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The Mystical Adventures of Tess and Jack

Bee-Ooty-ful Ooty!

INDIA | Saturday, 24 December 2011 | Views [1054]

Chapter II of our mystical adventure began in a rickshaw at 5.00 am on a murky Chennai morning. We were destined for the central railway station; by another miracle (Ganesh again!) our bureaucratic mission of the previous day had resulted in two second class 'AC' tickets to Coimbatore, our stopover on the way to Ooty. The train trip was very pleasant and roomy and actually significantly more civilised than our plane trip (train adventures do not happen in reserved seats, as we discovered by way of comparison...stay tuned!)

Generally Indian people seem to be quite reserved and significantly shier than in South East Asia. We were in a row of three with a seemingly demure Indian gentleman, so we settled down in anticipation of some shut eye and quiet reading time. Half an hour into the trip it became apparent that this was not to be; the demure gentleman (Peter) actually turned out to be the most impatient, fluent and chatty person in the entire subcontinent. He was very bored by the train journey and could not stop talking. Despite feeling a little overwhelmed and kind of exhausted, our conversations were really interesting and enlightened us on some aspects of Indian culture about which we were quite ignorant. For example:

  • The caste system still plays a large role in everyday life and can impact your chances of education and employment. Declaring your caste and subcaste (required for any kind of application for just about anything) takes 15 pages of paperwork. Peter was unmarried but reminisced about his unrequited crush on a Brahmin girl, which he said would have been a big issue for both sets of parents.
  • Love matches are allowed but are generally frowned upon, so Peter's marriage is in his parents' hands. He said part of the process is posting attractive pictures of yourself on the caste union's website; his mother insisted on using one where his dimples were prominent.
  • Alcohol carries a heavy social stigma. Men should only drink in private and drinking women are considered promiscuous. Peter was on his way to a bachelor’s party. We were curious as to what kind of revelry would transpire but he assured us there would indeed be ‘boozing’, however horrified when Jack asked if there would be strippers (a slight social faux pas and a lesson learned!)

Peter was extremely intelligent and well-read (we talked Salman Rushdie!) and had a poetic grasp of the English language; he used the word ‘thrice’ thrice and described himself as an ‘ardent’ reader! I am delighted that such beautiful archaisms are safely preserved in this part of the world. It was a refreshing change from the rape of the English language so frequently witnessed in Australia!

For Deanne, Kathy & John: Peter was shocked and horrified that we were in India for Christmas and not spending it with our parents. He told us in all his 28 years he had never missed a family Christmas and that it would break his mother’s heart if he were not at home. Yes, we are terribly disloyal children and are sorry.

We bid Peter goodbye at the dusty manufacturing hub of Coimbatore (touted as the ‘Manchester of South India’ i.e. ugly and nothing to do). Our next leg was by local bus into the Ngilri Hills. Getting on this bus was an adventure in itself. Nobody at the bus station spoke English; sign language got us to a metal pen reminiscent of a cattle yard where we became part of a stampede when the bus pulled up. We darted to the two remaining seats at the rear of the bus, feeling so pleased with ourselves that it didn’t seem to matter that my seat was comprised of a broken tennis racket. Our smiles fell when I was unceremoniously booted from this apparently prime position, which was reserved for the ticket collector (who proceeded to blow his deafeningly shrill whistle in our ears for the remainder of the trip). Jack was a chivalrous little Maharaja and sacrificed his seat for my ass (which was feeling slightly tender owing to the tennis racket + bad roads).

The journey into the hills was stunning, if a little disconcerting, with dramatic precipices, 36 hair pin bends and some veeerrrry squeaky brakes. Dozens of monkeys sat on the road shoulders grooming each other and watching us pass. The best part was when we got stuck in a traffic jam because a wild elephant and her TWO baby elephants were crossing the road!

Our five days in Ooty were relaxing and uneventful. Ooty is a favourite Indian tourist hotspot but the whities were pretty sparse and we got lots of stares, points, laughs etc. Highlights included the ‘Wound Wonder’ (Inglish) of Ooty’s thread garden, comprised of silk replicas of native plants that some poor loser spend 12 years making (pretty lame – see photos - glad we only paid 15 rupees), a picnic in the botanical garden with fresh homemade cheese and chocolate, and a very infuriating wasted day trying to book train tickets – we spent hours on the stupid Indian Railways webpage trying to work out our planned routes only to find online booking is impossible unless you have an Indian phone number, which is impossible to get unless you have permanent residency! It was a moment when I needed a few deep breaths and some reflection on our India mantra (imparted by an elderly Indian couple on our flight over): ‘patience and perseverance.’

The lack of sleep, time changes, lungfuls of pollution etc. took their toll on Jack and he was down with the flu for our last few days. He is now recovered and back to his bratty self and we are spending Christmas day in comfortably touristy Fort Cochin! Until next time, I will leave you with a few of our general observations about India/Tamil Nadu…

  • The head wobble (try Youtubing). This gesture is ubiquitous and was initially confusing and hard to pin down. After three days our friend Peter informed us it means "I understand" or "okay." We have been practising our own head wobbles; Jack tells me mine is terrible but gets better after a few beers.
  • On the topic of beers...the immoral men who drink beer can only obtain it in bars (not restaurants) which are unfalteringly dark, disreputable and filled with drunk leering Indian men; women are not caught dead here. It is difficult to handle the onslaught of India without a few quiet ones in the evening, so we braved the bar and brought some tallies of the local brew, Kingfisher, back to our hotel balcony to watch the beautiful sunsets in the evenings. This mission was not without its hiccups; we came very close to buying non-alcoholic beer from a Muslim shopkeeper (slightly embarrassing). The beer is good but I still haven’t moved past feeling slightly slutty whilst drinking it. These feelings of guilt are conveniently reinforced by the huge warning on beer labels that “liquor ruins country, family and life.” I’m a ruined woman.
  • The lack of beer is made up for by the abundance of AMAZING food. Dear Heaven: please be filled with kofta balls, onion pakora and rose milk.  
  • India is an olfactory sensation. It smells like urine, garam masala, sewage, smoke, chai tea, cows, curry, clutch, urine, chocolate, waffles, garlic, urine, burning rubber, stale urine, fresh urine, bidies, dead animals, fried snacks, eucalyptus, and urine (to name but a few). Our noses will be bored when we get home.

Hope that everyone has a wonderful Christmas. We love you all immensely and wish we were together; hope we are in your hearts, despite our shocking disloyalty.

T & J xoxox


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