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Ooty: Camp amidst the Nilgiris

Ooty is one of the most famous hill stations in India. It is among those “Go to” destinations in India since the British era. Ooty was also the favourite summer retreat in South India for the British which is pretty much evident from their English style colonial architecture, which remains intact even after a century or so. What attracts people here is its pleasant weather all year round and most of all, the stunning Nilgiri Hills which charm its visitors with its evergreen beauty.

 

A moment captured on the way to Ooty

 

Camping amidst the blissful Nilgiri Hills at Ooty was on my bucket list for a long time and I finally made it last week. It was something to cherish my whole lifetime. Unlike my college days when I used to camp with my friends, this time I planned it alone. I must say it was a one of kind travel experience for me. Something which helped me connect more with my inner self. Everything at Ooty, the hills, the weather, the people, made my trip memorable.

 

I arrived at the Ooty town on the 25th of March this year. I was already excited, being entertained by the lush green Nilgiri Mountains on the way to Ooty from Mettupalayam [down hill town]. Nearly a 50 km journey uphill from Mettupalayam is one of the highlights of a trip to Ooty. Though the town has now become a bit commercialised and crowded, there are numerous sweet spots in and around Ooty where you can enjoy your time of your own.

 

Nilgiris

 

As I decided to ditch my normal travel routine, I reserved a tent this time over the phone rather than a hotel. This campsite I booked is located in the Tiger Hills which is 5km away from the Ooty town. A 15 minutes fun filled Tuk-Tuk ride along the serpentine hill roads of Ooty took me to this campsite. At first glance itself, I fall in love with the place.

 

The campsite

 

Mr Jerome, the manager of this very campsite greeted me with a warm smile. A very generous and hospitable person, he first gave me a tour of his campsite and got me a cup of Coffee to relax. He accompanied me to the tent I am allotted for the night. There are more than 20 tents pitched at the campsite, overlooking a spectacular scene of the Nilgiri hills lined up at a distance.

 

Scene from the campsite

 

I finished my Coffee and moved to the small living area they have for guests. One could spend time watching TV, play indoor games or have some refreshments and relax. They also serve meals here. Chairs are laid outside with a Bonfire area which is a great place to socialize with the other campers at the site. I spend time chatting with Mr Jerome and an Israeli couple who were about to check out from the site. The couple spoke highly of Mr Jerome’s kind nature and the wonderful experience they had the previous night.

 

Inside the living area

 

I asked Mr. Jerome to arrange dinner for me and i moved onto my tent to change my clothes and have some time of my own. Inside the tent they have provided a sleeping bag and a pillow as well. I zipped close the tent and sat for a while. I learned it is a good feeling indeed sitting inside a tent in a world of your own. I switched on my favourite track by Bahramji and grabbed a copy of “The Windfall by Diksha Basu”. Probably an hour later when I was done reading, I unzipped my tent and to my surprise I was exposed to a splendid scenery. An hour before it was clear sunny sky and now the clouds flew to pay a visit to the Nilgiris. Check this out-

 

Bliss!

 

A feeling of bliss filled in. I could see the mighty yet gorgeous hills of Nilgiris stand high, gently kissing the clouds that skim pass them as if both are lost in eternal love for each other. I realised I am literally connected to nature. In fact, everything is connected. I felt like everything around, the trees, the birds, everything, was speaking to me in the universal language of nature engraved on each one of us inside. I kept my tent open ignoring the spine-chilling weather. For hours I was enchanted by this delightful scene. I was lost in the harmony of the Mother Nature who pampered me with her unconditional love.

 

Mr Jerome rang me for tea. A hot cup of Nilgiri Tea along with crispy Onion Pakoras. Ah! Perfect mix for the cool weather and setting then. While I was enjoying my tea, my eyes fall upon a flock of birds battling for food on the fence post. I asked Mr Jerome what was that all about?? Mr Jerome is a bird lover and he always makes sure no food is wasted. Whatever remains he feed the birds. He has a great fan following of birds far and near. The interesting part was when I asked him about it, he got so excited full of energy and started giving me a bird tour. He has 3 spots where he feeds the birds. He directed me to all those feeding places and named all varieties of birds that visit him every day.

 

Birds having their daily meal

 

It was getting dark as the sun hid behind the clouds and ready to set. Mr Jerome along with 2 other camp boys was busy setting a campfire for me and 3 other campers from France. Again the love story between the Nilgiri hills and the clouds continued. This time, the setting sun offered them a perfect romantic moment by lifting up the ambience.

 

A moment of romance!

 

Post-dusk, me, Mr Jerome and the 3 French guys enjoyed some quality time sitting around the campfire. Just when I wished for a drink, one among the French named Paul offered me and Mr Jerome a glass of wine. I turned on some chill out music and all of us got lost living the moment. Mr Jerome narrated his whole life journey to us starting from his first marketing job in Bangalore to how he ended up falling in love with Ooty. Paul and his friends started talking about their life in France and then of course followed by their respective breakup stories etc. All of us shared our life experiences. It was indeed a great feeling to have met and spent some fun time with unknown people living in different parts of the country.

 

The camp boys bought us dinner and we all enjoyed the Tamilnadu special Vegetable Biriyani [Though I am a meat lover, I compromised this time]. Mr Jerome told us we could go for a short trek in the morning if we wish to. By 11 pm all of us got back to our respective tents. It was freaking cold and it felt as if I won’t be able to sleep. I got into my sleeping bag and it really helped. Within minutes I fell asleep. Morning 7 am we all set off for a trek to nearby hills and tea plantations. I enjoyed every bit of it. Mr Jerome is the perfect guy to take you for a walk through the woods in Ooty. He took us to various viewpoints which are unknown to many. The walk through the tea plantation walk was my favourite. Imagine 100’s of acres of sprawling tea plantation and you are standing right at its centre. Seems good right? It was indeed my best moment.

 

A walk through tea plantation

 

After a 3-hour nature walk, we returned to our campsite and the breakfast was ready. Pillow soft Idly [South Indian dish made of rice batter] served with smoking hot Sambhar [another famous South Indian dish] and crispy Vadas. A hot cup of filter Coffee completed a sumptuous South Indian breakfast.

 

Dining area

 

By 12 am, I checked out of the Campsite and waved Mr Jerome a goodbye. I have been to Ooty during my school days, but this was completely different. I saw a different face of the Nilgiri Mountains. Ever blissful and charming she is that I am sure I will pay a visit to her every year at least once.

 

Ever loving Mr Jerome!

 

I am also sure I will have an even warmer welcome by Mr Jerome the next time I visit him. My camping experience at Ooty is something to cherish my whole life and it definitely holds a special page in my travel diary.

Happy travelling!

 

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A weekend visit to Nagarjunakonda in Andhra Pradesh

Nagarjunakonda

Nagarjunakonda is one of the most noted Buddhist pilgrimage sites in India. It was a fully developed metropolis and a renowned Buddhist learning centre for years. Students from all over India and from countries such as China, Sri Lanka and much more used to reside here and undertook their Buddhist studies. If you are a Buddha follower, you must not miss Nagarjunakonda at Andhra Pradesh. It was the construction of the Nagarjuna Sagar Dam which led to the discovery of various Buddhist artefacts and scriptures and thus it was concluded that the area was home to an ancient Buddhist civilization 1800 years ago. The collection was then transferred, reassembled and preserved on an island hill spanning 144 acres surrounded by the River Krishna.

Nagarjunakonda

History goes like, Nagarjuna, a famous scholar of Mahayana Buddhism lived here during the 2nd century AD and it was his influence which spread Buddhism in the Southern parts of India and South Eastern parts of the Asian continent. Thus, the place was named after him, Nagarjunakonda or Nagarjuna Hill [Konda in the Telugu language means hill]. Though I am a Hindu, I am very much interested in Buddhist principles as well. I decided to make a visit and see for myself what we have got to see at Nagarjunakonda.

I started early in the morning from Hyderabad to Nagarjunakonda. It is a 4-hour journey covering nearly 160 km. The roads are great which helped me reach Nagarjuna Sagar dam in 3.5 hours. This huge dam we all know is an Earth dam and is one of the largest of its kind.

Nagarjunakonda
Nagarjunasagar dam

The location is a beautiful, green and hilly area. The ferry launch station is again a 15-minute drive which involves few hairpin bends as well. I reached the ferry area and paid my entrance fees. For foreign nationals, it costs Rs. 200/head and for Indians, 20 Rs/head. Also, there are fixed ferry timings, 9:30 am and 1:30 pm every day. Ferry ride fee is Rs 120 for adults and 100 for children.

Nagarjunakonda
Nagarjunakonda Ferry Launch Station

The ferry timing for me was 1: 30 pm and it was only 12. I grabbed 2 Bhajjis [local snack] and tea from a local tea shop, fast forwarded 1 hour and I walked on to the boarding spot. I was amazed by the beauty of the surrounding landscape in front of me.  I hopped onto one of the three motorboats parked by the side. I was informed it would be a 45 minutes ferry ride to reach the Nagarjunakonda island museum. It is the only island museum in India and two of the same in the world. One is at Berlin, Germany and the other is at Nagarjunakonda, Andhra Pradesh.

Nagarjunakonda Ferry ride
Nagarjunakonda Ferry ride

There were nearly 20 passengers on board, all tourists from different parts of the country. As we moved, we enjoyed some gorgeous views of the island and the Krishna River. We could see locals rowing round country boats looking for a good catch. 35 mins gone and I could see the walls of the island museum. The museum is opened to visitors from morning 9 am to 4 pm every day except Friday. It is closed on Fridays.

Nagarjunakonda Island Museum
Nagarjunakonda Island Museum

I started walking my way to the museum. The Nagarjunakonda island museum is a near 500 m walk from the boat dropping point. I reached the museum. Cameras are not allowed inside. I went on to check out all the collections on display. The collection of the museum consists stone tools, coins, scriptures of Lord Buddha and of Mucalinda, the Naga [serpent], spears, hammers, carvings narrating the story of Buddha from his birth to his Mahaparinirvana and lot more of other antiquities. An earring and a tooth are also up for display here, which many believe is among the corporeal remains of Lord Buddha himself. I spent next half an hour at the museum.

Nagarjunakonda
A Buddha Statue at Nagarjunakonda

I followed the crowd to find what else there is to see. First, we came across the Maha Stupa, which is the oldest monument here at Nagarjunakonda. We reached a spot where I found a stupa and a broken statue of Lord Buddha standing tall, probably 10 feet tall. 100 meters to its right there is another Chaitya stupa belonging to 3rd century CE. Later I returned to the boarding point and left the island. I enjoyed the 45 minutes cruise back to the ferry launch station. For me, it was the highlight of the Nagarjunakonda tour.