This is a longer entry, but one packed with interesting stories (I hope), so stick with it!
My last entry ended with a trip to Coonoor sabotaged by a stunning detour. The next day I did make it to Coonoor, which is a smaller version of Ooty that is yet to be developed/infected (depending on whether you like having a dominos pizza at a Nilgiris hill station) by tourism. It was pretty nice there and I stopped off at the train station to have a look at the UNESCO protected toy train which had pulled into the station as I arrived. I walked along the platform to look at the steam engine which famously powers the train. Whilst looking at the engine a group of girls started taking photos of me from the train (I told you this sort of thing keeps happening… But it may be explained by the fact that I apparently look like Imran Khan – the bollywood actor. You can be the judge of that). Anyway, I worked out that they were students on a school trip (that seems to be my fan-base…) so I spoke to their teacher who upon hearing I was from England decided I had to be introduced to the boys carriage. They were very excited to hear that I was English and that I had come on to their carriage, as you can see:
Only just noticed now that there is definitely one bloke who isn't impressed at all by my appearance! I did have a nice time chatting with the kids though.
I couldn't stay in Coonoor long though as I had organised with a friend of Sammy Peters (the family friend who is THE man for south India and especially Ooty) to play golf at the Gymkhana golf course in Ooty. This is a golf course I played at when I was a kid with my dad and brothers. Being a kid I didn't really realise just how much of a proper golf club this place was. Upon arrival I was asked which club I was part of in the UK when filling in the forms… I'm not part of a club!!! I'm awful at golf!! Obviously I made up a club (I think I may have said st.stephens club, no idea if that exists but most golf clubs I've heard of are named after a saint). I remember I used to run around laughing at my brothers when we played on the course all those years ago, I certainly wouldn't be running around this time… It turned out that I was going to laugh though, but sadly only at my inability to play golf on a very professional course.
I walked onto the course and strolled up to where we used to tee off from when we were kids and looked to the flag, it looked under 200 yards away, pretty doable even for someone of my limited golfing skills. I started to feel better about playing the 18-hole round I had foolishly paid for. Turned out we used to tee off from the women's tee and that the flag we used to aim for was for the 18th hole… The first hole was 560 yards long. Anyone who has played golf with me will know I am an awful driver of the ball (if you don't know about golf, that is basically when you wack it as hard as you can with a big club called a driver). So when my caddy handed me a driver and said aim straight over the hill to the left of the club house, I suddenly realised I shouldn't be on the course. However, I was there as a guest of Sammy's friend so I trudged up to the men's tee (this was one of those moments when I wished I'd been born a female, just to gain 50 yards on a golf course). I looked out across the course, looked down at the driver in my hands, looked across to the club house, saw the staff all looking up at me waiting to judge my first shot. This was my view:
All I could think was that I was going to hit the ball into the club house and knock one of the stuffed animal heads off the wall, or actually kill someone. Whatever happened I was pretty sure that after my first shot I would be escorted off the premises. I was beginning to feel what it must be like to take a penalty in a cup final, so much pressure on a single swing of the body. I put my ball on my tee and said a little prayer. I didn't ask for much, just that I didn't kill anyone and that the ball at least remained on the course. Im actually laughing right now at how nervous I was! I took a deep breath and let fly. It wasn't pretty, but my prayer was answered.
Sadly, as I headed down hill so did my game. I lost 2 balls on the first hole… I had rented 10. We all know 18×2 does not equal 10, I started to wish I had rented more balls. This is when the laughing began as I continuously hit my ball into the bushes, meaning my poor caddy had to go and find it. I realised I was going to have to tip him heavily at the end of the day. This became a regular sight for me:
Thankfully my short game was slightly rescuing my pride, but it wasn't helped by the obstacles on the courses:
Generally though Stevie Wonder would have played the first 6 holes better than I did. I sensed that even my very polite caddy was starting to get impatient, though he would never show it. So when he handed me my club for the 7th hole we both looked at each other knowing I needed a miracle as it was a tough hole. I walked up the steps to the tee and looked across at the up and down approach, with the stream in the middle of it. I was already visualising how I (my caddy more likely) would soon be knee deep in water trying to find my ball, I wasn't looking forward to it. This was the challenge I faced:
I was so desperate just to hit the ball straight and in the air, simple requirements for a good golf shot. I didn't care if it didn't go past the stream, just as long as it didnt go in. I swung with my eyes shut, something you should never do, but I couldn't face seeing my ball go into the stream. I swung and it was a beautiful connection. I couldn't believe it, it went straight and incredibly high and dropped with such force on the green that it dug into the earth. If I wasn't on an incredibly posh golf course I would probably have done a little dance. I walked cooly off the tee as if I had completely expected it to happen. That shot and eventual birdie was a turning point in the day and after that I played the 8th and 9th hole on par. However, I put this down to luck and called it a day when we got to end of the 9th hole. I think I may have said to my caddy I had pulled a muscle. Really I was desperate to finish after 3 good holes so that I left with some pride. I gave my caddy a 200% tip. I've never done that before. But then nobody has ever been stung numerous times by bushes rescuing lost golf balls and thus my pride.
After golf I was feeling rather tired so went back to my room at montauban guest house and had a good rest. I'm going to take this opportunity to pay tribute to Cathy and Rajan who looked after me like I was there only guest for almost 2 weeks. Cathy remembered me from when I was a child living in Ooty and was delighted to have me staying with them. She helped me meet old friends of my family and on a couple of occasions gave me lunch free of charge, and the food was excellent. Rajan, is the perfect specimen of what a gentleman should be. He is so hard working and you will never see him without a smile on his face. He seemed to work from 4.30am to 11.30pm every day, rain or shine. He would bring me a hot water bottle and a hot chocolate whenever he thought I looked cold. Also he would make sure I could have breakfast everyday at around 10.30am, whilst all the other guests ate at 8.30. There was no way I was getting up that early. They both made me feel completely at home and were incredibly kind people. Here are some pictures of them:
The heart warming Rajan smile:
That evening I had organised to meet up with Anil, the bloke who I met in my old house. I was looking forward to some company with someone who was around my age (I thought he looked around 26, turned out he was 19!). We went to a cafe and had a nice chat and got on very well. He's a good bloke and offered for me to join him at Avalanche camp where he was volunteering for a few days the next week. I generally am allergic to camping and sleeping anywhere that doesn't have hot water and a good mattress. But I thought it sounded like good fun and it meant I would have the company of Anil and the other campers which would be fun.
I spent the next couple of days mostly hanging out with Anil. I visited his home and family and the guesthouse where his dad was the manager. I met a nice German family staying there and we had some tea and carrot cake together (two things I never normally consume, turns out they are both pretty nice with enough sugar!). The mother of the German family got a phone call from her husband and next thing I knew I was sitting in the back of a 4×4 on my way to help lay the foundations of a house a charity was building. I was a bit hesitant about going… It was raining and I was wearing my blue trousers. I'm all for charity, but my blue trousers… I'm joking of course, I was very happy to have the opportunity to help out. As my family will tell you, I'm not good at getting my hands dirty but once I got there I found I was getting really into it. I even offered the 9 year old German kid (in red) 10 rupees if he worked really hard (that might be child labour, I'm not sure… If it is, that was actually a joke and I would never do that…), his eyes lit up and his hands came out of his pockets and we filled the foundations with concrete in good time. The kid never asked for the money in the end, seems he was just a good charitable lad.
The next day Anil and I visited Chamraj tea estate where apparently the tea for twinings and tetley is made. Sammy had organised for me to have a look round the factory with an old school friend of his. It was very interesting to see how it all worked. Also Anil and I got to wear hilarious hats:
After Chamraj we decided to have a chocolate filled doughnut from virtue bakes, Ooty's finest foodstuff in its finest bakery. Here it is, incredibly dangerous for me as a lactose intolerant fella, I ended up having two:
The next day Anil and I headed for Avalanche camp, a campsite next to Avalanche lake. Anil didn't know what kind of group would be attending the camp whilst I was there but I was hoping for people that were of a similar age to me. Turned out it was a group from a church in chennai and who were young adults so I was pretty happy with that. We got on the bus with them and headed down to the camp. They were all very nice people. We got as far as our bus could go on the drivable roads and then we switched to what is called the bone shaker. It is a massive 4×4 truck which people pile into the back of and it drives up the awful roads to the point where you walk to the camp. The bone shaker is an understatement, bone breaker may be a better name. I was pleased when it stopped and we got off to walk. I'd brought a small bag knowing we would have to walk with our luggage, and was very pleased with myself. Turns out the chennai lot weren't as enthusiastic about walking with one girl claiming she was going to faint after 5 minutes of walking uphill. She proceeded to sit on the floor and claim she couldn't move. Being the perfect gentleman I offered to take her (foolishly massive) bag. I was no longer feeling pleased with my little bag idea but at least we were moving again. It was a really nice walk, but it turns out the chennai lot were not designed to walk and I ended up having to carry a further 2 bags. I started with one small bag and finished carrying 4. Livid. Especially livid when my right foot slipped and half my leg was submerged into a massive puddle. I couldn't see my footing because I had that bloody massive bag on my front… However, the walk was generally lovely and it was nice to be in scenery that you would expect to find in Switzerland and not hot and dusty India. Some of my highlights from the walk:
The bone crushing road:
One of the 3 bags I had to help with:
A girl with footwear perfect for the walk…:
Our first sighting of the camp:
The first evening was a good chance for everyone to rest from the (apparently gruelling 45 minute) walk. I got to know a few of the chennai people and it was a nice reminder for me of just how similar the middle class of India and England are. That evening the speaker from the chennai church gave a talk, I have no idea what he spoke on, I lost track after the first 5 minutes as he was jumping from subject to subject. However I do remember one thing, he spoke for almost 2 hours. I just don't have the stamina for that sort of thing, especially sitting on a log. The chennai lot loved it though. Don't get me wrong, I can appreciate a good sermon or lecture if it is well delivered but I knew I needed to find a way of avoiding the talks over the next couple of days…
The next morning we went kayaking, after a 1.5 hour long talk which I had failed to escape. As only 4 people could kayak at a time the rest of the group were set a task to make a raft. We had a tarpaulin and the surrounding natural resources (branches, leaves, bark etc). The next 3 hours were excellent and resulted in me seeing two of the funniest things ever. The first was seeing this bloke capsize his kayak:
Ajay was his name and he was a lovely fella and also found the capsizing hilarious, so I didn't feel too bad laughing at him. So I did, a lot.
Secondly, this the raft they made (I couldn't be bothered to help… I was too busy watching people kayak hoping they would capsize):
Seriously, I'm not kidding, that is the “raft” they made. I was in pain trying to hide my laughter. It was just a bunch of logs wrapped up in the tarpaulin! It failed miserably, obviously.
After the kayaking we went on a gorge walk much to dismay of the anti-walking chennai lot. I was loving it though as it reminded me of Becky Falls in Dartmoor which is one of my favourite places. We walked all the way up to an impressive waterfall. Ajay again contributed some great memories by stumbling over numerous times. He ended the walk completely drenched.
When we got back from the walk I realised I didn't feel well at all. My stomach started cramping up so I lay down and just moaned. I skipped dinner and was still in bed in pain when the evening talk began. Shortly afterwards I realised my body was not pleased with what was in my stomach so I walked down in the dark to the toilets with no lights. I got there and the nauseous feeling had disappeared, I obviously had vomit stage fright. I was about to turn around and head back to my bed when my stomach cramped badly and I knew I had to be proactive in ridding the problem. To put it simply I made myself throw up. It wasn't pretty and I was feeling very sorry for myself as the whole of my lunch exited my body. You'll be pleased to hear there are no photos for this part… To all those who have ever wondered if projectile vomiting is a real thing, it is. Whilst throwing up I realised I could still hear the talk going on up the hill. Suddenly stomach cramps and vomiting didn't seem so bad. The talk lasted 2.5 hours that evening.
I went to bed early that night and woke up feeling pretty fragile and with no appetite whatsoever. However I knew if my mum was there she would say I had to eat something, so I did:
I was pretty sure that couldn't do me any harm. After the food I began to feel a bit better. The good weather helped too as the clouds had disappeared meaning we had this wonderful view:
As the day went on I began to feel a bit better but wasn't up to much. I certainly wasn't well enough to go to the talk… Which this time lasted a modest 2hrs. Naturally, I was feeling much better when it was time for the group activities. Today we were going to be climbing up a rope web and over the brach it was hanging on and down the other side. Due to my arms being long enough to persuade anyone of evolution I find this type of thing relatively easy. The chennai lot didn't.
I had seen two hilarious things during my stay at avalanche camp. I heard a third. After a couple of unsuccessful climbs by the chennai folk, this man stepped up with a look of determination in his eyes:
He started his ascent well and reached this point:
Things started to get funny when it became evident he was stuck. He didn't have he strength to get himself over the branch, but try telling him that. He kept pushing and was trying to squeeze himself over. That's when he pushed and squeezed a bit too hard and let out a hilarious fart. I almost died on the spot. I wasn't able to breath from the laughter. Obviously laughing at farts is the most immature thing anyone can do, but it is also the only thing that can make any human laugh, no matter what age they are or what language they speak. Also having grown up with my two brothers, laughing at farts is what we spent most of our childhood doing. The super serious leader of the group (the guy in the background of the first picture) also broke down into tears of laughter. Sadly not even the propulsion of that fart couldn't get him over the branch and he came down unsuccessful.
After the drama of the climbing it was time for me to go back to Ooty. The chennai group wasn't going back until the next day but I needed to get back to catch the train to my next destination. Even though I had fallen ill I was very pleased I went on the camp as I made some good friends. This is the group I was put in, outside of being in the same team for activities we were also in charge of cleaning the toilets (as you can imagine I was delighted to hear that news…) However nothing brings young people together like cleaning toilets:
Anil and I trekked out of the camp together and got a taxi back to Ooty. I ended up spending a couple more days in Ooty as I was going to get my train at a later date. So I took the opportunity to visit my old school, Hebron School. I spent most of my year in Ooty in this school and have very fond memories of my time there, so I was really looking forward to going back. Turns out that the school is pretty much as I remember it. The same uniform, the same steel plates laid out in the big dining room, the same paint on the buildings even. I saw the place where I had once watched my friend burn ants with a magnifying glass, I saw the basketball court where we used to play 5 a side football (the 7-5 comeback match in which I scored a hat trick will never leave me…), I saw the corner where I had held my “girlfriend's” (primary school romances are always in quotation marks) hand for the first time and then ran away because I saw my friends sniggering behind the trees. It struck me that I had so many memories of the school, but none of them were to do with my academics. I think that is probably the case for most of my life and maybe for others too. I don't remember much of the stuff which is supposed to be important, but there are a collection of little things which most people wouldn't notice that I will never forget.
Right, it appears I have become too familiar with writing a blog and have started to become philosophical, so it seems a perfect time to stop before I get any worse. The day after visiting my school, I took the toy train down through the Nilgiris. Below are some of my favourite pictures from the journey.
The steam engine being connected halfway through the journey:
A hotel opposite the Ooty station that will find it hard to attract English-speaking customers. Or get a very specific clientele…:
A very excited baby:
General pictures to close: