It is much colder in Ooty than on the plains so when the sun goes down it gets very cold. About two a.m. I woke up shivering, eventually got fully dressed, climbed back into bed and shivered some more. Later, but still early in the morning, I was woken by a horde of dogs howling and barking. First on one side of the town and then the other. They seemed to be trying to out do each other.
It reminded me of Prime Minister’s question time where different factions of MP’s try to drown each other out.
A former member of this house, one Michael Portillo, has recently made some TV programs about famous railway journeys. Today we joined him in taking the railway from Ooty to Coonoor.
This section of railway was completed in1908 and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005. From its inception it has provided those people living on the plain with a means of escape from the heat of the summer to the cool of the mountains. Today a Second class ticket for this 90minute journey will cost 5 Rupees, or 5 pence. A First class ticket will cost 85 rupees or 85p.
Railway travel in India does not usually get a good press. The media image is one of more animals in the carriage than in Noah’s ark and more people sat on the roof than there are fleas on a Mumbai mongrel’s back. Our journey was nothing like this, everyone got a seat and there wasn’t a chicken in sight.
Then something odd happened. We entered a tunnel and the passengers began to hoot and holler with more gusto than a cars’ horn in a Mysore traffic jam. Apparently this is a part of Railway folklore in these parts much like the Beeching report and the Great train robbery are in our culture. I understand that in some quarters opinion is still divided as to which of these was the greater crime.
On the platform at Coonoor we saw a steam engine making ready to pull out so we rushed towards it along the platform only to be stopped by a Constable. He explained that it wasn’t safe to go any further. He did his job and moved away, so we did ours and moved closer for some photographs.
Coonoor is a small town with two high points. Firstly it sells handmade chocolates at ridiculously low prices and secondly there is a daily produce market. At markets like this it is possible to feed a dinner party of twelve for less than a fiver. I know, it’s staggeringly cheap plus it’s all organic and free range.
The dark side of Coonoor is the state of the stream that flows through the town and the middle of the market. It is no longer a stream worthy of that title, it has become an open sewer filled with human waste, refuse from the market and all sorts of modern day litter. I have no doubt it harbours every waterborne disease known to mankind.
This isn’t unusual in India. Nor is it unusual for strangers to shake your hand and strike up a conversation. On the way back from Coonoor we chatted with a lovely young couple from Ooty who had been shopping for the day. He had 46 dogs that he kept in kennels at the bottom of his garden. It was at this point that one of our party broke into the conversation with the question, “Do you like dogs then ?”
That evening we dined at the Blue Hills restaurant where nine of us had dinner for £20.02p between us. The restaurant is sited just a few yards from Charing Cross. There is a St Pancreas in OOty as well. These aren’t Railway stations but road junctions much like Piccadilly Circus in London.
That night as I lay down to sleep under five blankets I thought of the couple with the 46 dogs. Is it OK to hope they get woken up as well ?