Our last few days have been incredibly scenic as we cycled through the hill country and tea estates of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. We were both quite surprised at the elevation and challenges that the many hills provided. On the plains, the temperatures where hot but as we climbed up to 7500 feet, things cooled off nicely. Our first destination was the previous British hill post of Ooty. To get there, we negotiated another tiger reserve on our bikes and wondered again if we were being watched from the bush. We saw a lot of evidence of elephants – fresh dung, game trails, and freshly broken trees but alas, no actual sightings of the pachyderms. With most of the wild animals behind us, we were faced with a 4000 ft+, 10 km+ climb, 36 hairpin turns and some serious grade to the road. With the heat and heavier bikes, it took us over 3 hours of steep climbing, but the views of the colorful Tamil homes and vegetable gardens made it worth it – plus we both enjoy a good challenge. As we approached 6000 feet, we climbed above the clouds (and smog) that was with us most of the previous few days.
After some recovery time (read: NAP!), we ventured out in Ooty for a stroll around the Government Botanical Gardens (with an impressive collection of American and Mexican cactus) and a visit to the local, open-air, food market (which strengthened our resolve to stay with mostly veg dishes during the trip).
After a much appreciated crisp evening at elevation, we hopped on a historical train for a spectacular hour-long track precariously perched on cliffs overlooking more Tamil settlements and farms. (Unfortunately, all photos for the day evaporated into the ether).
Post train, a 30 km+ downhill (woop!) out of the Ooty area had us dodging monkeys along the side of the road and twisting around more hairpin turns. As the designated sweeper, riding in the back required a bit of braking, and I managed to snap a brake cable, but our team car and wonderful guides, Emil and Majesh, had an extra bike so I did not lose too much time to the peloton.
From Ooty, it was a lot of up and down riding. We climbed to Top Station (in Tamil Nadu) at 6300 feet, Munnar at 5600 feet and up to Lockhart Gap (in Kerala).
Tea plantations were everywhere. The seemingly beautiful tea shrubs grow in every nook and cranny as well as elevation of the hills. Women exclusively worked the fields from early morning to 4 PM each day. The strong scent of tea emanated from the many tea factories that were scattered along the road every few kilometers.
Have you had your glass today!?!
The road continues. Through forests, past lumber mills and cattle auctions….on to the famous backwaters of Kerala next. Stay tuned!