Monday, 1 February 2010

Avalanche

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India; October 27th; Day 36; Ooty

We are up early and head straight down to the bus station to get a bus to Avalanche. Our book suggests that we may find some hiking to do down there. At the bus station we are disappointed to find that the next bus is not until 11am. Instead we find a taxi driver and negotiate a price to Emerald which is a town on the way to Avalanche. The driver is reluctant to go all the way. We agree a price and off we go in his classic Ambassador in the old green colour. Inside it’s beautifully upholstered and he obviously looks after it.

After filling up in a petrol station in Ooty we leave town and pass through the undulating countryside. It’s mostly market gardening country and apparently famous for carrots.

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When we are dropped off at Emerald, just a small village, we pick up some lunch things; some cake and some fruit. It’s a 10km walk to Avalanche from here and we set off from town down the only main road going west. It’s more rural around here and we pass several tea plantations. After a couple K we reach a junction and assume that the dirt road to the right leads to Avalanche. Only a couple of cars pass us and we decline a lift that is offered. The road continues to wind around and rise and fall. We stop at a Forestry Lodge and try to get some information but the Rangers know nothing. We sit on the bench and have some lunch before continuing.

Before long we arrive in Avalanche and see that it’s no more than a few house for the Forestry workers. A locked barrier is across the road and two guys are manning the gate. They refuse to let us pass and say that we are not authorised without a valid form. He shows us the form, which is in English, but we are not allowed to fill it in now. We should have done this at the Forestry Office in Ooty. We are dumbfounded. What could possibly be the point of this? This is Forestry country with a couple of dams and reservoirs. We argue for a while but they are adamant that we shall not pass. As a coup-de-grace we are also informed that even if we had the form they would not less us through as we have cameras. Photography is not allowed. I’m flabbergasted and inclined to get livid. But what’s the point? I’ve been in India a month and am quite used to this sort of bureaucratic nonsense. The world’s largest democracy and you are prevented from taking photographs in the countryside. Madness.

Keith and I turn around. We have a 7km walk back to Emerald.

On the way we are amused to see a troop of Nilgiri Langur crossing the road above our heads from tree to tree. Further down the road we tentatively think about bushwhacking our way along a trail but discover it’s following a line of electricity pylons. Further still we walk down to a lakeshore and take a break whilst watching some dragonflies and butterflies. We think again about walking around the lakeshore, but decide against it as we have no proper maps with us.

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Back on the road to Emerald we are offered a lift by a group of young people. The girls make room for us in the back but don’t talk to us. They are all students on holiday. They have been beyond the barrier but they haven’t walked anywhere but just admired the view. They drop us back in Emerald and as it’s still quite early we decide to try and walk somewhere else. The girl from the USA who we had met on the train coming up to Ooty a couple of days ago was staying at the Red Hill Nature Resort near Emerald. We thought we could walk there and get some lunch before coming back to Emerald for a bus back to Ooty. I’d checked the website for this place and they claimed to have access to several hiking trails. But first we had to ascertain where it was.

Lots of people were hanging around the street at Emerald but none of them were really clear about where the place was. Eventually it was determined that it was about 5km down this particular road. Within the first couple of K’s we where diverted by visiting two dams. The first was a power dam holding back Lake Emerald and the second was just a holding wall for the same reservoir. At the first one we were surprised to see the remnants of the original company buildings and what must have been well maintained gardens. A man was still employed here and he came over to tell us that no photographs were allowed. What is it with this place? We were allowed to walk out onto the dam though and have a good look around. The dam was built by Canadians.

After the dams we continue walking down the road not really knowing how far this Red Hills place is. At one point we flag down a car and ask for a lift. The driver says sure if we pay 50 rupees, so we walk instead.

The road follows the side of the lake and then comes to a place where there is a sort of isthmus of land between two portions of the lake. We stop here for something to eat. It’s obvious that this is a popular picnic spot for the locals as the place is spoiled by litter.

We continue walking and pass a small village where the paved road runs out and the dirt begins. A local assures us that we are going the right way but he can give no indication of how far. Later up the road we are surprised to discover that the car that wanted 50 rupees from us for a lift is now stuck when attempting to turn around,. All it needs is a push. However I ask the man for 50 rupees to help him which he doesn’t offer. So we leave him stuck in the mud. Keith can’t believe that I’ve done this and probably thinks I’m a right bastard. I am. But what goes around comes around and maybe the fella’s learnt something.

The road continues to climb until eventually we come to the Red Hill Nature Resort which is a surprisingly large lodge complex in the middle of a tea plantation. Our friend from the USA is not here but out visiting something. No other guests are apparent. They don’t have a restaurant but the hosts are kind enough to offer us an omelette. We have a couple of beers too. It was a long way to get here but at least we had an adventure getting here and we still have to walk back the same way to Emerald. After our lunch we are shown some of the rooms. They are fitted out very nicely we luxury bathrooms and fireplaces.

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As we leave the host’s dog makes an appearance, a German Shepherd, and escorts us out of the premises. We are shown a short-cut down through the tea bushes down to the road. In fact the dog walks with us all the way back to Emerald which must be a 7 or 8 km walk. The dog entertains along the walk and is instrumental in showing us the Langurs as they scream and chatter when they see the dog and we nay have missed them altogether without him.

At Emerald the locals are surprised to see us again and are particularly surprised to see the dog with us. They obviously know where the dog comes from and are aghast that we might be stealing it. Eventually however the dog leaves us and strolls off and we hop on the bus to Ooty. As usual the bus us crowded and the locals are amused to see us. School children hop on and off and some hang out the door between times.

When we arrive in Ooty we walk into town and get an early dinner and get an auto-rickshaw back to our bungalow. Of course we’ve picked up some beers first.