Sunday, February 06, 2011

India part 11b: Ooty - being there

*Warning: this post contains flowers. Loads of them.*

Although the Lonely Planet's India 2009 edition says otherwise, there are only two things wrong with Ooty's excellent Reflections guest house. One is that hot water is only available between 7 and 9am; the other is that the proprietors are obsessed with their bad write-up in the Lonely Planet's India 2009 edition and won't stop going on about it. Because of the water issue (fair enough really, it is a budget place), Sarah and I got up early - early for two weary nomads, that is - and wandered down to the communal sitting room area where I broke my 'do not socialise with travellers' rule by speaking to some other English people, who unfortunately turned out to be very nice. Most of them were just about to leave for warmer climes, but we befriended a guy called Dave, who bore a striking resemblence to Coldplay singer Chris Martin, though we didn't hold that against him, and the three of us set off for a walk down to the lake.


Along with a dam made of lifebelts, we found a dilapidated but nevertheless popular amusement park and immediately headed to the ghost house, which was mainly scary because they seemed to be playing the sounds of people being tortured at full volume from the PA.


There was also a "Freaky Jungle", which was in a similar vein but with plastic animals instead of wig-wearing skeletons, a flight simulator, which induced an unpleasant combination of nostalgia and nausea, boating on the smelly lake, a games arcade which intermittently switched itself off due to powercuts, and various deserted fairground rides.

Empty fairground

But all this was nothing compared to the wonders of Thread Garden.

Ooty's infamous Thread Garden

The brainchild of one Antony Joseph, this one-off attraction consists of flowers made entirely from, you guessed it, thread. Sewn by a team of 50 Keralan women (we never did find out why they didn't use local ladies), it took 12 years to create. The whole thing looked very old and faded, but perhaps this was just a result of bad lighting, for Thread Garden certainly had an exceedingly high opinion of itself. "In all respects thread garden can be rated as the highest art creation of manual effort, that ever brought about successfully in the world," proclaimed one sign. Another declared: "An artistic creation par-excellence challenging the human imagination, it occupies the position of unique and innovative miracle in this era." See its semi-divine majesty for yourself, reader.

More flowers made of thread

The hotel restaurant where we had lunch shortly afterwards was filled with young men in '80s garb - one fellow wore mirror shades and a bandana, and seemed convinced he was the coolest thing in Ooty. Maybe he was, although I'm sure Antony Joseph would have something to say about that. Full up, but apparently still in search of floral thrills, we found ourselves accidentally trespassing in a strange and empty set of horticultural offices, escaping unchastised to the Rose Garden, where we were greeted by another sign distinctly lacking in modesty.

Cocky sign

After a poor start during which we began to wonder whether this might in fact be only the sixth or seventh best rose park in the world, we reached the lower levels, which yielded some prettier rosy delights. In a startlingly original bit of symbolism, I photographed some of them against a less-than-glamorous backdrop to give you a mindblowing epiphany about, like, beauty amid poverty and that.

Pink rose

Rose and the city 2

Each variety of rose had a sign next to it bearing the name of its species, or a dedication, or something, and these quickly got weirder and weirder, encompassing sentimental and obvious ("Perfect Moment" and so on), strangely out of place -

Rose Garden: Livtyler

- inappropriate -

Rose Garden: Super Bowl

- and downright bizarre:

Rose Garden: Bimbo

After a siesta (or "bit of a lie down" if you're old and decrepit like me) back at the guest house, we decided to head out for some dinner, for some reason setting our hearts upon a hotel-restaurant called Sherlock, which we'd heard had an Arthur Conan Doyle theme. We autorickshawed up to Charing Cross (Ooty is an old British colonial haunt, so you get touches like that here and there), but it was only after we'd started stomping up a giant of a hill in the dark that we realised our destination was quite a trek (3km, we discovered later). Luckily a man in a huge truck stopped and gave us a lift just as we were about to fall down and expire. The three of us squashed into the front as he swerved around potholes and powered around corners, with a deranged and murderous look in his eye.

And then, there we were: a pristine lawn right at the top of the hill, with the stars above clear and many. "Is this Sherlock?" asked Dave to the man who opened the door, adding: "Are you Sherlock?" To our relief, the man nodded, smiling. "Do you do food?" I wondered. Yes, he said, still blocking the doorway. "Well, can we come in?" we laughed. It was a charming and immaculate place, with a log fire and the best Christmas tree we'd seen in India so far (also only the second). As our meal cooked, Sarah and Dave played a game of chess, while I sat in an armchair reading a Sherlock Holmes story.

Fully fed, we took a chilly rickshaw ride back to Charing Cross, dashed to a bar seconds before it closed and bought some Kingfishers. As we carried them back to Reflections, clinking our way along the empty streets, we saw a man interrupt his stroll briefly to vomit onto the pavement before nonchalantly carrying on as if nothing had happened. We drank the beers on the terrace, with the stars brighter than ever, whispering so as not to wake anyone.


Harry said...

I too stayed in Reflections (partly based on your recommendation) and I too felt the fury of Rachel's anger at the LP write-up. I showed her the more positive write-up in my Footprint guide, which helped calm her a bit. Good guesthouse I thought.

Will said...

Ah, good! Feel a bit bad about starting this post in such a negative way - it got an 8/10 from us, which is exceedingly rare for a budget guest house. Hope the stomach's okay!