(

Day 3:

We left for Blore around 9:00 am and decided to have a quick visit to Mysore zoo(specially for the green anacondas). Ticket Rs.40/person + Rs.20/still camera.

So here's the final checklist

  • Don't drive too fast on Mysore road.
  • On the day of your return, try to get out a little early to avoid Bangalore traffic.
  • Summer or Monsoon, take an umbrella with you.
  • Do better research on authentic Kodava restaurant.
  • Book hotels well in advance during peak seasons.
  • Very few restaurants from Mysore to Kushalnagar.
Our travel statistics(for two people):

    Total fuel consumption: Around Rs. 3000 (petrol).(Around 650 KM all inclusive)
    Hotel Cost: Rs. 1250/day (checkout at 12 noon)
    Food Cost: Around Rs. 500/day

So, what are you waiting for... pack your bags and get-set-go.

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