Two thousand metres above the scorched plains of Tamil Nadu is Ooty, a hill station of the Western Ghats range.
Ooty is a charming town. It has a bustling centre of shops selling essentials and trinkets, a botanical garden with manicured lawns, and brightly coloured, energetic shanty housing that spreads out into the surrounding hills. Locals wearing fleeces and beanies potter around in trishaws and on rusty bicycles. The fresh air and cooler climate is a welcome relief from the busy heat of Chennai.
We stay in the YWCA, once a brewery but now a budget hostel for travellers. The interior is from colonial times, with wood panelled rooms, polished brass finishing, and comfy, worn armchairs around open fireplaces. For the first time in many months there are sheets and thick blankets on the bed, and the night is oddly quiet without the endless droning of a ceiling fan.
A guide accompanies us on a trek to Kodanad viewpoint. On the way we pass through rolling tea plantations and small villages. Groups of children play football and cricket in the road, herds of goats wander about, and older residents stand and chat. Small and brightly coloured huts are built into the hillsides in neat rows, separated by alleyways of stairs.
From the viewpoint the Western Ghats unfold in beautiful greys, greens and browns. In the distance below we see a small, contained settlement of fifty or so houses. It is a tantalising glimpse of the vastness of India, just out of reach off the tourist track. I resolve to return with more time and to visit this small and intriguing village, linked to who knows where by a single unpaved road and winding river.