HCMC Dining Guide

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Green Dream

This is an image-heavy post.

After arriving back in the town center I parked the scooter and we met back up with Ryan and Jobie, who had spent the morning exploring some nearby sights. Ever since we had decided to go to Ooty I had been insistent that we do a trek, since the area's hills are famous for good hiking. I booked us one for the following day and after a few beers at an empty bar and dinner at a restaurant full of screeching children we returned to the hotel for the night.

night view from the hotel
Indian sweets. Eat a few of these and you'll be up all night.
The following morning Sentil, one of the guys from the hotel, gave us a ride to the agency that had arranged the trek. I was hoping it would be a difficult one, but when Antony, our guide, walked out in slacks and a dress shirt my hopes sank. I was even more dismayed when he packed us onto a rickety public bus for the drive outside of town. This looked like it was going to be pretty ghetto.

Fortunately my fears proved unfounded, and as soon as we stepped off the bus we were basically in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by green. Antony informed us that this first stretch was maintained to look like the English countryside, with flocks of sheep roaming over gently rolling hills. Sadly I've never actually been to England, but I've watched a lot of British movies, and a lot of Top Gear, and this did look fairly similar.

farms growing potato, cabbage, and carrot
We continued on through a stand of eucalyptus trees, which is what koala bears eat off of in Australia, though Antony was quick to point out that there aren't any koalas in India. He was carrying a backpack that seemed to be filled with nothing but candy, since every time a kid approached to say 'hi' or get a high-five he gave them a sweet.

We then entered a massive tea plantation, where pictures are not allowed to be taken on much of the land. The meticulously trimmed tea bushes are a stunning sight, and I still can't decide which is more beautiful: these, or the terraced rice paddies of northwest Vietnam. As we ambled along the path running between the tea plants we could hear howler monkeys calling in the trees. Eventually we were allowed to take pictures again, so here's what I'm talking about:
Antony told us that the trees planted in the middle of the tea bushes had been recently trimmed. The trees are grown out during the dry season to provide shade for the tea, which doesn't like direct sunlight. With the monsoon season approaching the trees were clipped to allow rain to get to the tea more easily.

I couldn't believe how deeply green everything was considering this was the end of the dry season.
We were enjoying the fresh air and the smell of the tea, and then we began walking along a drainage ditch where monkeys scampered through the trees lining it.

We worked our way through small footpaths running in between fields where women were harvesting tea leaves, shearing them off with clippers and stuffing them into bags strapped to their backs. A scruffy village appeared and we stopped for lunch at a very rustic little eatery. It doesn't get much more authentic than this, and the food was awesome.

Antony and the dog that decided to follow us because I petted it
After relaxing for a bit and observing village life (it's pretty basic) we carried on through more fields and little hamlets. Antony told us to put our cameras away again since a trekker had recently had hers stolen by children in the area, but it sounded like it was more her fault. Oh well.

As the villages shrunk behind us we started going up, which was fine by me because the trek had been pretty easy so far. We passed a shrine of a Nilgiri hill tribe. Or a hobbit's house. That small circle at the bottom of the structure is the entrance.
We had been on a paved path for a while but we then went off-road and kept heading up the mountain we were on, passing fields both fallow and fertile, cows, and views that were getting better and better. We had also attracted a few more dogs that tailed us even though we were kind of ignoring them.

There were brick walls like this all over the place - they are built to protect gardens from wild pigs that come out at night.
We scrambled up the rocky slope and eventually arrived at the summit, which provided spectacular views of neighboring mountains, villages, and a national park. Even the dogs seemed awed by the vista.

After all of the urban madness we had encountered on the trip so far this was perfection: the only sound was the rustling of the wind and we sucked in as much fresh air as possible. After a while we hiked back to the town where we had eaten lunch, had a glass of hot lemon tea, and boarded a bus to head back to Ooty. The driver was a madman, but we made it back alive. Everyone was glad that I had suggested doing the trek, because the scenery had been magnificent, the weather perfect, and Antony taught us a bit about the culture of area. Overall we hiked 18km (11 miles), but most of that had been pretty level so I didn't find it to be particularly taxing. I can't complain though, because this really was a great day.

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