To continue where we left off last night, after trekking through several kilometers of various terrain, we relaxed on a hilltop for a few minutes, soaking up the view and watching the daily migration of a herd of bison. As the daylight was nearing its end, we then headed back to our treehouse, by way of a slightly different set of paths through the woodlands. We saw a different species of giant squirrel, majestically posing on a treebranch right next to a cliff, and heard more elephants within the brush, though we didn't see anymore. We enjoyed our dinner as heartily as one could, given that it was a very simple (and runny) curry, with warm paratta bread on the side, but since we hadn't really eaten much all day since we were on the bus, any food was certainly vastly superior to no food. We turned in uncharacteristically early then, since our lights were attracting record numbers of mosquitoes, and we had to be up early the next morning for breakfast before catching the bus at 8:30 am.
Our next day was spent almost entirely in transit, as we rode 3 different buses in order to get from Chinnar to our destination, Kodaikanal, a so-called "hill station" high up in the Tamil Nadu mountains. At 2100 meters, it's our highest elevation within the Western Ghats thus far. But first we rode to Udumalpet, where we enjoyed our cheapest Indian meal yet, only 20 rupees for rice and its omnipresent sauce accompaniments. From Udumalpet we traveled on a super-packed bus to Pallani, such that we spent the hour or so with one of packs stretched across our laps - though that didn't seem to phase Liz one bit, as she still managed to fall asleep for almost half the ride! Our longest bus ride, however, was the approximately 3-hour uphill climb to Kodaikanal, winding through the hills, which was quite similar to our ascent to Munnar, though the mist actually meant our views were not quite as impressive.
When arriving in a new town we usually follow the advice of our two guide books, Lonely Planet & Rough Guide, to determine the few hotels in our price range (300 rupees or less, preferrably around 200/night), since wandering about with our heavy packs is far from the most enjoyable part of travelling India. Up until now, there haven't been an abundance of options, so our choice has usually been quite simple, as in the first place we visit is "good enough." However, the first place in Kodaikanal wasn't really what we wanted, since although it had a nice view of the valley below, the room itself was dingy and uninviting, and the bathroom looked like it has been used for a horror movie set at some point previously. Unfortunately, the next three hotels we looked at also weren't quite up to par, even though the tout who we were having a tough time ditching seemed to think they were all quite nice, though we more-than-suspected that that was solely due to his cut of the increased room rate, and not due to our supposed satisfaction. Most towns have touts, who get a 50 rupee payout from the hotels for bringing in guests, so even though they are not at all directly affiliated with any hotels, they fight hard to "help us out," even though we know they aren't in it to assist us at all. So after seeing four shoddy places, we ditched our tout by wandering off in the opposite direction, though by this point that meant we had walked well over two or three kilometers carrying all of our stuff. We decided to check one more hotel, listed in one of the guide books, before stopping at a restaurant to relax and refuel and make our choice. However, that place was closed for renovation, so we were dejectedly heading back up yet another of Kodaikanal's less-than-small hills, when we decided to take up a few workman who had yelled at us on their offer to see their hotel, which was being completely renovated, but apparently still open for business. So needless to say our current hotel, the Hamidia Lodge, besides some minor construction noise in the mornings, is quite nice, and we even got the price we wanted, 200/night, "since we came alone" - so no tout has to get paid...
Given the altitude here, and also the time of year (just after the monsoon season), most every day is overcast, but the air is perfectly clean and when the mist clears the views looking down on the surrounding hills are quite amazing. There is a large (artificial) lake here, so we rented a paddle-boat yesterday and cruised around for a while, and we've walked countless kilometers up and down steep hills to various sites of natural beauty: Bear Shola Falls (a nice waterfall), Croaker's Walk (a 2-rupee-entry walkway at a very scenic overlook), Grant's Park (a well maintained gardens open to the public), and we also walked the full 5-km around the Kodai Lake. The food here is quite good, and rather varied, with several Tibetan places serving thukpa (a hearty noodle soup) and momos (stuffed dumplings), a great Indian restaurant called Hotel Astoria which serves a delicious lunchtime thali (all-you-can-eat rice plate with a vast selection of sauces), and tonight we splurged a bit and ate at a "Western Vegetarian" restaurant, called Manna's Bake, which though well off the beaten path, was worth eating at for its tasty vegetarian pie, and more importantly the amazing apple crumble with custard for dessert. Foolishly we had eaten a full thali mere hours before, so we are currently almost painfully full of food, but since it was all extremely tasty, and we've been walking quite a bit these past few days, we assume our belly pains will be gone quite soon!
We are also in "Homemade Chocolate" country, so virtually every shop (and they are pretty much beyond counting) serves a wide variety of fresh chocolates so we have been doing a little sugar-snacking as well. We will probably remain here for another day, before heading north to Coimbatore, though that will just be a stop-off before heading to a triumvirate of hill-stations in the far north of Tamil Nadu, of which Ooty is most definitely the most well known. To get there we are going to ride on India's last remaining steam-engine train, which chugs up steep hills for around 6 hours, and should treat us to some impressive scenery.
In case we don't post again within the next few days, we'd like to wish everyone a Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and of course a Happy New Year!