States: Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu
Distance: 260 km / 162 mi
Elevation: 4,145 m / 13,599 ft
Hold the phone! We hit two records this week: biggest climb and cheapest meal. The climb was from Gudalur to Ooty, with a total of 1,561 m elevation, which included a 1,235 m continuous uphill – more on that in a sec. And our cheapest meal was in a little village in Karnataka. For £0.62 we scoffed two veg curries, four paratha, a side of greens, and a large chai. We had to double check the bill; we couldn’t believe it. Now I know we got two bowls of super noodles in Nepal for £0.38, but that was a snack in comparison to this feast, so we’ve knocked it off the top spot.
Most of this week was spent hovering at 900 m. As we did, we cycled through countless coffee farms. Being coffee addicts, of course we stopped to taste the wares as we went. One home stay we stayed at did a little bit of coffee farming on the side. He was currently drying a small batch of berries and explained that after they were dry, he would sell them to the local factory for processing into coffee beans.
One of the larger coffee farm home stays we made a coffee stop at explained the full process to us. He said it takes around 9 months for the berries to fully grow, at which point they’re handpicked. It’s picking season now – perfect timing. They then sun-dry the berries on large pieces of tarpaulin at the roadside, which takes 7-9 days. After, they’re processed through a machine, which separates the husk from the seed. The seed is then roasted in a particular way for a particular taste, before being ground and turned into a fresh cup of coffee.
Once we started climbing higher than 900 m, the coffee farms turned into tea plantations as the climate changed. There was a chill in the air, especially in the mornings. We had to dig our jumpers and down jackets out.
Tea plantations have a peculiar smell. Your nose can’t quite decide whether it’s nice or not, but the plantations are certainly pleasing on the eye. The bushes are pruned into perfect lines on a hill side, creating the most mesmerising pattern. We passed through lots of tea plantations on our climb up to Ooty, which is a hill station at 2,270 m altitude in the Nilgiri Mountains.
The climb to Ooty, despite being on Highway 181, was incredible. The road up seemed relatively new and traffic was minimal. There were some tights corners, which coaches and trucks struggled around, but we always had plenty of room. At one point we pass through a forest which must of had trees 100 m high – they drowned us. There was also some spectacular views of the Nilgiri Mountains and surrounding tea plantations. And of course, there was plenty of tea stalls. Naturally we stopped for a cuppa and cake, just like a typical weekend ride at home (except this was a Monday).
Dare I say we found the climb quite easy? We put it down to the biriyani we had the night before. A proper good carb load. We don’t usually eat rice in India, which is weird I know, but we just prefer the breads. I reckon our music powered us up too. We cycled 50 m apart and blared our own stuff. I went back to my cyber raving days and Dan steamed up with some pop punk. We cycled 52 km and 1,561 m (with 1,235 m continuous climbing) in 6.5 hours. Not bad considering we were fully loaded.
We then enjoyed two days’ rest in Udhagamandalam. I bet you didn’t even try to pronounce that word, did you? Don’t worry, I don’t think locals can pronounce it either, as everyone refers to it as ‘Ooty’ – even the road signs.
We were glad we didn’t have to search for a hotel when we arrived, as we had pre-booked something a few days prior. As with all hotels we pre-book, we opted for the cheapest, which is always a gamble. Most of the time it has paid off, but this time we were met with a steaming drunk guest house manager who asked the most ridiculous questions. Questions like, are you married? Yes. What’s that? A sleeping bag. Can I check it? No. There was also no natural light in the room and we had to lock the bikes on next door’s roof. At £4 per night though, we couldn’t really complain.
On one of our days off in Ooty we visited the Tea Factory and Tea Museum. It was only 20 rupees each (£0.22) to enter – and that included a free tea at the end. Bargain. It was very well done too. You can read about the history of tea, which spans 5,000 years and begins with the Chinese, before walking around a working factory. You then walk through a ‘chocolate factory’, although this wasn’t as good as it sounds. They don’t actually make chocolate there, they were just melting it. We did let them off when we saw the wide selection of chocolate they had on offer though, which is made in the area. We indulged in some butterscotch truffles, chocolate almond fudge, classic dark chocolate and fruit and nut. I’d share a picture, but we’d eaten it all by the time I thought to take one.
We then visited the Government Botanical Gardens, which was a little more pricey at 40 rupees each (£0.44) – big spenders. Before I dish up a little history on the gardens, let me first explain that Ooty served as a summer retreat for British officials during the colonial days. The Government Botanical Gardens, were started in 1847 as a way to supply reasonably priced veg to the European residents. A fee of 3 rupees per month was asked to join the scheme. There aren’t any veg patches left today, but it’s been well maintained and is beautiful to wander around.
After that, to be honest, we spent the rest of our time in Ooty lazing about in our cave.
Sorry, what was that? What do we do in our lazy spare time? I’m glad you asked. When we find ourselves with an empty few hours, having had enough of trip admin, we turn to personal projects. Dan usually works on some 3D animation, so he doesn’t lose his skillset while we’re away and I’m usually writing something to keep the juices flowing for work too. Recently Dan has started collating his animations into a showreel (see below) and I've started compiling all of our learnings from each country onto dedicated pages on our website, click here for a nosey.
Having fully rested our legs, we’ll now roll back down to a warmer altitude. We never got the memo that Ooty was cold and have spent the last fews days snuggled in our down jackets and sleeping in our sleeping bags. There’s been single figures. Single figures. When you’re used to 30+°C, that’s basically Siberian winter temperatures. We can’t wait to get back on the beach.