This trip was one of the most memorable trip of my life possible for three reasons one it was the last time I went along with my parents for a vacation in my adult life and secondly my sister also managed to join us along with her husband and my three year old nephew and finally our first stop was Bangalore (Bengaluru) which was once where me and my sister grew up and were returning after ten long years.
This was possibly the last classic middle-class family vacation that I could remember. We took the train from Howrah to Bangalore and were booked in three-tier non-air-conditioned coaches. Along with our luggage, we had a basket full of food enough to last two full days. The journey started with a sumptuous lunch on the train which included rice and prawns cooked in coconut curry. I had the side lower berth so could relax with a perfect eye level view from the window.
The year was 2002 and a vacation did not mean Googling a destination and getting all the tourist information. It was more word of mouth from friends and families which helped plan a perfect vacation. I would always find my father buying a copy of Trains at a Glance from the station which he would constantly refer to check if the train was on schedule. Also, I would see him often taking out the rail network route map which would be a part of this guide and find trains to unique destinations around particular tourist spots.
We reached Bangalore early in the morning and the same slight nip in the air was felt, Bangalore in these ten years had transformed itself into an IT hub and this changed could also be seen in the infrastructures. More busses, new flyovers, traffic signals etc. what did not change were the traffic cops with cowboy type hats and white gloves.
We stayed in Bangalore for around three days visiting our old house located at Charles Campbell Road and then at Whitefield. Whitefield by now had turned into an IT SEZ and the good old farming communities had suddenly been replaced by glass buildings. Charles Campbell Road at Cox Town was, however, the same except that some old single storied houses had now become apartment blocks.
If there is one mode of transport that I try to avoid then that would be a bus journey and unfortunately, from Bangalore to Ooty, this was the only public transportation available. The saving grace was that my dad had booked the Rajamhasa Bus (KSRTC) which were basically a luxurious version of the regular bus services.
The bus starts at around 10 PM and reaches Ooty early next morning around 5 AM thus it’s a comfortable journey. At night the bus passed through the jungle areas and thus was with armed escorts. Later we came to know that the route is notorious for armed robbers especially that by the Sandalwood smugglers.
It was a cold August morning, really cold something for which we had not actually planned for. With just a light windcheater I was shivering. We reached our Ooty hotel and since we were travelling during offseason thus we could get a fantastic deal. After having our breakfast the first thing that we did was to shop for warm clothes. Luckily there is a Bhutia (Tibetan) Market which sells sweaters and jackets at a very affordable rate. I got myself a beanie cap and a fleece jacket.
Ooty was the place where for the first time I had tasted Shawarma, freshly prepared right in front of you it. This along with homemade chocolates was our staple diet for next few days. We hired a car for a day and visited places like Rose Garden, Ooty Lake, Tea Estates, Botanical Gardens, Doddabetta Peak etc. Ooty has quite a few tea estates and the shops out here serve local varieties of fresh tea and some of them are wonderfully flavoured especially the cardamom tea.
There were quite a few gift shops downtown and I purchased a rucksack bag and my brother in law gifted me a Swiss Army Knife. I always fancied having this traveller’s knife with me and this was a very happy moment for me. Somehow the traveller in me always wanted to have this and till date, this knife has accompanied me in all my trips around the world. I guess my last grand trip with my parents became the ignition point for my travel-hungry soul.
For our return journey, we choose to take the Toy Train (Nilgiri Mountain Railway) which is a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site along with the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway. We took the Nilgiri Passenger to Mettupalayam and from there we took the Nilgiri Express to Chennai.
Mettupalayam is very near to Coimbatore which has an airport thus you can take a flight back or can also travel to Chennai for further connection. Coimbatore is now connected by multiple airlines thus you can get cheap flight tickets to directly reach Ooty from here instead of coming via Bengaluru. If you want to skip the Toy Train then you can take the bus or hire a taxi to take you from the airport to Ooty.