We are bringing to you the wonderful locals of India and the experiences we enjoyed because of them, in this mini-series. Next up is a native from one of the most renowned and beautiful hill stations of India. We met him by chance, but in the end, it was destiny after all!
Ramesh Uncle from Ooty
Ooty was probably one of the first long-distance travel we took in our initial days. We had planned this trip weirdly. Only accommodation, a one-way train ticket to Coimbatore, and a return flight ticket from Bangalore to Mumbai were booked. We had vaguely researched for this trip and set out like amateurs. The various ways of reaching Ooty from Coimbatore-
1) Head to Mettupalayam station to catch the famed toy train. We thought we'll reach there via public transport/private cab from Coimbatore Junction.
2) Public transport buses directly to Ooty
3) The last option, if the above options didn't work, was taking a private cab if and only if it was well in our set budgets.
But as luck would have it, the moment we stepped out of the railway station, we met a herd of cab drivers as though they were all waiting for us! Being naïve at that time, we told them we are headed to Ooty and not Mettupalayam. We immediately regretted giving this info. But guess what, it worked in our favour. They directed us to Uncle Ramesh. He was a local cabbie guy from Ooty who had come to drop some tourists to Coimbatore and didn't want to return empty.
Coimbatore to Ooty
At that time, we agreed on a win-win price (much lower than the private cars would otherwise charge and enough for him rather than going back without a fare) The moment we started the ride, we noticed how skilled Uncle Ramesh was with driving on those roads with sharp twists and turns. Bhal complimented him for this and he replied with a shy thanks saying this has been his profession for the past 30 odd years.
He asked us about our plans, our stay, etc. and we discovered from him that the only thing we thought was sorted, our accommodation, was about 4 km away from the main market area, uphill and autos would charge up to Rs. 200/- for pick-up, drop, one way! No doubt the property was good, but accessibility was an issue. Our spirits were dampened.
Almost as if sensing our fallen spirits, he halted the cab and asked us to step out as he himself followed suit. He led us to an open area facing the valley on one side and a beautiful waterfall on the other. He then asked us to focus on a particular point across the valley. We tried zooming in with our only lenses, our eyes. Trying to catch something in that wilderness, we caught a glimpse of some black smoke emerging. As if on cue, whistles blew and the toy train revealed itself from the tunnel in the distance. It was a refreshing sight! He insisted that we posed as he clicked some pictures with our phone.
Splendid time in Ooty
By the time we reached our hotel, uncle had already made a rough itinerary for us, with tentative pick up and drop timings for three days. We were to meet next in about 2 hours, post-lunch for half-day sightseeing. Had we not met uncle Ramesh, we would have wasted our first day and maybe more just figuring out things.
Uncle Ramesh kept us great company for the three days we were in Ooty. He always picked us up before time. He took us around Ooty, Coonoor, Pykara, Wellington, and many other places in the short span of three days. He asked us to skip Botanical Gardens (imagine). We were like how can we skip Botanical Gardens, isn't that the main attraction of Ooty? But he was right. We had visited in February and it was off-season. there were hardly any flowers at the time. We had still managed to set foot for at least an hour to see the place. He took us to many off-beat places that people usually skipped. He was our restaurant guide too, taking us to so many good places serving authentic and yummy food.
The story of our departure
But the gesture that we'll always be indebted for is what happened on the last day. So as I mentioned, we had planned this trip super weirdly. Our return journey was from Bangalore via a flight to Mumbai. How would we reach Bangalore from Ooty? We hadn't planned that. Thanks to uncle's wit, he suggested he would take us to Mysore, we would see some prominent places in Mysore for about 2-3 hours and then he would drop us at the bus station to take a direct bus to Kempegowda Airport. He also calculated the timings and helped us book tickets on Flybus through his connections. We thought whoa, this is sorted now.
To our dismay, on the day of departure, there was some heavy road work undertaken on the main highway we were to take to Mysore from Ooty (Masinagudi 124 km) The alternative route via 2 natural reserves (Bandipur & Madumulai) was not only longer (about 160 km) it also had most of the heavy vehicles prying to and fro! This would increase our travel time by at least 2 hours. We knew we had to let go of our Mysore sightseeing plan. But this alternate road had perks of its own. Super thrilling hair-pin bends, passing through natural reserves we also caught glimpses of spotted deers, elephants crossing roads, monkeys, etc. Uncle also asked us to be attentive towards a possible tiger sighting. The ride was like a safari!
Just when we were entering Karnataka, well in time. We met with huge traffic owing to road work in that area. We thought we were going to miss our bus and eventually our flight too. Disappointed and aghast, we dosed off. In what seemed like an unending drive, we woke up to realize how fast Uncle had cut through and entered Mysore after all. He asked us to keep attention to our right as we were about to cross the Mysore Palace. We saw it pass by us and made a promise to return someday to see its grandeur with more time at hand. There were just 10 minutes left for our bus to leave and still about a 20-minute route ahead of us. With his class apart driving skills, he reached the bus station with a minute to spare. We hurriedly reached for our bus and got in. But wait, we had no chance of a proper goodbye. We requested the driver to wait for just two minutes, went straight to uncle, thanked him enough for everything, got a picture clicked with him with the help of a passer-by, and got back on the bus, stat.