A casual walk in the villages of Kafura, Peora, Nolikan and Sonapani in Mukteshwar treated me with more surprises than I had anticipated. Out of these, I spent most time in Kafura. As I left Leela Orchards Home Stay, Sona Pani in Mukteshwar, within minutes I arrived at a cemented path way leading to the village. Thick forests of pine trees dotted the either side of the path way. A pair of birds, which I was unable to identify, sat atop a tall tree, filling the otherwise calm looking jungle with their shrill calls. The pathways were flooded with dry cones and dry leaves of pine trees. People from plains take these back home for decoration and other such frivolities. People from the village use the dry pine cones and leaves for bonfires and fuel for cooking.
DO YOU KNOW THE USES OF PINE TREE?
A mysterious object on the fringes of the path-way caught my attention. It was an unpolished metallic cone, smooth from outside, coarse from inside. I picked it up, trying to understand its purpose. Nearby, I saw some cuts on a tree. “An assault by a black bear?” I asked myself. A bear has no sense of design. A bear can’t scratch a tree in faultless symmetry. A bear won’t stick a cone under the cut, eh! Turned out, the cones were the collection bowls used to store the resin dripping from the cuts of the pine tree. The cone is not tied but inserted in the cuts, the resin binding it naturally to the tree. The resin thus collected is used in making adhesives like Fevikwik and paints. A cone typically fills up within 20-30 days. Sometimes acid is applied to the cuts to hasten the process. I picked up a discarded metallic cone from the ground as a souvenir. Perhaps, I will make it a pen holder or a tooth brush holder and remember my trip every-time I use it. I didn’t know that pine trees produced resin. Mostly the much romanticized pine trees are actually disliked by the locals.
LYING DOWN ON A BED OF PINE NEEDLES AND SAYING HELLO TO GOATS!
Moving a little ahead, I came across a bed of dry pine needles. These are slippery and can cause a fall during trekking and hikes. I made a pit stop and decided to lie down on the bed, close my eyes and put my olfactory and hearing senses to work. Expecting it to be itchy, I was surprised to feel its soft, smooth texture under my back. A brief rest later, I was greeted by a herd of goats. I sat down on a rock. A credulous calf came running to me and buried his/her nose in my palms, looking for roti. The adult goats grazed at grass dispassionately. “Roti maang raha hai.”, (The calf is asking for roti) the lady shepherd told me in her indecipherable speech. It was hard to communicate with her due to her speech impairment. Though verbal communication was irrelevant! The lady handed me over some roti. The adult goats abandoned their pretense and rushed towards me, competing with the calf for that small piece of cooked wheat paradise. I have never tasted grass, but I am sure roti tastes better than grass. What did they say….The Roti…err….grass is always greener on the other side.
The pine forests gave way to a clearing. The cemented path-way disappeared. The large open field was utilized well by a gang of boys playing cricket. I turned left and discovered visually delighting paths. Big sized white stones were half buried in mud, making it perhaps, useful in the season of monsoon. Sometimes, the path was accompanied by walls of stones placed above each other. My most favourite part was when it took a U shape. The white peach flowers, the lone traditional house in the distance, the local women sitting and chatting made it all the more atmospheric.
CONNECTING WITH THE LOCALS OF KAFURA, MUKTESHWAR NEAR LEELA ORCHARDS, SONAPANI.
‘Jai Shree Gorakhnath Devta’, the board at a temple read. The brown exterior of the temple was complemented by a riot of pink peach flowers. The flowers were in abundance and added drama to the already picturesque views. I am told, people from all over the village come here during jagar. Dagariye come and sing in the night. They convey people’s problems to Gods. Every village has their own. While I was immersed in silently admiring the yellow and pink flowers, rows of houses atop a mountain in the distance, the sounds and smells of the place, three shy village kids were staring curiously at me. They would hide and seek, giggle when our eyes locked, unaware that the backdrop of the lovely village, their home, is making them all the more charming. A casual walk in the villages of Kafura left me with more memories than I had anticipated.
The view from my #SoulWindow is PICTURE POSTCARD PERFECT!
How to Reach Kafura near Leela Orchards Sonapani Homestay, Uttarakhand?
Where to stay in Kafura, Mukteshwar near Leela Orchards Sonapani Homestay, Uttarakhand?
When to visit Kafura, Mukteshwar near Leela Orchards Sonapani Homestay, Uttarakhand?
Why is Sonapani called as Sonapani (meaning Gold Water)
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THE DENSE FORESTS OF ADJOININGvillages ofPeora, Nolikan and Sonapani in
Mukteshwar look deserted and lonely from a distance. Once you start to see through the dense foliage, you discover it is teaming with life. It is populated with birds, butterflies, reptiles, wild animals and humans who chose to call it home. As I took an evening walk in the forest with Manvendra, who runs the Leela Orchards, Sonapani home-stayin Mukteshwar, he educated me about a brave lady who lives all by herself in the middle of a dense, dark forest. Engrossed in his tales, I kept my eyes and ears alert for any sign of wildlife around the trail. After few minutes, we arrived at a makeshift gate to a lone white building in the distance. The gate was nothing but horizontal wooden logs loosely hooked on to vertical wooden poles. It was not meant to ward off humans but animals. The animals who rob her kitchen garden of fruits and vegetables she so painstakingly grows with help of laborers. This is apparently a big deterrent to most farmers in the Mukteshwar and nearby Ramgarh area. The white house was locked when we entered the lawns. Its architecture was a mix of modern architecture and traditional architecture of the region. In Uttarakhand, ‘Bakuli’ refers to the group of house, mostly of the same family. As the family grows, more addition to the existing building is done generation wise. Cattle are always tied in the ground floor room. This particular house was not a Bakuli since the next generation chose to stay in the glitzy capital of India, New Delhi.
Himalayan Spangle, a beautiful butterfly, clung fiercely to its pupa on a tree in front of the house. Much like the lady we had come to meet. She refuses to leave this place despite all the adversity. I would soon know why she still clings to this house in the middle of nowhere.
“जड़ाऊ को अभी भगाया, बंदरो ने भी परेशान कर रखा है…..” (I have just shooed away the Swamp Deers aka Barasingha. The monkeys have been troubling me too.) The meditation of the Himalayan Spangle was disturbed by her coarse voice, unadulterated and unmeasured. Her name is Mrs. Kamla Pandey. She was delighted to see Manvendra, who is also a family friend. Kamlaji and Manvendra are neighbours and co- owned a dog. The dog lived upto an astonishing age of 18 years.
Ever since her husband, Late Shri Narayan Dutt Pandey, former sub inspector in New Delhi police breathed his last, she has resolved to stay all by herself at this isolated house in the middle of a dense forest, rife with wild animals. Danger from wildlife, lack of human interactions, irregular electricity supply and the challenges in keeping the soil of her farm fertile and grow organic vegetables and fruits has not deterred her. She has been living here alone since past 7 years. Sometimes her brother, who lives in a village nearby, pays her a visit.
She cooks food by herself. She has to walk for 3 plus kilometers to catch sporadic public transport to main town near the Sathkol Ashram. She sources grocery supplies from village vendor who sometime visits her and from a shop near the Ashram gate.
“बस ऐसे ही बगीचे में घूमना फिरना….मजदूरो को देखना…चाय पानी देना…यहाँ पे बगीचा है….मकान है मेरा….मैं कैसे न रहूँ यहाँ…..?” (Just roaming around my garden, checking up on the laborers, giving them tea and snacks…..Here is where is my house, my garden….How can I leave this place?), She replied with a sunshine smile when I asked, “What do you do here all day?”
She showed me around her sprawling terraced farm which she called bageecha (garden). It was abundant with pink and white flowers. In March the hills of Uttarakhand burst with a riot of colours, thanks to the flowering season. From Mid May to July, these flowers will give way to abundant fruits like khubani (Apricot), aadu (peach), plum, apple, pear. Nearby a tree was drooping with the weight of tens of jamer. It looked like an Orange, but I was told it is so bitter that its consumption harms teeth. It is used like a lemon, in chutneys and pickles. The apples trees were pruned to encourage new growth which is good for the health of the tree and the fruits. The dark brown, leafless branches of the tree made it look like it is dead. In reality, the tree was just gearing up for the upcoming fruiting season. I uncovered a plastic sheet to see spring water flowing under the ground. This is the natural irrigation source for farming in the area. Some of the beds in the farm were dug up. She told us, she pays laborers to dig up the soil. It helps in keeping the soil fertile otherwise it becomes hard and unfit for farming.
Kamlaji showed us around with a big smile and vivaciousness which is difficult to match up to. Her enthusiasm for life and positivity belied the challenges that she faces in her routine life. Before shifting here, she lived in Delhi for many years with her husband and kids. Her kids still live in New Delhi and following the footsteps of their father, they serve in police too. Her kids visit her at this place in summer.
“Do you ever miss New Delhi?” I ask
“याद आती है पर क्या करें ? मजबूरी है…यहाँ छोड़ दें तो फिर बर्बादी है न…..क्यूँ? ” (Yes, at times I do miss Mumbai. But if I abandon this land, it will all be destroyed. No?)
Whenever she misses her former life in New Delhi, she visits her children and live with them for around 3 months.
“पर अब अच्छा लगता है यहाँ भी……परदूशन नहीं है …हवा अच्छी है…अक्टूबर में फिर जाउंगी दिल्ली तीन महीने के लिए…..” (Now I like it here…There is no pollution….the air is fresh…In October I will visit New Delhi again for 3 months.)
Note: It is a part of a series which I run on my blog. You can follow the hashtag #MyGrationSW series on my Instagram, Facebook and Twitter too. (Links below). To read other migration stories on my blog, pls see the tab MyGration Story.
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Featured image: Valley View Point in Ooty. I wish I had booked those lovely looking cottages for my stay!
OOTY also known as Ootacamund or Udhagamandalam (meaning house in mountains), is a popular hill station in Tamil Nadu (South India). It makes for a great weekend break from Chennai, Mysore, Coimbatore and Bangalore. I don’t understand when new age travellers look down upon touristy destinations. Though I may detest some of the touristy destinations, I like some of them only due to the touristy frills attached to them. Ooty is one of them.
I went to Ooty (7,347 feet above sea level) with my parents in 2002 and was craving to repeat that experience. My parents had planned a quick trip to Ooty post my disastrous interview for selection in a hotel management institute in Manipal. Seeing student couples whiling away their time in cafes, often kissing and groping each other between bites of American Chopsuey changed my parents’ mind. As the then 20 year old, I was weaving kissing and groping dreams. My fantasies were soon dashed when I heard them say that I will not study in Manipal, come what may. With a stern tone of finality! I had never kissed and groped till then! Such people are destined to enjoy Malpe beach (It was the first time I saw a beach) near Udupi and later Ooty with parents.
Bus ride from Coimbatore to Ooty!
Circa 2010! My train from Bombay halted at Coimbatore station. Me and my friends (2 guys, 1 girl) rushed to Mettupulayam station to catch toy train to Ooty. Failed to board my train (We had a reserved seat, sigh!), we settled for government run bus to Ooty and pretty much enjoyed the ride as it manoeuvred through dense hypnotic forests, sporadic waterfalls, and scary hair-pin turns. The mountains were enveloped with clouds making it look like those floating mountains of Avataar movie. En route there are many charming little shops selling hot snacks (Tragically for a Chinese tourist, it was spelled fried ‘snakes’ by them.) which tourists wrongly shared with the unruly monkeys.
Pictures above: Scene en route Coimbatore to Ooty and Coonoor (Click to enlarge)
Once in Ooty, for the first time since I started travelling, I booked a proper hotel room (Read not a Rs.200 room). Blame it on the female company. I discovered that I actually do enjoy a little extra space, bigger bathroom, a little luxury at times. Travelling sure helps you discover yourself! Or maybe I liked it because I got to sleep on a comfy bed after so long. From 2008 to 2015, I slept on floor on a mattress in my Bachelor’s pad in Navi Mumbai.) I remember in 2002 I stayed in a dingy room with my parents. I still remember the taste of poori-aaloo and how scandalised I was when the cold water from the tap numbed me.
I was curious to re discover Ooty after that trip. First thing after checking in, I stepped out and entered a shabby South Indian eatery. For some strange reason I have come to believe that the shabbier the eatery is, the better is the taste of its food. Halfway through the South Indian meal, after I had mixed up rice, daal, curry, sambhar and rasam and made it look like one big dish (because I didn’t know any better), I found a stewed cockroach in my plate. In ordinary circumstances, I would have left the restaurant, without saying a thing. (That’s me!) But I was so tired and so hungry for the South Indian fare and the food was so good, I just asked him to change it, not knowing if the cockroach was in sambhar/rice/curry/whatever. Later in the day, when more sense prevailed, and when I thought about what I did, I shuddered with horror. I stopped thinking. The beautiful weather, endless cups of filter coffee and the locally made chocolates helped me forget and fight nausea!
After marvelling at the incredible looking sky, I booked a taxi which took us around the selected hot spots of Ooty. It was a departure from the noisy Ooty Darshan Taxi I booked with strangers when I travelled with parents. It was also a departure from my solo travel style which is mostly hanging on to a rod or handle or someone’s collar in a public transport.
MUST SEE PLACES IN OOTY:
Doddabetta Peak: Unarguably, the best Ooty experience, it is the highest point in Ooty at 8605 feet. The taxi guy claimed that one can see far off places such as Mysore and Coimbatore from there. The heavy fog didn’t allow us to do that. Never mind we focussed on the chilly breeze, dewdrops, hot Nilgiri chai (tea), the works! You don’t feel like leaving the place. No wonder we spent maximum time here.
Pictures above: Me at Doddabetta peak!
A caution: My travel companion had caught fever and cold and we blamed it on Doddabetta Peak. So please pack some wool before heading here as it is much colder than other parts of Ooty.
Top Tip: Eat some fried snacks and tea here. After a point, one needs to park the vehicle and walk up the stairs to reach the main point.
Botanical Garden: Dating back to 1847, this is the best and most well maintained botanical gardens I have seen in India. Beautifully manicured and boasting of some rare plant species (Don’t miss the famous 20 million year old fossil tree), it is a treat for photographers, picknickers, lovelorn couples, birds, butterflies and botanists. Don’t forget to pose next to the animal shaped topiaries.
Pictures above: Scenes from Botanical Garden, Ooty! (Click to enlarge)
Pine Forest: I thought these existed only in Bollywood films until my taxi-walla stopped here. I was mesmerised by the forest and the rows and rows of unending wood shedding the beautiful cones on every patch we stepped upon. The ‘nature baba’ that I am, I spent a lot of time just strolling around. The forest leads to a picturesque lake giving great opportunity for postcard pictures. You can even have a horse ride by the lake but I preferred sitting on a rock and soak in the beauty.
Shooting Point: This place also reminds of Bollywood. Blessed with breath-taking landscapes, it is ideal for photography and picknicking. Interestingly, I also got the opportunity to see the filming of a Bollywood Film, the damp squib, ‘Love U Mr. Kalakar’. It was amusing to see Bollywood actors Amrita Rao and Tushaar Kapoor, lip syncing while dancing to a forgettable song. One can get a bird’s eye view of the beautiful villages below.
Pictures Above: Bollywood actors Amrita Rao and Tushar Kapoor at shooting point, Ooty.(Click to enlarge)
Valley View: As the name suggests, you get unbelievable view of the valley beneath. It looks like a utopian world from here what with trains (Yes, the same Chaiyya Chaiyya one!) chugging lazily through the tunnels, beautiful cottages dotting the landscapes , manicured gardens , ducks roaming nonchalantly, and clouds enveloping mountains. Yes, it is unreal! You can also avail the facility of telescope from here.
Boating at Pykara: Not a boating fan, I assumed it is going to be boring! But once I was in the boat, I wanted it to continue for eternity. Not only are the views of foggy forests mesmerising, the feel good factor of fresh breeze slapping on your face is unforgettable. Plus pray that its drizzling (NOT RAINING), when you are at it. You sure want the winds to bring along small water droplets when it slaps your face. Don’t skip this little hidden gem of Ooty. Most tourists do skip. The route to reach this place is also picturesque.
Pictures above: Me at Pykara. Boating at Pykara in Ooty is a must! (Click to enlarge)
Tea Estates: I stepped inside a tea estate and enjoyed roaming around in the labyrinthine garden. Though I wanted to take an official tour of a tea estate, but couldn’t due to lack of time. It’s a must do.
Thread garden: A unique garden featuring artificial flowers which look as good as the real thing!
Toy Train: While returning to Coimbatore, I woke up really early to attempt one more time to board the legendary Toy Train. I was welcomed by a long serpentine queue, all vying for that 1 elusive ticket. (The ticket was at a throw away price). Heart-broken, I still stood in the line. After waiting for a good 1 and half hour, the doors were closed on my face. So there were 3 kind of people there:
1 – Grinners: Who got the tickets plus a seat!
2 – ‘My world is shattered’ types: Who didn’t get the tickets after waiting for eons.
3 – Soul Searching types: who got the tickets but had to take the arduous task of standing in the aisle through the journey. All they could view were the humans inside the train.
I thanked my stars that at least I didn’t belong to category 3 and boarded a shabby-shaky bus to Conoor. (And got the ‘soul window’ seat here! )
Idli Thieves at Ooty Railway Station: There is a little canteen in the station premises, serving good quality and delicious cheap food. The relatives of people waiting in line for toy train tickets inundated the canteen for their idlis and dosas. The demand exceeded the supply and the canteen staff was overwhelmed to cope. The impatient crowd was making it worse. I stood there with a coupon to get my Idli. And then much to my amusement, I saw some youngsters grabbing the idlis from the counter in their plate and whizzing off without paying. I chuckled on witnessing such open robbery. Funnily, no one was doing anything about the chaotic situation. The shop-owner didn’t even bother to stop the idli thieves. Fed up of waiting, even I was tempted to steal the idlis, but self-control, values given by my parents and patience salvaged me! I got my idlis ‘LEGALLY’ after a wait of 15 minutes. (I could have got it in 30 seconds had I looted, never mind!)
Walk aimlessly when in Ooty: Don’t forget to stroll on the countryside. Isn’t walking the best way to explore a place. I did a lot of that and loved the experience. In one such walk , we entered a carrot farm and ate fresh carrots from the field .
Soul Window Tips:
Apart from South Indian delicacies, also try the locally produced chocolates, teas and fudges.
Avoid North Indian food.
Try if you must the continental food in the trendy cafes. I had amazing pasta and wood fired pizza at one of those.
Head to Coonoor, just 17 kilometres away. Quieter and less crowded, it is great for those who are looking for offbeat experience. I personally enjoy both touristy and offbeat destinations so I visited both Ooty and Coonoor. Kotagiri (28 kms) is another offbeat excursion.
Fill your face with local fruits.
Nearby places I wanted to see but could not:
You can include these in your itinerary-
Within Ooty- Toy train ride,6th mile and 9th mile (popular for film shoots), visiting a tea factory, Thread Garden and Wax Museum.
Excusrions: Mudumalai Forest sanctuary, Bandipur National Park, Coonoor, Kotagiri.
How to reach Ooty: Coimbatore is the connecting town. One can take a flight/train/bus to Coimbatore. From Coimbatore you can board Toy Train (Please book in advance), bus or taxi. The Toy Train also halts at Coonoor.
For internal travels it is advised that you either book a taxi or buy a seat in a group tour van. Local buses also ply within city.
Best time to visit Ooty: It makes for an ideal year round destination. However best time to visit Ooty is April, May, June, September, October, November. July to September is rainy season in Ooty. Inconvenient but beautiful nonetheless!
Where to stay in Ooty:
Option 1: 3 of us stayed in a large room at Hotel Sapphire Garden View. The sit out area by the window was our favourite place. It was great for enjoying conversations over drinks. The rooms are not luxurious but comfortable. Replicas of paintings by famous painter Raja Ravi Verma dotted the corridor. It is walking distance from Ooty railway station and Central Bus stand. It was reasonably priced.
Phone: 0423 – 2443349 , 2443350
Option 2: Please stay in the dreamy romantic cottages near Valley View point. I wish I could stay there, but I discovered this gem on my last day. I was intrigued so I asked the staff to show me the rooms. It was Rs. 1200 (For 2 people), Rs. 2000 (Upto 6 can accommodate , room was huge) at that time. The facilities were not much: just a basic bed , wardrobe and toilet but the rooms were cozy , warm and romantic. Imagine sitting by the window overlooking the valley with a cuppa and your loved one in your arms. Ideal Honeymoon getaway! And I am sure , that if I ever return to Ooty, I will stay here !
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