over labor day, we went to ooty, a hill station in the nilgiri hills of tamil nadu. james and i drove the 12+ hours each way so we could bring the dog, while our wives flew to meet us. the drive was typical for tamil nadu – fantastically smooth national highways punctuated by the occasional lorry traveling toward you head-on; state highways that wind through villages, on which you will get stuck behind two buses with no room to pass; and mountain roads that are full of switchbacks, on which you will get stuck behind two gravel trucks with no room to pass. (see my post about yercaud.) generally, if you’re traveling in india and google maps say a drive will take 6 hours, it’s wise to add another 3 hours.
|lymond house. unfortunately, we had rain for much of our trip, so it was hard to make the place look cheerful in photos; and the housing that crept favela-like up the hill behind us didn’t help.|
ooty historically was the place that the british, and the elite more generally, spent their summers when madras (as it was known at the time) was too hot. the colonial influence is still felt through the architecture. see, for example, lymond house, the inn we chose for our stay because they take dogs.* the people at lymond house were very nice, even when cooper jumped up on the duvet with his muddy paws and later barked at them for walking around what was now his house.
|180° mciver, a sister property. again, very classic british architecture, but with a surprise in the bathroom off the dining room. next, the church of st. stephen – you can just feel the englishness.|
the hotels and architecture are not the only reasons to visit ooty. one of the main attractions is tea: the british introduced tea to the hills in 1838, and nilgiri tea is an ingredient in many of the international blends today. there are plantations all over the area, and we were fortunate enough to meet one of the owners at dinner. he invited us to his home for tea the next day, and then to the factory to see how the leaves are processed. we learned that the tea is harvested throughout the year; pickers take just a few fresh leaves off each bush every ten days, leaving the older dark leaves where they are. the fresh leaves are poured into troughs with mesh bottoms, to allow hot air to flow through; the dried leaves are then poured through holes in the floor to go through a series of shredding machines. the shredding allows the leaves to be coated with the flavors from the leaves. the leaves are then oxidized (to turn the tea black), heated and ground to one of three sizes before being packaged and shipped out to the blenders. in comparison, green tea is turned in a rotary machine to compress and roll the leaves; green tea leaves are neither shredded nor oxidized before they are packaged.
|tea leaves; tea pickers.|
|a worker among the drying troughs. the shredder. a worker cleaning on of the machines.|
|views of tea fields and the surrounding hills.|
*it’s actually very difficult to travel with a dog in india, since most hotels won’t accept them, restaurants won’t let them in, and dogs aren’t allowed in parks. the guard at the botanical park told us dogs weren’t permitted in as a street dog trotted across the lawn behind him; when i met with the manager and pointed that out, he explained that if a dog is under control on a leash, then he has to keep it out, since it would bother the other 8,000 tourists who visit the park each day; whereas if the dog is a stray and not under control, there’s nothing he can do it stop it coming in (regardless of how people feel about it), so he ignores those. the tenacity with which he clung to this twisted logic was nothing short of breath-taking.