Madurai is a small city in the southern interior of India famous for the massive, colorful Meenakshi Amman Temple. The huge complex stretches over 6 hectares (although some parts are only open to Hindus) and was built in the 17th century, although the area has been the sight of an important temple for much longer. Madurai is a bit out the way and so doesn’t make it on to many people’s itineraries, which is a bit of a pity as it’s definitely worth a short visit. We also really enjoyed the city itself, with some warren-like streets to explore in the temple area and lively streets in the evenings. We also had some of the best food of our trip so far – definitely head to Chetty Nadu Mess for excellent mutton biryani, the Modern Restaurant for good value southern Indian food and the famous Murugan Idli Shop.
On our previous trip to India we got to travel on two of the famous UNESCO World Heritage toy trains, to Shimla and Darjeeling (see here), and we wanted to go on the third, the Nilgiri Mountain Railway. This trains climbs the Western Ghats between Mettupalayam and Ooty. The Western Ghats are an impressive mountain range stretching from Mumbai to Tamil Nadu, with some of the highest points around Ooty. As with the other toy trains, the train slowly winds up a narrow track with precipitous drops on either side and beautiful views of the tea plantations that are dotted around the landscape. As the gradient is so steep (the Nilgiri mountains rise from almost sea level to over 2000m very quickly), there is a special middle cog on the rail to help the train make it up. The carriages are rather cramped and not very comfortable but that doesn’t distract much from the experience.
Although the main reason for us travelling to Ooty was to ride on the train, we also wanted to spend some time in and around the Western Ghats. We decided to try out a wildlife place about an hour out of Ooty called Inn the Wild (http://www.innthewild.com/), situated on the border of the Mudumalai National Park. We weren’t too sure what to expect given our previous (somewhat dodgy) encounters with Indian national parks (see here) but we really loved Inn the Wild, and found it to be more similar to a South African bush experience, with good guides who are interested in showing you a wide variety of creatures. They offer morning and afternoon walks around their property, as well as short night drives. The property sits on an elephant corridor and so you are mainly looking for elephant on the walks, but they do occasionally also see tigers (the closest we got was a two day old footprint in the mud). There are an impressive variety of other animals to be seen around the property, and in addition to lots of different birds we managed to see:
- Spotted deer
- Sambar deer
- Mouse deer
- Jungle cat
- 2 types of palm civets
- 2 types of giant flying squirrels
- Wild boar
We stayed in the awesome treehouse overlooking the waterhole, which has a great deck to watch the sunset over the bush, and if you are lucky like us, see some wild elephants having a drink. The food was also fantastic, with a great variety of different dishes over the three days we were there. They even organized a cake to celebrate Anne’s birthday. Highly recommended if you are in the area.
Next stop: the beautiful waterways of Kerala!