Thursday, 28 January 2010

Steam Train to Ooty

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India; October 25th; Day 34; Ooty

We pile out of the hostel at an ungodly hour and hire an auto-rickshaw to carry our sorry selves and our luggage the short distance to the railway station. Lots of people are mulling around and we find a queue for the people that have Reserve Tickets for the Mountain Railway. It doesn’t take long to get to the head of the queue and we are allowed a place on the train. We are shown to our carriage and have it to ourselves for a little while though we are later joined by an English couple, a French woman and a lady from the USA brandishing a blackberry. A fellow from India joins us too to fill up the compartment. He doesn’t say much on the trip but I think he finds us amusing. Several times before departure various other types of riff-raff try and squeeze in, but my years of practise on the school train keeps everyone else at bay.

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We’ve paid 240 rupees for the trip and our neighbours, who didn’t bother with the Reserve Tickets palaver, have paid 8 rupees. 240 Rupees is about 3 pounds and that was for two people. We also find out later that we were entitles to a first-class compartment, but as these seem much the same as the compartment we have it doesn;t seem much of a loss. In any case it turns out that those compartments are full of oiks. This is one reason why all us western tourists are huddled together in one place.

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As we are here so early I have plenty of time to wander about and do some train spotting. Our engine is steaming up in the distance so I concentrate on the diesels that are around. I photograph two Also AWD2’s which are the workhorse of the Indian Railways. These American Locomotives have been built in India for many years. I also see an Also YWD4 which is the engine normally used on the run up to Ooty. The steam engine only does the run once a day and in fact the diesel always does the last few miles from Coonoor to Ooty.

I have the opportunity to photograph our steam engine which she is brought out and hitched up to our rake of carriages, The station has no information office and its impossible to buy any memorabilia about the train. This is a bit shocking for a Unesco heritage site, but it gets worse.

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The ride itself is very enjoyable and takes about 4 hours. The train stops at various places for watering where everyone jumps out. At Coonoor the steam engine is swapped for a diesel. Keith and I decide that Coonoor itself looks a bit grubby and decide to travel the whole line up to Ooty instead.

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On our departure platform traveller were able to buy breakfasts. These were sold in tinfoil takeaway containers, We were aghast to discover that these were routinely thrown out of the train window when discarded by what can only be described as wealthy middle-class tourists. It was disgusting to see that the track had become one long litter bin. The rubbish could be seen strewn along the whole line. Of India os usually covered in a layer of filth and litter and perhaps it is too optimistic of me to expect that these people might respect their own heritage.

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I mean the ride was fun and interesting but the litter and behaviour was gross. It amused us that these same people screamed whenever the train went through a tunnel. This gives the impression that they must think it’s a ride in a funfair and nothing else. Weird.

On our arrival in Ooty our carriage mates, apart from the USA lady, decided to shoot of to the YMCA place to try and find somewhere to stay. The lady from the USA taking her cue from her Blackberry, had tried to encourage us to stay on some ranch an hour out of town. I suspected that she could use this to leverage a lower rate for herself. However we piled into two auto-rickshaws and went to the YMCA. It was busy and only had two rooms. We looked but the place was overrun by a noisy wedding party. We extolled our taxi man to take us somewhere else and we arrived at an ancient and slightly rundown colonial bungalow. It was in a flower garden with views over the town.

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Even though it was a bit pricey Keith and I decided it was great and we took a room. The English couple, with the French girl in tow (and she’d been in tow for a while) thought it was too much and disappeared to find somewhere else. They came back later and took rooms anyway.

Keith and I wandered into town in an attempt to find some tourist information. We found an office but no information as usual. We found a dingy bar and had a beer but the place was a windowless dive and too depressing for words. We left. We spent as bit of time looking for somewhere to eat in the evening and eventually settled on a small restaurant. In a stall outside Keith negotiated interminably about buying a small knife to replace the one that had been confiscated at the airport. After mucking about for half an hour he didn’t buy one anyway.

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We decided to have dinner there and then to save ourselves the trouble of coming out tonight. So we did and then took an auto-rickshaw back to our bungalow. We took care to stop off at a wine-shop to buy our regulation Kingfishers on the way.

Back in our room I was peeved to discover that the TV couldn’t get the channel that was showing the Man Utd vs Liverpool game. Disappointing. We probably watched some crap movie instead. We found out later that we’d lost anyway.