Ooty II

Night smells: wood-smoke and eucalyptus. A muezzin calling the azaan woke me before dawn, apparently determined to convince all of Ooty that prayer is better than sleep.

Psychedelic guitar solo from the speakers in the dining room at breakfast (khara bath with sambar, sweet lime juice and South Indian mixed coffee). The speakers are so bad that it sounds as if the (doubtless) bell-bottomed rock god with matted locks is actually playing a kazoo.

We took a car to the Fernhill Palace Hotel. It’s still being renovated, supposedly to open in May, so we had to ask permission to enter, and pay Rs. 200 for the privilege. Fernhill used to be a hunting lodge of the Mysore Maharaja; then it was a hotel, then it closed… now it will open again. The place was full of carpenters and plasterers; lots of very gaudy plaster of Paris medallions, painted harsh red and white, in all the rooms. Several small courtyards, carved cornices; moulded ceilings, wooden floors, small fireplaces in each room. The furniture a jumble of pieces in assorted styles, left over from the Maharaja’s days: art deco dressing tables and almirahs, upholstered chairs, sofas, loveseats.

(I have borrowed this picture of Fernhill from this site,
which also has a picture of the 'toy train' running up
from Mettupalayam to Ooty, and pickers in the tea gardens)

I had visited Fernhill in 1976. I was studying in Chennai, and went with two other foreign students to Ooty during the Dussehra holiday. I wrote:
… we walked into the countryside, not very far to go. The houses are stacked on the hills, and where the houses end are terraced fields, evergreens and eucalyptus trees. We walked past the small lake and into a pine reservation - still, green, cool. I brought back autumn-coloured leaves, licheny sticks, bits of gnarled roots.

On the way back we stopped at the Maharajah's palace, which has been turned into a hotel, for lunch. Rather unprepossessing outside, just low red stucco -- but very grand on the inside, so that I felt ridiculous, clutching my twigs and dead leaves. Lunch had just ended -- snacks were available -- so we were the only ones in a huge high-vaulted room, with eight waiters dressed to look like the Rajah’s retainers.

After lunch we asked to see an empty bedroom and were shown two, one with a group of blue satin furniture separated from the bed by a screen. The second room featured a stuffed elephant's head directly opposite the bed -- absolutely enormous, in a small room. Honestly! I imagined a cowering Thurberesque guest, peering out from behind the sheets, eyeball to eyeball with the elephant’s baleful glare.

I asked the man who showed us around about the elephant’s head. He said that it had been sent back to Mysore when the hotel had closed, but would return. Can't wait.

We drove on to nearby Coonoor and visited a small British-built church and cemetery. I took these pictures:

Look at the feet! Not very comforting, more as if some devil were carrying him off. Because of the miniature coffin I thought it was a child’s tomb; but the (British) occupant – obviously in the ground, not suspended in air – was 32 when he died. Not an unusually young age, in these old cemeteries.

The stone cross, carved to look like wood, was appropriately covered with real lichen. The whole place was carpeted with fallen leaves.

Seen at Coonoor railway station:

I assume that the paint job is Indian; but that the British are to blame for the fountain itself, and for those dimpled buttocks. The father of this fountain sits in the center of Ooty, an area hopefully named Charing Cross:

A remainder sale by a fountain manufacturer back home? Some connection to the other Charing Cross? What bearded sea gods, dolphins and oyster shells are doing in a hill station is beyond my power to imagine.