Our antique steam train delivers us to Ootacamund—Ooty—around noon. Queen of the hill stations, Ooty is a leafy escape from the hot plains. Pre-Independence, our colonial-era hotel, the Taj Savoy, was favored by the Indian and British elite. During research for my true-life Hollywood-India project, I learned my maharaja’s family had a summer home in Ooty. Ooty. Entranced, I’d wanted to visit for a long time. To arrive in such a romantic way is icing on the cake.
Up since 3:30, we are starved, but can’t miss the festivities launching South India’s harvest festival, Pongal, the 4-day Tamil Thanksgiving. Pongal means “boiling over” of milk and rice—signifying abundance and prosperity. The flower-strewn offering below is surrounded by a canopy of sugarcane with platters of coconuts and bananas.
Here I am with the hotel manager, who has led the ceremony.
By now, we are more than eager for a hearty thali, the traditional round tray containing small bowls of rice and various curries.
After lunch, we tour the hillsides, Ooty Lake, the Botanical Gardens, and the largest rose garden in India. Holiday-goers are out everywhere, celebrating. Despite the sunshine, the air is crisp, even chilly, and people are celebrating that, too.
Later, off on my own, I walk into town.
Returning to the hotel, I explore the grounds. I love this empty picture frame on the front lawn.
After enjoying the last moments of sunset, I order a predawn “bed tea.” Tomorrow we will leave early in hopes of spotting wildlife en route or at Mudumalai National Park—home to the largest tiger population in India!
Next stop: Mudumalai Nature Sanctuary: Wildlife!