The laid-back life…Coonoor!
After a lot of deliberation and squabbles, we finally zeroed upon this South Indian tiny hill station of Coonoor (https://nilgiris.nic.in/) for our annual anniversary vacation in August 2019. The first question was where do we stay? Ooty was a default choice as it was the largest city in the area having better hotels and North Indian restaurants. However, we didn’t want to go to the crowded Mussoorie of South, so discarded the idea. Next in queue were Lovedale or Wellington. Well, we couldn’t find a decent homestay at either of these places which suited our requirement, so Coonoor it was, our abode for 4 nights. We decided to book Teanest Annexe (https://www.natureresorts.in/teanest/rooms/hibiscus/), which was located around 5 km from Coonoor town inside Singara Tea Estate.
Its a 3 hrs drive from Coimbatore to Coonoor. The plan was to fly from Delhi to Coimbatore on 2nd August early morning and rent a car from Zoomcar (https://www.zoomcar.com) at Coimbatore airport. I had already booked a Tata Nexon (https://cars.tatamotors.com/suv/nexon) for three of us. I had never driven this car before and was looking forward to it. In our last trip to Rann of Kutch, we had rented a Tata Hexa, which was amazing. Brand Tata had rekindled my faith in it. We planned to stay at Teanest in Singara Tea Estate, Coonoor. The bookings were done and we were informed that the tiny room which we had booked was upgraded to a Suite. Wow! Anything free was more than welcomed. Slowly and gradually, the day passed and finally it was Friday, 2nd of August.
The flight departed Delhi Airport on time. Throughout the flight I was asleep as I had got up at 3 am. Upon landing at Coimbatore airport on time, I checked zoomcar app. No information regarding my car was available. Something seemed wrong but I decided to worry about it later, after picking up my baggage from the belt. Time showed 09.30 hrs when I got a call from an unknown number. It was a zoomcar representative. She informed me that the car I had booked, a Tata Nexon, had met with an accident and was unavailable. Now, they wanted to upgrade my car to Hyundai Creta but asked me to pickup it up from 14 km away location. I was okay to pick it up from there but wasn’t comfortable to drop it at the same location on my return journey. I requested them to allow me to drop it at the airport. They refused to entertain this request. I declined too. Next, they offered me a Mahindra Scorpio (https://auto.mahindra.com/suv/scorpio) from airport location. I agreed this time. Time read 09.45 hrs.
By 10am, we reached the location and checked out our allocated car. It had Bangalore Electronics City registration number (Karnataka State – KA 51). Upon checking the vehicle I found that car was dirty as hell, had crushed chips scattered in all seats and mats, the car charger and music system wasn’t working, seat was torn at a lot of places and AC air wasn’t blowing properly, may be due to choked air filters. I called the zoomcar customer care again and informed them of the situation and asked them to allocate any other car, even a WagonR in good condition would do. Instead, they asked me to wait and promised to send center supervisor there. A guy named Raj came in sometime and expressed his helplessness in getting the car fixed. Instead he suggested me to speak to customer care again and request for a change in car. After much waiting, heated altercations and threats later, they allocated me another Scorpio, which was much more driven. Its charger and music system was working, though its AC again gave us nightmares. Trust me, it was a painful experience to deal with customer care who give a damn whether you are stranded with your family or are with a kid. Since morning, we hadn’t eaten much. We had planned to have a breakfast after getting a car on the highway. Time read 12.00 noon when we left zoomcar premises. An ordeal which started at 10.00 am, ended at 12.00 noon. Before leaving, upon checking the paper file, I looked for Tamil Nadu Permit receipt and found a paper with a sticky note saying “TN”. I made a mistake of not actually checking the contents carefully (may be because we were already late). I took Raj’s cell number (thankfully – to be detailed later) and we started our drive to Coonoor by 12.15 pm.
The road from Coimbatore to Coonoor is two lane, without divider. The quality is average and traffic is mostly slow moving traffic near Mettupalayam. We reached our hotel by 14.45 hrs. Check-in was a breeze and we were greeted with a complimentary basil leaf tea, which was refreshing.
We had planned a ride on Mettulayapam – Ooty toy train (https://ootytourism.co.in/nilgiri-mountain-railway) which departed from Coonoor by 16.00 hrs. Coonoor has a tiny railway station parked somewhere on Nilgiris on the main highway to Ooty. More than daily commuters, there were tourists jostling inside the train compartment elbowing to get a corner seat. My wife and son enjoyed the train ride, while I drove to Lovedale station to pick them up there, which was about an hour away by train. As I drove along the serpentine road to Lovedale, weather changed for better. It turned misty and cool fresh breeze caressed my face along with slight drizzle. The green tea gardens all along felt greener due to misty wash of drizzle.
As I reached Lovedale station, it seemed like a tiny stopover lost somewhere in time. No traffic, no cars, not even a single soul loitering on platform. The sound of cool misty breeze swishing across tall trees was omnipresent. It looked so scary and creepy. A scene straight from 2002 Bollywood Blockbuster Raaz. Infact, one story of another Bollywood thriller ‘Dus Kahaniyan’ was filmed at Lovedale railway station. While I was enjoying the weather, the toy train suddenly emerged out of the mist and the station buzzed into chaos. We clicked a few pics at the Station entrance and drove back to our hotel enjoying the salubrious weather. I really liked the lonely drive inside Singara Estate amidst lush green tea gardens with cool wind blowing from peak to peak of hills.
The next morning post breakfast, we left for Avalanche Lake and Upper Bhavani Lake view point which was around 65 km from our hotel. Time read 09.00 hrs. We assumed it would take max. of 3 hrs due to curvy roads. We were wrong. Just as we took a turn towards Wellington, we were stopped by Traffic Police. The guy demanded to see Tamil Nadu Permit seeing a KA 51 registration car. Confidently, I opened the file and took out the paper marked “TN”. To my horror and disbelief, it was Andhra Pradesh permit and not Tamil Nadu one. The guy asked me to park the car on the curb and demanded Rs 5000/- as fine and permit fee. This double whammy of not having requisite papers and Rs 5000/- came as a shock to me. I asked for some time for arranging papers to which he agreed. I called up customer care of zoomcar and explained them my situation. They completely washed off their hands saying that I should have checked the papers and this amount will not be reimbursed. They hung up the call. I again called them up and put up a simple question. How can zoomcar offer me a KA registration car from Coimbatore (which itself is in TN state) if it doesn’t have requisite papers. Had I rented this car from Karnataka and brought it to TN state, I agree, onus lied with me to have right papers. They had no answer to this question. They asked me to wait on the road and said they’d escalate this with their superiors. I waited on the road, stranded with my family for good 30 mins but no one called. The agony was excruciating. The frustration was building up within me and I just wanted to leave this car with authorities and let zoomcar recover it back on their own. Amidst these thoughts, I called zoomcar representative Raj (whose number I had taken luckily). The guy was quite helpful and promised to send me a whatsapp image of the document. The ten mins wait lasted an eternity and then finally, I got an image of Tamil Nadu permit on my whatsapp. Fortunately, Traffic Police guy didn’t bother me for a hard copy and let me go without paying anything. Time read 11.00 hrs. This entire episode lasted for more than an hour.
I started driving faster than normal and in a jiffy we crossed Lovedale and many small towns on the way. The road was good and it had started drizzling. Weather had been kind throughout. No sudden pouring or landslides. By 13.00 hrs we reached Avalanche Lake Entry point. We parked our car there and booked a Jeep Safari for Rs 2000/-. The Jeep trip would cover three points – Cauliflower Shola, a temple and Upper Bhavani Lake view point. While we waited for the Jeep, we thought of having lunch at the canteen. Ubiquitous dosa, idly and filter coffee along with bread omlette were our staple diet since we had arrived. Food was delicious and total bill was Rs 300 for three of us. Pretty reasonable. The drive through the jungle was remarkable, though road and jeep were in wretched state. Slowly, we inched towards completion of this 11 km journey which was supposed to take 3 hrs. The Cauliflower shola was just a dense jungle where trees resembled Cauliflower. We stopped for 5 mins basically to stretch our backs and in turn click quick pics. Next stop was an old temple behind which a waterfall was flowing which had lesser water than what flows on potholed Gurgaon roads during monsoons. The journey started getting boring with usual views of jungle. I don’t know what hurt more – spending Rs 2000 for this rickety ride or my back. However, as we reached Upper Bhavani Lake view point, all my inhibitions were brushed aside. I was standing in the middle of nowhere with an awesome view and no other tourists around. Cold wind was blowing violently. For once, I didn’t curse my almost bald looks, rather I was proud of them. My hair didn’t even interrupt once while my pics were being clicked. My wife, on the contrary, was constantly trying to hold her hair to manage a decent pic. Due to ferocity of wind, I wasn’t able to open my eyes properly, here, my goggles came to my respite. In the end, it was me, who holds a collection of good pics at this amazing view point. The drive back to the base was uneventful. With Tamil (or Kannada) songs playing in background, I tried to focus on the view outside as I could not understand a bit of the lyrics. The drive on the way back to Coonoor was uneventful. The hotel was empty with not even a single other room occupied. Food was being prepared as per our choice and entire garden was available to us. Thats the beauty of going to such offbeat places, no botheration.
Next two days, we roamed around so many places amidst heavy rainfall… Ooty Lake, Wenlock Downs 9th mile, Pykara Lake, Needle Rock view point and Pine Forest Shooting spot. All places had amazing view but my personal favorite is Needle Rock and Wenlock Downs 9th mile. Both places offer spectacular view of the scenery and offer wow backdrop for pics. At Ooty, we had lunch at Earl’s Secret. This is a beautiful property on top of a cliff. Food is delicious, though a bit pricey.
At Coonoor, we visited Lamb’s Rock, Dolphin Nose Point, Fall’s View Point, took a long leisurely walk across Singara Tea Estate and also enjoyed salubrious ambiance of Wellington Lake. Overall, a quiet lazy town. I wish I could settle down at Coonoor post retirement. A perfect hideout, away from hustle bustle of urban life (even the word ends with ‘ban’).
On the day of return from Coonoor, we just got up late, had a king size breakfast and took a leisurely drive to Coimbatore. Fortunately, our Scorpio showed no tantrums. The slow, unrushed drive through dense forest and greenery felt soothing. As we descended, the air got warmer and pollution caught up with us. We felt at home breathing fumes from vehicular exhaust…ah, Delhi is approaching! The flight to Delhi was on time and we were home by 22.30 hrs.
The quick short trip to Coonoor was refreshing and much awaited. This tiny green hill offers unmatched beauty. A must visit for offbeat enthusiasts and those seeking break from mundane life.
Coonoor – I am impressed.