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Google tells me that Mysore to Cochin is only 367 km and you might think you could cover that in half a day – no problem! But that would be forgetting that you have to cross the Nilgiri mountains rising as high as 7500 ft and that we have found 25 km/hr in India is what you should factor for overland travel. We hadn’t planned much sightseeing on the way back to Cochin (which I generally call Kochi, the name it reverted back to after the British era) and so we knew we would have some longer travel days. Generally we have stayed in one location for 3 nights which we find to be a sweet spot for the kids, but we would be moving daily to get back to Kochi for our flight to Bangkok. To complicate matters we would be crossing from the state of Karnataka to the state of Tamil Nadu and over the last few weeks there have been a lot of tension and violence between the two states as they argue over water in what is known as the Cauvery water issue. The problem is that the Cauvery River flows through both states but is damned upriver in Karnataka. Both states have experienced a drought as the southwestern monsoon never really came. Karnataka was building up their reservoir and not letting water downriver to Tamil Nadu. The Supreme Court has issued decrees demanding Karnataka release a set amount of water each day. Both states are not happy and there has been violence and rioting at some border points and in the Karnataka capital of Bangalore. We had been keeping an eye on the situation and felt safe in Mysore. However the day we planned to leave the Supreme Court was going to announce another judgement in the case and we were worried about state wide strikes and having trouble leaving the state. In the end we were able to take a bus out of Mysore but due to recent attacks on out-of-state vehicles police would not let traffic cross the border, therefore we had to walk across the border and catch another bus on the other side.
So began our 12 hour long travel day. We took a rickshaw to the Mysore bus station, a 3 hour bus to the Tamil Nadu border through two National Parks in which we saw lots of wildlife – 2 elephants, lots of deer and wild boars – who needs a safari when you have the local bus!
We walked across the border and then we should have had to take a 4 hour bus to Ooty. But some police officers that were coming off their shift at the National Park at the border offered us a ride for a very reasonable $10 CAD and since they were going the shorter route, it would only be 1.5 hours. We squeezed into their tiny car and thanked our good luck. The road was beautiful as we drove through the National Park and spectacular as we would up the Nolgiri mountains, through 36 hairpin turns, gaining 5000 ft of elevation. We got to Ooty and it was freezing and so we pressed on. We managed to grab tickets to the Nilgiri Mountain Railway, which was built by the British in 1908 and still uses steam engines.
Due to the extreme gradient the train also uses a third rail cog to propel itself up and down the mountains. We rode a similar train through the tea fields of Sri Lanka and were looking forward to another epic train journey. It truly was a great, slow, trip through the tea fields and down the mountain. There is just something about being able to stick your head out of the train window to check out the views. The trip is a photographer’s dream with the many bridges and turns and the heritage style carriages. The ticket examiner was really friendly with us and she sat in our carriage and gave the kids flowers and pointed out sights. We had a 2 hour layover in the tiny town of Mattupalayam, where Paul and I had our biggest misunderstanding over a train tickets and he ended up paying for a higher class seat, which for the same price we could have taken a taxi and not waited the 2-hours for the train. Finally we arrived in Coimbatore, which the guidebook noted really doesn’t hold much interest for travelers except as a mid-point between Ooty and Kochi – we agree.
Miles woke up in the middle of the night puking, obviously from something he had eaten for dinner. We had eaten at a busy local place that seemed clean and he ate what the other kids ate, but he did sip the glass of water they always bring to your table before we could take it away. He didn’t seem very bothered by it all, but you really feel bad when your child is sick in a developing country. The next morning we were back on a train and although the puking was gone, it became quickly apparent after a couple of trips to the train toilet (just a hole in the train floor) that Miles needed Imodium quick. That stuff works amazingly and within 15 minutes, that problem was solved.
Paul and I had gone back and forth about splurging on a great hotel for our last night in India. Looking back I can’t believe we thought about it so long. It kind of reminds me of when we debated if we truly needed a toaster when we were living in Malaysia and thought we could get by with broiling our toast in the oven for 2-years. Late the night before we had booked a night at the Marriott Kochi and it was such a good decision. We all had huge grins on our faces as we checked into this beautiful hotel and were served our welcome drinks. The kids literally bounced on the beds and cuddled under the soft, white pillows and sheets as soon as we got to our room. Paul and I just grinned ear to ear as we checked out the views from our 23rd floor room. I don’t mind backpacking and can handle pretty rough conditions, but it felt so good to be “back in civilization”. Never mind that we had electronic blinds, a rain shower and the softest beds we had ever had in India (Indian beds are so hard!) I showered and actually felt clean for the first time in weeks and we enjoyed ordering room service and hanging out by the luxurious pool. The kids were so excited to have bland American style food like pizza and macaroni and cheese. The breakfast buffet alone was worth the room rate – fresh fruit juices and coconut water, cappuccinos, waffles with whip cream, sausage and hashbrowns, cheese, and even ice cream! The hotel staff were truly amazing – so professional and friendly. I have stayed in my share of 5 star hotels, but the Marriott Kochi was just exceptional. Since our flight wasn’t the next evening until 1am, we had the whole day to enjoy the hotel and the neighboring mall, Lulu Mall (2nd largest in India). The kids particularly enjoyed the Western fast food chains and amusement park rides.
Ella celebrated her birthday between India and Thailand and of course the Marriott helped us celebrate with a chocolate cake before we left.
We headed to the airport our last night feeling like we had been in a bubble the past 24 hours at the Marriott Kochi. It was such a great way to spend our last night in India, but we also felt so fortunate to have had the opportunity to really see India at ground level by backpacking and staying in homestays and interacting so much with everyday Indians. We had left 3 bags at the Kochi Airport and were quite relieved to find that they were still there. Paul went to get the bags and found me deep in a discussion with none other than Alan and his family, who we had met on our very first train journey and I wrote an entire blog post about – serendipity! They just happened to be there dropping her brother off for a flight. We couldn’t believe it – what were the chances (there are a heck of a lot of people in India!). I couldn’t have written a better ending if this trip had it been a novel. I wrote that our trip really got started with that train journey and the kindness we encountered on that train. How appropriate that our time in India ended on that same note.
- We stayed in Coimbatore at Legend’s Inn. We paid 2360 rupees ($47 CAD) for a room with a double and a single bed on the floor. Very basic room. No WIFI! AC worked fine, but we found the rooms loud. Hotel is right near the train station.
- Nilgiri Railway – we didn’t have tickets, but were able to buy tickets for the Ooty-Connoor portion (180 rupees/family – $3.50 CAD) and when the trained stopped in Connoor for 15 minutes, we were able to get standby tickets to Mettulapalam for 210 rupees/family – $4 CAD). Great rail journey. We did then take the regular train from Mettulapalam to Coimbatore.
- Marriott Kochi – absolutely amazing splurge for our last night in India. The buffets were amazing. Great pool and right next door to Lulu Mall. Rooms were luxe and we had a room with 2 double beds.