Nov 9 – Forest Hills Resort near Masinagudi, Tamil Nadu
Boy, do I know how to screw up a great day.
I got away from the Parklane in Mysore after a good breakfast before 8:00. Actually, breakfast was funny. This is the most “with it” hotel, tourist wise place I have stayed in India. Each night there was probably 50 foreign travellers, and so they know how to handle us. Anyway..breakfast. I was in a bit of a hurry, as always. I ordered a pot of coffee, a sweet lassi and two poached eggs on toast. The coffee and lassi came quickly, as I wanted, and then the eggs came, and then a few minutes later they came again. An order of poached eggs comes with two eggs, and so when I ordered two poached eggs I got two orders. We argued a bit and they took the second order away and did not charge me. They must anguish over the language issues as much as we do.
Down the road it was wonderful. I was free of Mysore in minutes, the traffic was not too bad, the road smooth and the temperature in the low 20s with little humidity, due to the 700 m altitude that I was starting at in Mysore. I was comfortable riding in India for the first time. The road was wide enough that very few vehicles found the need to blow their horn. I was extensively in high range as the gently rolling hills began. I knew I was climbing, but only just and so I was well above 20 kph most of the time. I love going fast.
I went through a few villages and had the usual enjoyable scenes of people on the road. Before long I began seeing the mountains rising in the morning haze. I stopped at one point to take a picture of a pond heron, and also took distant shots of a kingfisher and an Indienne roller. Clearing the last major town before getting into the hills proper I stopped early, 11:00 and had a tasty vegetable biriyani and was on the way into Bandipur Tigre Preserve. The world changed.
No stopping, photos, smoking, picnics, littering. It is amazing they let me ride through on my bike. I began with a long steep climb, but it was so attractive nothing could take my pleasure away. It is amazing how much you get used to the litter and garbage along the way. In the park, a few idiots had thrown their Styrofoam, plastic bottles and cigarette boxes out, but it was pretty good compared to normal. The road was only a bit wider than one lane and the traffic was down to a vehicle, mostly cars, every two minutes. I saw no animals on my ride through Bandipur, until the park headquarters where I took some shots of a chained elephant and her baby.
Soon I passed into Tamil Nadu and the wildlife preserve changed to Mudumalai National Park, with the same list of don’ts and lots more hill climbing. Before long I came across a mother elephant and her baby. She positioned herself between me and the baby, but did let me take some pics. I know I wasn’t supposed to but she didn’t seem to mind too much. Within half an hour I came across what looked like a young single male. He scurried off a bit when I stopped, and then a bit more, to about 75 m. When I started to pull out my camera he started to charge. I had a down hill in front of me and as he stopped and trumpeted loudly I was on my way. I guess I can see why the extensive list of don’ts includes stopping and photos.
I got to my junction about 10 km before I expected and I was on my way to Masinagudi, now on a an even narrower one lane sealed road, with lots of up and down, still gradually climbing. I got to town and found a restaurant to have a drink and make my phone calls. I am looking for a wildlife resort where I can spend a couple of days. It took a couple of calls before I found one, 6 km ride higher into the hills. At the end of another one lane sealed road I had a km of rough trail, only to be turned back. I had been given the wrong name, but after heading up another rocky road I ended up at Forest Hills Guest House. It is pretty rough on the surface, but beneath that veneer, it was wonderful. There are a number of cabins spread around their grounds and a few nice rooms in the main lodge. All will be filled tomorrow and so they offer me a rough room in an old cabin at a price I cannot turn down. Most importantly to me is that the place is deep in the forest, up against the park , completely isolated from anything else.
The first thing they offered was a cold beer on my porch and so I like the place already. I had a shower and began getting set to head out and do a look around, when I noticed my cell phone was missing.
After a thorough search I concluded that it was gone. The manager phoned the restaurant I phoned from in Masinagudi but it was not there. I rode the 6 km back into town just to talk to them, but that didn’t do any good. I must not have zipped up the pocket I carry it in well enough and so it fell out on the rough roads. My cell has my India guide book, all my reading books, and a host of other applications I use in Calgary. It is also my main connection with Rich at this point.
After the best riding day of the trip, I bugger it up like this. The evening meal was a very nice buffet that helped to sooth my battered ego.
I rode 110 km to get here and another 12 to no avail.
Nov 10 – Forest Hills
I was out front of the office at 6:15 for a coffee with Jeff and Becky, while we wait for our wild life guide to turn up. They are an American couple, I’d say about 50 doing a week holiday on top of a business trip. They are fit and have been out the day before with Ravi our guide. He indicates that we have some climbing to do this morning and wants to know if we are up for that. We agree.
The park borders the resort property and so we are soon out in the morning dew which even makes the elephant and cat tracks apparent even to me. We follow some elephant tracks carefully. Ravi’s stories about elephant attacks on tourists and locals points out how dangerous they are, and how lucky I was on my ride through the park.
We get close enough to see signs of a big bull through foliage, but skirt widely not having a safe place to get a better look. We do see some black backed woodpeckers, the biggest in India. Away from the elephant we fairly quickly follow game trails higher up the mountain, stopping on rock outcrops to view the jungle below. We saw many sign of both leopard and tiger, including fresh tracks and old claw marks on trees. A sloth bear has been out this morning digging for termites. As the sun came over the mountain we headed down into the creek bottom and back down again. We again came into contact with the old bull elephant, and quickly continued down as we were between him and his harem.
This was a pretty good 3 1/2 hr workout and I really enjoyed the tracking process and the company of our guide and Jeff and Becky. We had a great breakfast and I had a relax for a while.
They have a viewing tower, looking over the park, well away from the main lodge. I spent a couple of hours watching for animals and enjoying the flitting about of the birds. I saw a few pheasants and some of the giant squirrels and had a thrill for a moment as I awoke from a snooze. I saw some movement through the trees and then a let down as five cows came filing single file through the trees.
For an afternoon session we went by jeep to the home of a local who has a great viewing veranda at his home. Jeff and Becky has seen tiger, elephant and samburu there two days earlier. Naturally, we sat there for three hours and saw only some wild boars. I seem destined not to see any big cats.
A big group was at the resort and it was not until 9:00 that we had a big outdoor meal of many dishes. By then Jeff and Becky and I were joined by a Finish Vet, her Indian husband and two children, the owner of the resort, and her son who does wonderful bird photos. The long wait also meant that more beer was consumed than normal. I had another great day and the Forest Hills has become one of my favourite places anywhere.
Nov 11 – Ooty
I have agreed to phone Rich from Ooty, or I would probably stay another day at Forest Hills, but I am off after a good breakfast and a surprisingly small bill for all I consumed and the tours I went on.
This was to be a challenging ride. I dropped the 5 km back to the road and then gradually began climbing towards Ooty. 15 km from the resort I hit the first of 36 switchbacks. They are marked and the road is renowned for its steepness. At the first switchback I began pushing my bike. I do not know how steep it is, but I was only able to ride about 1/3 rd of the switchbacks, pushing being not much easier. I entered the tea field and stopped once for tea at a roadside kiosk. Over the top finally after about 3 1/2 hours to do the 30 km, I had another 6 km into Ooty . The road got quite busy as we joined the main road in from Mysore and in town, I was wondering why I left the jungle.
I found a place to stay and at 8:00 I was able to find a phone and connect with Rich. He will not be here for four more days and so rushing here made no sense after all. I need to do some further research so I will be here for two nights.
My visit began with a walk through the very extensive gardens that are a legacy of the British who planted all of their favourite trees and flowers from Britain, and they thrive here at 2200 m, as did the Brits themselves.
Today I cycled 40 km and gained 1500 m in the process.
Nov 12 – Ooty
I walked a bit and cycled quite a bit around the area today. I struck out on finding an effective way to get into Mukurti NP, a high level preserve that they don’t seem to be giving trekking permits for. Not sure why. One interesting place I ran into Fern Hill Palace, a Maharaja Palace turned into a hotel, that seemed to be too expensive for anyone to stay at. It is lovely though.
Nov 13 – Kotagiri
I have chosen this routes away from Ooty based upon reviews I have read about the road choices I have. This one is longer and starts by climbing, but it much less busy and supposedly very scenic.
It took a steep 5 km climb to reach the trail that goes up to Mt Doddabetta, at 2637 m, the highest point in South India. I left my bike and walked the 3 km up to the summit and back. You can drive up and so the top is a bit of a zoo with souvenir and food vendors aplenty. The narrow road is the only walking path and with all the jeeps and minis running people up, it was not quite the Nilgiri walk I was looking for.
For the next couple of hours I coasted slowly down to Kotagiri, passing through many small villages and stopping frequently as I was captivated by the tea fields rolling over the mountains. The road, unlike most in India, is glassy smooth and twists through the trees giving endless panoramas. In the high air, and not doing any work I had to stop to put a sweater on. What luxury.
Kotagiri, the first hill town in the Nilgiri, is a fraction of the size of Ooty or Coonoor, the other hill town I may have headed to. But I have a nice place to stay and am enjoying having put in a very easy half day ride/walk. But I will head on tomorrow leaving the Nilgir after 6 very nice days. I have a dramatic drop left to do and hopefully will not drop all the way to sea level for a while.
I cycled 35 km, climbed 550 m and dropped 785 m today.