Ben: Saturday was one of the most interesting days on the trip thus far. The day started with an early morning trek that took us to the top of a butte that was between the Eastern and Western Ghats. While ascending up the slope there were a few times we had to scramble over rocks and by the time we reached the top our breathing had become deep. The hike proved worthwhile as it provided a spectacular view of the Mudumalai National Park and the Ghats with a 360 degree vista. Also, a small Hindu temple stood at the highest point. The temple paid homage to a goddess named Parvati (wife of Shiva) the goddess of knowledge, music and art. She is usually accompanied by a peacock. The placement of the temple could not have been more moving. It was very spiritual. The winds blew as the sun warmed the earth burning off the night’s dew to form a light haze over the impressive mountains. There were no words to describe it, and we stood in awe. After blessing each other with Kumkum, a red paste applied to the forehead, we descended back to our lodge for breakfast while identifying trees and watching out for cobras as we hiked.
After breakfast we packed up and headed from the valley floor to high into the Western Ghats. On the road we passed many waterfalls and went around 36 hairpin turns, zig sagging up the mountain. As our ears popped and the air got cool the vegetation suddenly changed- broadleaf trees gave way to towering conifers, lantana scrub changed to ferns. A few hour drive seemed a world away in regards to plant life. One can clearly see why this region is listed in the United Nations top ten regions for biodiversity. In real time two hours had passed before we reached our hotel in Coonoor yet it seemed only a brief journey.
Finally the day wrapped up with a visit to Sim’s Park. The Park is run by the government of Tamil Nadu’s Horticultural Department. This botanical garden was a jewel in the mountains. The first trees were planted in 1869 with many trees from all over the world added later. One tree making a great impression was the monkey puzzle tree. Both Jordyn and I had seen this tree before but we both remarked it was by far the largest specimen we had ever come across. Another impressive tree was the Rudraksh or Sacred bead tree (Elaeocarpus ginitrus). It has special value as its seeds are used for religious decoration and in jewelry. The climate was high enough in the mountains that cool winter nights allowed for the planting of trees not commonly found in the tropics, yet tree fern and palms survived as well. In all my journeys, Sims Park will be forever listed as one of the great collections of trees in the world due to this unique climatic location.
Jordyn: Our time left in Coonoor was short on Saturday morning, so Ben walked down to the pomological station (about a two minute walk) as I packed up and checked us out of our lodge. This research station is also run by the government’s horticulture department, and held mostly pears, peaches, and apples. It was clear that the fruit trees were being grown for different experimental reasons, as they were all scientifically numbered and organized, but the language barrier kept Ben from finding out exactly what they were researching.
We were off to Ooty by train, another town along the mountains. This region is known as the Nilgiris (nil meaning blue and giri meaning mountain). It is so called for the many eucalyptus trees growing up here, giving the mountain a blue hue. We stood on the highest peak in all of south India, Doddabetta Peak. What a view! This is a very touristy spot, and it being Sunday, many tourists from around the country were there. We also went to a tea factory where we watched the entire process of making tea, from harvesting the leaves to finely chopping and drying them until they looked like the tea we are familiar with. We also learned a little bit of history of how tea plants were introduced by the British, and how the British shaped the landscape as it is today, terracing the steep land and building roads and trains to export tea. The Nilgiris are very well known for tea; the cool weather and mountainous land give the tea leaves a unique flavor. Of course Ben and I bought a lot to bring back!
Ooty also has a botanic garden that is run by the government. Every year in May, they hold their annual flower show that attracts a lot of people to the area. This garden had more lawn and open space, and had a few greenhouses that we could walk in to. Lots of impatiens! Some interesting bonsai as well, including a Ficus religiosa.
Currently, we are headed off to Coimbatore.