Wednesday, 12 February 2014

I went to Coorg, Kannur, Mysore and Ooty (phew) and this is what happened…

A Theyyam performer in northern Kerala

Wednesday 5th - Thursday 6th February

It’s never a nice feeling when your taxi doesn’t turn up, and by the time I flagged a rickshaw to take me to Bangalore station I wasn’t particularly confident about making my 11:30 train to Mysore Junction, which sounds like it should be a marvellous euphemism. Fortunately, I was gifted a fearless driver who promised to get me there on time; an obligation fulfilled thanks to manoeuvres that in other countries would have landed him with a prison sentence. In India, it meant an extra 50 rupees.

It was a relatively short two-and-a-half journey to Mysore, during which a middle-aged smartly-dressed man by the name of Nav introduced himself. I’m just about getting used to the lack of pretence when it comes to Indian introductions - Nav happily picked up my manbag on the adjacent seat, placed it on my lap and plonked himself down. “And what is your good name, sir?” “Oh, hi. It’s Charlie. Is that a good name?” “Very good, sir.” After five minutes of small talk he moved to a seat five rows in front and initiated the same conversation with two Western women. “Charlie! Charlie!” he shouted down the packed carriage, “These women are from London too!” Cue the obligatory exchange of awkward smiles.
Golf course in India
I’d be coming back to Mysore in a few days’ time, but for now I had a further transfer to Coorg: a lush region of hills, forest, coffee plantations and, er, golf courses, in Karnataka’s south-west corner, and which was a state in its own right until 1956. Lonely Planet says a visit here is “rejuvenation guaranteed”, and they’re absolutely right - with a pleasantly cool climate and overwhelming greenery, it’s the perfect antidote to the traffic fumes and congestion of Bangalore. Coffee, bananas, lemons, mangoes, cherries, cashew nuts and rice are all cultivated here, so if you enjoy putting tasty things in your mouth, you’ll absolutely love Coorg - especially as it’s relatively undiscovered by overseas tourists. And there are elephants! And tigers! Subtext: I want to be back in Coorg.

Friday 7th - Saturday 8th February

Northern Kerala is only down the road from Coorg, so it seemed rude not to pay this bloody beautiful part of the world a visit. Most Kerala-bound travellers head south to Cochin, Alleppey or Varkala, so I was quite looking forward to seeing the lesser-explored north. Unspoilt palm-fringed beaches aside, the big draw here is Theyyam; a ritualistic art form pre-dating Hinduism native to the villages surrounding Kannur.

Theyyam performers in northern Kerala
An intensely local affair (this is a religious ritual, not a dance performance), protagonists portray one of 450 deities through elaborate red and orange-coloured costumes, some of which are up to seven metres high. It’s an utterly spellbinding spectacle that’s worth devoting an entire day to, and I needn’t have worried about turning up with my camera and annoying locals with my ignorance. I lost count of the number of friendly greetings, offers of food and extremely helpful explanations - it was such a nice experience, in fact, that I had absolutely no desire to return to my hotel.

Sunday 9th - Monday 10th February

My itinerary was craftily engineered to enable a return to Coorg, where I stopped for a delicious home-cooked lunch en route to Mysore from Kannur. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Coorg is beautiful. Go there. If you do, please let me know whether you think the Coorgi accent sounds remarkably similar to the meerkat from Compare the Meerkat (I specifically mean Aleksandr Orlov, not a generic Russian twang): a reason to visit in itself.

It took just over four hours to reach Mysore, which meant plenty of time to visit the city’s famed palace, whose appeal I absolutely do not understand. Grand only in terms of scale, this unloved, ill-maintained monument to tack is quite possibly southern India’s most overrated attraction. Its saving grace is the nightly ‘light show’, which sees the entire building beautifully lit by thousands of attached bulbs, which must scare the shit out of the pigeons living on them (and indeed does, on closer inspection). A brass band strikes up shortly afterwards, and the ambience is suddenly rather pleasant.

An illuminated Mysore Palace
But in case you think I’m having a lovely time in the beautiful tropical paradise that is southern India, you’ll be delighted to hear that my Monday morning began in similar vein to yours, by which I mean I got up early and sat in traffic. I was catching the early-morning bus to Ooty, the famous hill station in the Nilgiris (aka the Blue Mountains) that, by all accounts, has been ruined by mass domestic tourism. The journey into the heavens took my breath and raised my hairs, of which there are probably millions (you should have seen the looks those unnaturally-smooth Russians gave me on the beach in Goa) - after passing through the Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary, the road suddenly climbs into one of the most gob-smackingly pretty mountainscapes I’ve seen: in the background are dramatic peaks and picture-perfect valleys, while in the foreground are coffee plantations and towering eucalyptus trees. I required a good ten-minute sit-down on arrival in Ooty just to get over what I had seen.

It turned out to be a little longer than ten minutes, for the sight of Ooty physically drains the wanderlust from one’s pores. The rickshaw ride from the bus station to my hotel revealed a polluted-looking lake, lots of dust and so, so many signs, all of which compete for your attention with ginormous fonts, foul colours and false promises. India, it appears, is where graphic design and subtlety took each other’s hands, walked to the top of the nearest cliff and jumped to their deaths. In other parts of the country the signs are almost endearing, but here they're an insult to the surroundings. Just as I was about to write a strongly-worded letter to no one in particular, I realised that I was cold, which made sense because I was 2,000 metres high. On reaching my ‘mountain cottage’, a description that should be reported to Indian trading standards (think concrete box accommodating a bed, comically-placed TV and redundant fireplace), I put on my hoody and fell asleep to Arsenal getting whoop-assed by Liverpool.


  1. Awesome, near to Ooty there is an awesome destination name coonoor. Do check it out.

  2. Charlie it sounds great.I stayed in a crumbling old colonial hotel there. It was amazing. Are you there for long? I'll try and find the name of it, well worth a visit xx