God knows when I must have drifted to sleep after the spirited night and the noise from the bonfire outside. My room mates Darshan, Yogesh and Gokul came in later at night. Gokul was my bed-mate and complained the next day that I pulled up more than my fair share of the comforter. Possible, I remember having a tug of war in my sleep, shivering in the Ooty cold at night. Got up at about 4 am or so (Amazing how easy it is to wake up when on holiday, I try to replicate that on a workday with no success). In any case, I got up, got ready to go out for a walk. The gate was closed with a sleeping sentry telling us ‘Saar this is ooty, nothing and no shop will be up now’ My reasoning of course told me, this is Tamil Nadu where buses ply all night. Just tell us the way to the bus stand, there will be at least one tea stall. At this point Vamsee joined me and we set out for a walk.
It did not take long for us to come to a tea stall a short distance before the main square. The guy served some bun with tea, and in the early morning chill, that was heavenly. We took a walk around the race course , effectively circumnavigating 3 sides of a rectangle to get to the bus stand, and saw many more tea stalls there. Got back to YMCA and saw a bunch of runners (Jace, Chidambaram, Vinodh) getting ready for an early morning run in Ooty.
Post breakfast, a big gang headed with Prem to tour some forest areas around the base of Doddabetta. Most of us went on an open tempo, and the journey must have been exciting, though I chilled next to the driver. During the walk in the forest, a forest ranger stopped us and asked for permissions. Prem and his local friend expressed surprise at the requirement, and went about furnishing their local credentials.
The ranger relaxed and advised them to please come with permissions next time, because in his words, teenagers who frequent the areas on bikes don’t know how to behave in the forest, they create noise and throw junk around. We spotted a malabar squirrel on the way, a red mushroom which caught the fancy of cyclewallahs with photographic inclination, and general flora. Its amazing to walk on thick layers of leaves scattered on the forest floor. I cringe everytime I think about how little effort we make to preserve urban green spaces.
A plan to climb Doddabetta through the woods was abandoned due to lack of time. We decided to head back to do the customary Chocolate shopping.
Prem was showing around the area when Juggy mentioned that yeah we’ve been here before, we had the Ooty run on this spot where we are walking. He seemed very knowledgeable of the local terrain. Mayank was lagging behind photographing all the insects and mushrooms on the way. Once we reached the main road, it was mid afternoon. We reached a junction where there were jeeps willing to ferry us to town. The ride to town was in a closed jeep.
After reaching the town, we went to have lunch at Kurinji, the cheese dosa was awesome. And of course we downed a truckload of chocolates while we kept waiting for the Dosa. The place was decidedly small but very good. After this we went to King’s for the chocolates and fudges. I must have spent close to a 1K there on chocolates and fudges. I also managed to find a shop that sold Long pepper and bought 1/2 a kg of that stuff as well.
It was evening by the time we came back. Caught Kiran who told me that he was quitting TFN for a personal emergency, and I was free to ride his bike. Felt like a good option. Rakesh Nair had a damaged bike and he wished to ride a road bike, and unfortunately the only road bike free was the Kruge. A lot of the folks were busy cleaning their bikes this day.
Dinner was late in coming. Sudarshan Iyengar was busy playing old Hindi songs on the Piano, I could not resist joining him, and we were singing to some memorable tunes. Soon , a few folks started trickling in and we had our first Mehfil . This was probably the most memorable night in TFN, and it was made possible through Sudarshan playing around with the piano and me bursting in to sing a few songs.Haresh, the Pune gang, Priya , Anand all eventually made a big gathering and a big chorus accompanied by Sudarshan’s rendering on the piano.
Overall I did not find Ooty too crowded or dirty despite the bad press I had heard about it. Probably because this was off season for Ooty. The marketplace was a little crowded but just about as much as say Munnar or Madikeri. Weatherwise, today night was much more pleasant (probably we got used to the cold). Most folks tucked in early and EOD happenned with looking forward to the (long) downhill on the next day morning.