Wednesday, August 19, 2015

OOtacumand - Ooty - Udhamangalam: Try not to be a tourist here

I honeymooned in Ooty this June. My wife and I stayed in an old mansion - a colonial bungalow - that had been dexterously partitioned off with creaking wooden boards and turned into a ten-room hotel. From the outside, the bungalow looked really interesting, but inside, the wooden partitions had done enough damage to its spacious display. Around the bungalow bloom beds of strange Nilgiri flowers. A serpentine walk downhill from the bungalow lands you near the ugliest part of the town - the bus stand. A fountain stands adjacent to the porte-cochere. In the cool evenings, you can watch the stars above sitting on the ramparts of the fountain basin. 

Today's Ooty town is ugly. Really, really ugly. From our hotel, you could see the ugliness spreading in all directions, which disappointed me so much that, if not for my wife, I would've left the place the day I landed. 

The food in my bungalow was extremely tasty, though.

The hotel, according to the owner, was actually a British bungalow owned by an elderly British couple. After the independence, they left selling off their property to the present owner's family. The bungalow could as well be used as a cruel metaphor for Ooty itself. Ooty was built by the British as a sleepy Victorian hill station. Post independence, and dare I say, post 1990s with the tourism boom, Ooty turned into a tourist-friendly city. Now, this is I think a good thing to say, Ooty provides everything a tourist needs: scenic Nilgiris, couple of good restaurants, security, efficient (and cheap) public transport and hundreds of hotels and shops. But, Ooty is hardly a proper place for a traveller - someone who loves solitude, enjoys the evening walks (you cannot walk quietly in Ooty - traffic!) and loves to soak in the fresh coolness of Nilgiris. 
The old charm of Ooty as a place for solitude and sublime are but lost in the noisy traffic and disgusting levels of pollution. 

You can visit the Ooty lake. It's generally overcrowded. There's hardly any place to lounge. The lake area has been turned into some kind of an amusement park. I am annoyed. In India, wherever I go there's this mindless disneyfication of "tourist places." You are supposed to walk around and consume. If you don't consume, there's not much of the lake for you.  

You can try the rose garden, the botanical garden (without any labelling, it looks more like a Bollywood set than a botanical garden), check out the museums (which I didn't). Walk down Charring Cross, which I found was a rewarding experience. If you're a tourist, and out to have fun just for fun's sake go to Dodabetta peak. There is nothing breathtaking there. It's a disneyfied peak with hundreds of people jostling to see something beautiful. I don't think any place could be breathtaking in today's age of photography. We are already prepared in our mind for the view. We have seen representations of nature and sublime in photographs and films and other forms of art. Wonder is not an emotional experience anymore. 

Kunoor is another ugliness in full swing. Go there if  you don't seek any experience for your soul. The railway station in Ooty is colonially perfect. The trains remain small where they pack too many passengers. The journey was boring for me. Yes, I could see hundreds of beautiful spots, but, as I claim, we are dulled by representation and lack the feeling that mountains are unique visions. The journey hardly had any effect on me. Perhaps, because the train was nothing better than a crowded minibus in office time Kolkata. It was meant for a joyride for the few, but now it caters to thousands every day.

 If I am seeking a unique romance with the Nilgiris, I am not going to get it in Ooty. But, but, and a big big but. Ooty cannot merely exist for my aesthetic gratification. Ooty thrives on its ugly tourism. The residents earn a lot from Ooty, mostly from the weekend tourists, who hardly care about the place. It generates employment and works as one of the major economic churners in the Nilgiris. 

Despite the ugliness, I enjoyed Ooty as a fascinating human drama. I enjoyed the way the political society is trying to save Ooty from the onslaught of a population of outsiders polluting the place. I sensed the desperation in the poor in Ooty while dealing with the vagaries of the consumerist economy. I realized that the ugliness distributes money among the people, as roads are built through scenic mountains and honking buses colonize roads. 

If you seek my suggestion for Ooty then go to its cemeteries. More on this in my next post. 

Thank you for reading!