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                      Buffalo in Benares
Part 5
OOTY, TOY TRAIN & KOCHIN

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Here are two happy Tamils who we shared our second class sleeper apartment with, along with them their boss who kept up  a discussion on all sorts of issues with us, unfor- tunately without our understanding half of it; not because of him lacking in proper English but because of the Tamil pronunciation (like with most Indian accents) being so different from what we are accustomed to as were some of the expressions and words he used. His associates were a tireless bunch setting off tantrums of laughter whatever the topic was and as with most of our fellow passengers along this journey they kindly offered us to join them for a simple but basic dinner there between our berths.





The view from Ooty up into the surrounding Nilgiri hills was quite astounding, almost like studying an ancient Chinese painting with cloud laden mountain slopes and foggy woodlands disappearing up into oblivion.

While here appears to be some gang rivalry or perhaps just a few young men fooling around in the hill station town of Ooty where it was unbelievably cold and amost constantly raining. We spent most of our stay up there trying to keep warm and also (without making much of a difference) trying to dry our clothes and backpacks after the bus driver or somebody had managed to drop them into a puddle somewhere along the way.





At first we were in for a bit of a surprise when we boarded the toy train and found out that we had, without our knowing it, gotten ourselves involved in some sort of major celebration which went on for hours on end while happily "choo-chooing" down the mountain slopes. Imagine two or three school classes with everyone behaving like cheer leaders and us two with our load of backpacks and bags tightly squeezed together right in the middle, while their teachers and one or two conductors were insistently trying to let us know that we should have obtained a valid reser- vation at the ticket office back where we came from! The noise in the coach was simply horrific, so to the point that we had to plug pieces of toilet paper into our ears to avoid going crackers. And it wasn't until the conductor had finally managed to get us some spare seats in another coach that we could make our escape. So from there on we could finally begin to enjoy our train ride, also finding great pleasure in being accompanied by a nice and very helpful young man who was there on holidays and now heading back to Chennai.




Many hours later and after waiting around at a small railway junction in the middle of nowhere and then changing to a bigger train, we eventually made it to the not so well known Tamil town of Coimbatore where we had ourselves cleaned up, then staying only for a few days. Here are some flowers which we discovered in a small, commercial garden in some sec luded backyard near the train station area.




A banana vendor in the rowdy, overly filthy streets of Coimbatore, who is here wearing a traditional doti. In actual fact, we didn´t eat that many bananas on our journey but we did manage to come across really good Tamil beer in one of those hide away bars  near the railway station. Indeed it was a strange experience  to be led in through a (by purple fluorescent tubes) dimly lit night club and further up the stairs to equally squalid roof top dining quarters where the waiters kept sup- plying us with a never ending list of fiery veg and non veg dishes till we were, to say the least, stuffed! The clientele surrounding us was totally dominated by young men, most of them getting more and more unsober as the moon shone down between the buildings and contents of glasses were being emptied maybe just a little bit  too fast!





On that ten hour ride to Kochin we got in to some very pleasant conversation with this nun whose name is Antonia and who besides occasionally working abroad in countries like Italy originates from Andhra pradesh. Her grand parents converted from Hinduism to Christianity a couple of generations ago and ever since she and her relatives have stayed on that platform.




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After one night traveling on board an exceptionally dirty and smelly express train down from Hospet to Bangalore, we took an early morning rickshaw and stumbled into one of numerous travel agencies where we bought a package tour which was meant to take us all the way down to Kochin in Kerala while passing through the  Nilgiri hills. However and much to our dismay, this offer soon turned out to be nothing but a "rip off" and so eventually we decided to jump the train (or as in this case, the bus) and make it on our own. But also because of the appalling conditions of the roads leading up into the highlands and the minibus being so overcrowded and bouncy as well as the furious rate at which we were expected to enjoy the splendors of wild life at the Bandipur national park. But the really heavy issue with this was that although we had been promised accommodation at each nightly stop and free sight seeing trips at almost every location, this turned out to be just fraud, which didn't exactly make us jump for joy since we had already payed a fair amount of money in advance for these services.




The toy train running in serpentine bends for five hours all the way down from Ooty to the plains below is a truly wonderful ride with numerous excellent views and breathtaking scenarios.




This part of the train ride, after we had been reseated away from those screaming huligans, was sheer bliss and nothing we would have wanted to miss for all the gold in the world! There were rapids and waterfalls, high mountain passes with rocky crevices below and clouds enveiling the ridges and peaks above and around us while the train steamed slowly on down towards lower ground.




After hours on hours of misty wonders and dreamy views, we stopped a few times at miniature  stations where we got ourselves some Indian take aways like samosa or budgie or whatever was in stall plus a few soft drinks to wash it down.




A thali served in one of numerous restaurants of Coimbatore, traditionally very spicy and all vegetarian. The main ingredients are rice, curried vegetables, dal and sambar, which is based on dal and prepared with various types of spices. The Tamils just love chili but also fresh coriander which is generously featured in every type of dish in this part of India.


                        



A few rather scary (if you happen to be of male gender) signs in the train which took us on the next section of our trip from Coim- batore in Tamil nadu to Kochin in Kerala.




Finally arriving at our main stop in Fort Kochin, Kerala and still happily unaware of the nasty germs we had caught on the train coming down, something which would knock us off our feet for the next two weeks or so.






In front of Taj Mahal
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