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Old 23rd November 2012, 23:17   #1
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Default The JetŪ learns to make cheese: A farmstay experience in the Nilgiris

Screeeecch....
The tyres were squealing in protest, while I took the 4th or 5th hairpin up the hill. There was no traffic and I was belting the JetŪ on this stretch. The car was beautifully gobbling the turns and hairpins. I loved the hills for this kind of drive experience. There was a lot of fresh air all around, and the forest was so dense that I was expecting an elephant attack right around the corner. Just when I finished taking a few more turns, I saw the signboard proclaiming "Ooty 1km ahead". With a quirky smile I gave the car some more throttle input.. And.. the car lurched forward with a vengeance. Ooty arrived. Just as I was entering the city..

I started to feel something cold on my feet.
Something cold and wet.
How did water get on my feet in the car?
What on earth was going on???!!
Never mind, let me drive on. Ooty had arrived.
But this wetness was starting to tickle my feet now. And I felt someone or something tugging at my feet. What the.....???

Startled, I open my eyes and see my ceiling fan. I turn around and find my dog beside me. Well, now I have that groggy 'Where am I??" feeling. After I remembered who I was, there were other questions. Where was the car? The hills? The hairpins? the milestones? Where did they all disappear?? Everything was just a dream? A dream about a trip that was to happen on the next day, and here I was dreaming about it already. I checked the time and it was 6AM; no wonder my dog was pestering me for her daily walk. That explained the wetness and tugging on the feet. Never mind.

Fortunately, the dream wouldn't just remain a dream. It would come to life the next day.

The JetŪ learns to make cheese: A farmstay experience in the Nilgiris-dsc_0411.jpg


Here's how it all started:

My parents and I had decided to take 4 days off on a vacation during this Diwali's holidays. Initially, we didn't want to go to any of these commercially exploited holiday destinations. They are all abused by disrespectful tourists without any concern for the environment, the locals and ethics. Not to mention, most of these tourist hot-spots are overcrowded and spoil the whole getaway experience. I had struck off Ooty, Kodaikanal, Yercaud and all such run-of-the-mill locations. We had done Munnar last year (T-log is on team-bhp), and we've covered pretty much every hill station in Karnataka. I was already bored of coffee estate homestays, tea estate homestays and the like. I had almost frozen on a plan to visit Kovalam beach and check out Country club's (my dad has a membership with that chain) beachfront resort in Kovalam, 20 km away from Trivandrum.

It was almost frozen. Well almost, until one fine Sunday afternoon when we were watching NDTV Goodtimes during our lunch. They were playing a repeat telecast of Rocky and Mayur's 'Highway on my plate'. This is one of my favourite programmes aired on that channel. For a change, this particular episode of theirs was about a farm in Coonoor, unlike their usual adventures in Dhabas and street food joints. I had watched that episode earlier, but hadn't paid much attention to its contents. This time I was concentrating hard : the farm was beautiful and the weather was heavenly. This episode was about a middle-aged couple who were into cheese-making and exporting, somewhere up in the foggy meadows of the Nilgiris. That episode ended with them telling viewers which place that was : 'Acres Wild Organic Cheese-making Farmstay'. The owner, by the way, happens to be Mansoor Khan, director of popular Bollywood flicks of the 80s and 90s - films such as Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar and a few other early Aamir Khan films. He has quit his film-making career and moved to his quiet little farm in Coonoor to follow his heart. One look at the property, their cheese-making factory, the farm animals, et. al was enough to tilt my mind towards exploring this new found option.

I quickly googled, found and hit their website, and bingo, their property was accessible by a decent tar road (so no off-roading was required in the Jet). It was located quite close to Coonoor town too. I quickly called up Mansoor, the owner at the farm and confirmed availability. He didn't have a single cottage available for all 3 days, but was able to give me Colby cottage for 2 days and Haloumi cottage for another 1 day (pictures of these cottages later). While this meant we would have to move our luggage between the cottages halfway through the stay, it was still better than cancelling the trip altogether. My dad gave the thumbs up for this plan, and asked me to confirm to Mansoor quickly before either of the rooms got booked out.

A rough itinerary would look like this before we departed Bangalore :

9th Nov : depart from Bangalore, reach the farmstay (Colby cottage overnight)
10th Nov : spend the day at the farm (Haloumi cottage overnight for next 2 nights)
11th Nov : toy train, shopping in Ooty and return to the farm by night.
12th Nov : depart from Coonoor and return to Bangalore

Later due to some last minute issues at our (dad's) office, we had to knock off 1 day off the total programme. The itinerary then got compressed to this :

10th Nov : depart from Bangalore, reach the farmstay (Colby Cottage overnight), explore the farmstay
11th Nov - undertake their cheese-tasting session, enjoy the farm exploration, take the afternoon train to Ooty, finish shopping and get back at night
12th Nov - depart from Coonoor and return to Bangalore

Now comes the interesting part - which route were we supposed to take? I have always wanted to explore the mysterious route through the famed Satyamangalam forest, but there were unanswered questions - was it possible? Was it practical? Were there places to stop by for meals, etc? We decided to play it safe and opted for the known Mysore road - Bandipur - Ooty route while going (to avoid delays), and I made a mental note to take the Satyamangalam route while returning, even if it meant having to pack lunch from Coonoor before leaving.


This was the route map while heading to Acres Wild farmstay, Coonoor. Mysore was the breakfast stop point. I took the shortcut from Bandipur to Ooty via Masinagudi. More on this later.
The JetŪ learns to make cheese: A farmstay experience in the Nilgiris-bangoot.jpg



Route map while returning to Bangalore from Coonoor. Chamarajanagar was going to be our lunch pit stop.
The JetŪ learns to make cheese: A farmstay experience in the Nilgiris-ootbang.jpg



And here is the total round trip map snapshot
The JetŪ learns to make cheese: A farmstay experience in the Nilgiris-bangbang.jpg


This was going to be a 650 km round trip, nothing substantial. I was looking at a probable travel time of roughly 6 hours one way, so we were planning to depart Bangalore by 5.30am to avoid touristy traffic jams on Mysore road, more so because we were departing on a Saturday! After the midnight packing marathon was finished on Friday night, I just managed to grab some shut-eye before the Coonoor trip began. The previous day's dream was coming to life indeed.


Day 1 : Departing Bangalore; reaching Acres Wild Farmstay, a unique cheese making farm in the misty mountains of Nilgiris

By the time we managed to depart Bangalore, it was already 5.15AM. To cover as much ground as possible, I maintained steady speeds on Mysore road. The multiple speedbreakers played spoilsport though. I haven't seen any highway with so many speed-breakers! There were speed-breakers at approximately every second kilometre. It is both dangerous and stupid to have these on a highway! Almost none of these speed breakers were marked, and hitting these at speed would be disastrous with a low slung sedan.

We just stopped once on Mysore road to stretch our legs a bit. A few pictures of sunrise on Mysore road:

The JetŪ basks in the rising sun
The JetŪ learns to make cheese: A farmstay experience in the Nilgiris-dsc_0004_2_3_tonemapped.jpg



Managing to beat the other weekend tourists. Mysore road relatively traffic-free at 6AM
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Some sights of the surrounding flora at the clearing where we stopped
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My target was to reach Mysore by 8 AM, well before the city woke up to delay us with traffic. We managed to reach Mysore well ahead of time, crossed the city and entered the Nanjangud highway by 8 AM, to reach a pretty decent highway eatery, Kamat Madhuvan, just a few kilometres out of town. This turned out to be our stop for breakfast, and it was a good decision in the end, since we didn't have to get delayed with city traffic by the time we finished our breakfast and resumed the journey.

The Mysore - Nanjangud stretch was in tatters for the first few kilometres, and the place was plagued by hundreds of crawling trucks. Getting out of this truck mess took quite a bit of time. After Nanjangud, the roads improved and the JetŪ could truly start flying all the way till Gundlupet and Bandipur. This was a classic, old fashioned single lane highway with trees on both sides, something I love driving on.

Here are some snaps of the Nanjangud - Gundlupet silky smooth roads and the clearing where we stopped at :

The JetŪ learns to make cheese: A farmstay experience in the Nilgiris-dsc_0019_20_21_tonemapped.jpg


The JetŪ takes the second breather
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Adjacent agricultural fields form a very pretty sight on either side
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At Gundlupet, the highway forks into 2 directions. One road continues West towards Wayanad - Calicut and the other direction heads south-west towards Ooty via Bandipur forest. After entering the Bandipur sanctuary fork, the roads improved to even better standards than the main highway we used all along! It was around 10AM when I reached the checkpost. The forest authorities at the checkpost surprisingly showed no interest in checking anything, maybe because he saw we were a family. All he said was "no throwing plastic, no stopping" and we were on our way. I quite enjoyed the scenic beauty of the forests, and the fresh air inside the sanctuary roads. However, the only fly in the ointment was a constant supply of speedbreakers for every 200-300 metres! Road quality was good throughout the Bandipur stretch though, and I had no complaints about potholes anywhere. I wasn't able to take pictures anywhere on this stretch, since stopping is prohibited inside the forest.

Somewhere halfway into the forest, the state changes from Karnataka to Tamil Nadu. At TN's side of the checkpost, I had to get down for some signature in a checkpost register. Another Civic owner from Bangalore who had also stopped there for the signing, asked me if my Linea was a petrol or diesel, and how the heck I was accelerating so quickly after the speedbreaker(s), that too without black smoke. He wasn't a BHPian, but he knew that diesels produce black smoke if revved hard.


We had 2 choices as we were nearing the next fork. One was to continue along the NH, reach Gudalur and go to Ooty. The roads would be good throughout, but the distance was longer. The second option was a shortcut route, narrower, worse in quality and has 40 steep hairpins to tackle to reach Ooty. After some quick contemplation, we decided to take the steep shortcut along Masinagudi. There were some nasty potholes along this shortcut route, especially between Bandipur and Masinagudi.

Some BHPians had suggested this shortcut route before I left from here, and for once I'm sorry to say I shouldn't have taken the advice. The road is in tatters (sedans will take quite a battering on the hideous potholes), extremely narrow (so narrow that you will be more worried about how to get off the road when other vehicles come by from the opposite side). The height difference between the hand-tarred road and the gravel is almost 6-7 inches! Ouch! Watch out if you're planning to do this stretch in your personal car.

Once the steep hairpin stretch started, the road quality was very good. There were 40 hairpins in total. Each hairpin has a board displaying the number (1/40, 2/40 and so on...), maybe to pump some optimism into newbie drivers and get them to look forward to reaching Ooty quickly .

The road is very narrow in most places, and even for 2 cars in opposite directions to pass each other in some places takes some circus effort. While the view is scenic in some places, forget about stopping to take pictures. Why? Because if you stop to take pictures, you will almost immediately be the reason for a traffic jam on the hairpins. If you want some relaxed scenic ghat section driving, please stick to the Bandipur - Gudalur - Ooty longer route. That road is better, wider and provides more options for photo-stops.


It took me nearly 1.5 hours to come out of the forest, and the shortcut. We rejoined the main highway and hit Ooty town by around 11.45 AM or so. The roads started becoming delightful to drive on. Acres wild farmstay was beyond Coonoor, so we still had roughly 25 km to go from Ooty. The traffic became dense near the small towns en route to Coonoor, what with ad-hoc bus stops springing up at abrupt locations, sometimes even in the middle of hairpins!

The roads were marvellous and a thorough delight to drive on from Ooty to Coonoor. This is where the JetŪ came to life. With the Linea, you don't brake for corners, you accelerate while cornering! Result = reach the destination with a better and safer 'average speed', not by a childish 'top speed'. A GPS device is a fantastic help on ghat sections, because I know what type of turn is in store for me next. For overtaking vehicles, all I need to do is keep looking at when the next turning is, aim, fire (the turbo) and forget. Your pesky buses, pickups and trucks are history.


I wanted to reach the estate before lunchtime. Elaborate route directions were already given by Mansoor in a 'welcome pamphlet' on his website, so we didn't have issues finding out the landmarks he was using to guide us to his place. We just had to follow Mansoor's directions and look at our GPS device to reach the farm. MapMyIndia didn't have his farm listed on the map, but it had all the interior estate roads which led to the farm. Well, something is better than nothing. After a 5-6km deviation from the main Coonoor highway along very narrow estate trails, we reached Acres Wild farmstay at roughly 12.30 PM. Note that the entire road is tarred all the way till Acres Wild, and barring a few craters on the road, even a Civic will get to the farm with ease.

The estate / farm and the cottages are set across 3 levels on one mountain. A single tarred road winds and runs through all the 3 levels, so getting to any particular cottage is a piece of cake. The entrance road from Coonoor town (which we came from) hits the farm at the central level (among the 3 levels). This is where they have a dining area cum reception lobby for guests.

Mansoor and his wife Tina were out of town for the morning (to bring some supplies home), but his friendly staff were already waiting for us. After parking the car and putting in my register entry here, we were shown directions to our cottage, called Colby. It was at the highest level of this hill, so I drove up there with the luggage, to unload luggage and freshen up before coming back here to the dining room for our lunch. They don't have any room service, and all meals are buffet style, served only at their dining area. Not that it mattered.

Here are a few snaps taken while entering Acres wild farmstay :

The entrance and parking area at Acres wild
The JetŪ learns to make cheese: A farmstay experience in the Nilgiris-dsc_0144.jpg


The reception / dining area
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We took that road to reach Colby cottage
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And this was Colby cottage, a quaint little cottage which looked rustic and pretty.
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Entering Colby cottage
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The JetŪ parks outside Colby for the next 24 hours
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And then changes position
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Getting inside Colby cottage: They even have a fridge and stove here, in case you want to make tea / store beverages, etc. The cottage in itself is pretty well-stocked and all the basics are taken care of.
The JetŪ learns to make cheese: A farmstay experience in the Nilgiris-dsc_0071.jpg


Stone build quality!
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Since the property is set on a slope, I couldn't resist grabbing the camera for some shots before heading for lunch. Here are some breathtaking views of the valley from outside Colby cottage
The JetŪ learns to make cheese: A farmstay experience in the Nilgiris-dsc_0040.jpg



Looking left : the cottage seen here is the farm's cheese "factory", as visible from outside Colby.
The JetŪ learns to make cheese: A farmstay experience in the Nilgiris-dsc_0026.jpg


A closer look at the cheese factory in Acres Wild farm.
The JetŪ learns to make cheese: A farmstay experience in the Nilgiris-dsc_0042.jpg


Looking down from Colby cottage : the cheese factory on the left, Mansoor and Tina's house in the centre, and the dining/reception area is on the right side.
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Looking right from Colby cottage : that's the cowshed of this farm, and that road is how we got here on the top.
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This little fella was pretty bold and had the guts to come as close as 3-4 ft from me! Birding experts, please help identify the species.
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Timepass photos
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This flower was later seen with the petals closing towards dusk. I'll upload that in the next set of photos
The JetŪ learns to make cheese: A farmstay experience in the Nilgiris-dsc_0039.jpg

Last edited by KarthikK : 8th December 2012 at 12:03.
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Old 2nd December 2012, 15:33   #2
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Default Re: The JetŪ learns to make cheese: A farmstay experience in the Nilgiris

Day 1 (continued...) :

We went downstairs for our lunch, to the dining area, via a flight of steep stone stairs set along the slope.


Entering the dining area
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The tables are set facing the panoramic views of the valley
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There was a recreation room adjacent to the dining room. It had a billiards table, in case you ever fancy playing that game here
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Some books to read...
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And some more books to read
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There was also a TV set in the common area, but to retain the rustic feel, there were no televisions in the cottages. Good riddance to manmade rubbish here!
The JetŪ learns to make cheese: A farmstay experience in the Nilgiris-dsc_0151.jpg


And Foosball too!
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View of Mansoor's fantabulous cottage from the dining room.
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View of our Colby cottage from the bottom of the valley
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Making our way back up to the cottage through the steep staircase along the slope
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On the way, we saw these saplings and seedlings being covered with a protective cage, probably to prevent cows from trampling/hogging on them.
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Passing by other cottages on the way up.
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After retiring to our room, my parents decided to take a post-lunch nap. I wasn't too interested in that idea. I grabbed the camera bag, loaded my weapons of wide-angle photography and started exploring the surroundings of the cottage to begin with. Adjacent to the cottage was a meadow where the cows, goats and sheep were grazing merrily. I can't say they were too happy to see me there hiking inside their territory.


Entering the meadows through a gap in the fencing
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One goat looks up to see who I am, and what I want
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Not satisfied with a glance, she heard some weird camera shutter noises and came closer to investigate what I was doing. The friendly thing started following me around for some time, and I was rather amused!
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I wasn't going to go too close to the heavyweight champions of this farm, so I was satisfied clicking them from a distance.
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A tranquil moment amidst the flora, outside the cottage
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Until this baby bull decided to show up and munch on that flora
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A view of Haloumi cottage (where we were supposed to move to for the next day), a hundred metres away from our present cottage.
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The valley-facing sitout area at Haloumi cottage, where we would be staying at, the next day. Detailed photos will follow later, since there were guests staying there that day and I didn't want them thinking I am some maniac out on a privacy-breaking mission with a camera outside their cottage windows
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More valley views
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There was this weird looking plant with wide leaves and hundreds of thorns. Could any botanical experts identify this plant? It didn't appear like a cactus for sure.
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Here's how the plant looked like in totality
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Nilgiris range visible opposite the valley. They don't call it the 'Blue Mountains' for nothing. There is always this bluish grey haze around these mountains.
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Bonfire fossils outside the cottage. This would be used at night, so I had a few hours to go before I could enjoy that
The JetŪ learns to make cheese: A farmstay experience in the Nilgiris-dsc_0200.jpg

Last edited by KarthikK : 8th December 2012 at 10:59.
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Old 2nd December 2012, 16:06   #3
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Default Re: The JetŪ learns to make cheese: A farmstay experience in the Nilgiris

Day 1 : (continued...)

I wasn't satisfied with just the sights and scenes outside the cottage. We didn't have any plan until evening and I had all the time to myself. It was time I got out my trekking shoes from the car boot, put them on and headed out on a solo 3 hour trek along the mountain, scanning the entire area of the 22-acre property in the process. Time for some actual landscape photographs now at Acres wild.

A Bolero pickup. I got to drive this rugged beast on another day .
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Taking the tar road initially to get into the trekking trails.
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The adjacent tea estate
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The farm had a small pond where they rear fish, ducks and geese.
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Trekking down to the pond
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View from the pond. I got a couple of better looking HDRs of this place the next morning (in the next post)
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There was a sitout area right in front of the pond. The owners of the farm had really planned out everything well when constructing this place. Guests could even enjoy a cup of coffee at the lakefront from this sitout area.
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I stopped at the pond to take in a moment of the fantastic surroundings. The pond was a natural one, formed by natural springs, from what one of the workers told me. I tried to walk around the pond banks, but it was slushy and marshy. I guessed that the source of the spring had to be somewhere closeby, so I left it at that. There was a constant, loud sound of water flowing, like the one you get when standing next to a waterfall. I couldn't see water flowing anywhere, so I was curious to know where the pond water was going, if ever it was flowing somewhere. The sound was quite loud and closeby.

I've taken a video of the super-peaceful atmosphere at the pond. The only noises you hear here are the soothing water trickling sound, and the chirping of birds in and around this area.



I still wasn't convinced with the mystery of the waterfall sound (you can hear it in that video I shot). Where was the water going? I looked around the pond, but couldn't see water flowing out anywhere, yet the sound was noticeably loud. Curious to investigate the water sound further, I trekked some more down the mountain.


While doing that, I found another sit-out area at around the lowest elevation of the farm.
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Investigations continue for the mystery waterfall. I spot a small puddle with slushy water somewhere at the bottom, around 300-400 feet below the pond. Surprisingly, the water disappears beyond this point. I expected to find a lake at the bottom of the mountain, but there was nothing. Just this puddle with some slushy mud all around.
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Curiosity beckons : Following the mini-stream trail up the mountain
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This was the only place where there was a noticeable stream of water flowing down. Surprisingly, I couldn't find any trace of where this water was coming from, or even trace it to the lake on the top. My guess is there were underground channels from the spring / pond. My timepass investigations met with an end after this point.
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Why did the waterfall investigations meet with an end? Because when I turned around to look at the valley, I saw some of these amazing sights and views of the valley in the afternoon sun.
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Trekking back to the cottage after the afternoon slope-combing operation
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We were enjoying our hot cups of tea in this amazing place, admiring the views of the sun-kissed valley while the sun began to set slowly.

Evening views from the front porch of Colby cottage
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The white flower that was in full bloom in the morning, now closes up for the night
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Evening views around Colby cottage
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They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but I say a video is worth a thousand pictures . Here's a video of the peaceful evening sights and sounds, viewed from the porch of Colby cottage.



The sun sets at Acres wild farmstay. HDR vision.
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That evening wasn't too interesting after the sun went down. We just spent some more time on the porch until it got dark, and got back to the safer confines of the cottage. The mercury started dipping after it went dark. The dip was quite drastic. The rather warm afternoon (almost 29 degrees celsius) transitioned to a biting chill night with the mercury reading around 11 degrees at around 8 PM. We went down for dinner around that time, had our meals and got back to retire to the cottage for the night.

Just before I put the camera back into the bag for the next day, I wanted to get a few night time shots of upper Coonoor town, which was clearly visible from the cottage porch. I had to get the tripod out for this.

Bird's eye view of upper Coonoor, as seen from Colby cottage at night
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The JetŪ learns to make cheese: A farmstay experience in the Nilgiris-dsc_0209.jpg

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Default Re: The JetŪ learns to make cheese: A farmstay experience in the Nilgiris

Day 2 : More of acres wild farm, touring around Coonoor town, trying the Toy train ride to Ooty, and the famed wood-fired Pizzas at Sidwalk cafe


We woke up to a bright morning. There was a lot of mist the previous night, but it had all cleared when we woke up. Here are some sights and scenes at dawn :

The view from the porch
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Perfect chair to sit and enjoy the magnificent view
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To enjoy this view I mean
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Somewhere in the East, the sun started rising.
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And the presence of sunlight changed the scene to this
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Meanwhile the JetŪ was drenched in dew and completely fogged up in the overnight mist
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A closer look at the amount of dew drop condensation on the JetŪ
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Another early morning valley view
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The day started getting brighter at Acres wild
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After a hot cup of refreshing tea, I made my way down to the lake and back, to see if I could spot some birds. I'm not too good at bird spotting , and I could only spot a few bulbuls, nothing else.
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A red whiskered Bulbul, supposedly very common in these areas
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So common, that I was able to spot another few of this species in close distance
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Personally landscapes always get my shutterbug preference, compared to stealthily shooting boring birds like a sniper. The early morning sunlight really produces unique hues of green in the flora, and I couldn't really ask for more. Switch to HDR vision, while we view some snaps taken around the lake area, and on the slope.

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Who says we need to go to Europe to view picturesque lakes in the countryside?
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Sights of the departing dew
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'Lantana' is the name of this wild plant I believe. The gardener there told me this thing grows really quick, devours all the nutrients in the soil and starves other plants.
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That green mini-shed is where the ducks and geese are kept overnight, to prevent attacks by nocturnal wild animals.
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And some more sights of the dew cover everywhere. Boy, it really does get misty here in the Nilgiris
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By the time I finished my small hike and got back to the cottage to freshen up, the sun was fully up in the sky and beaming down in all its glory. That orange tinge disappeared, and the daylight had become almost normal.
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View of upper Coonoor town. This was the same town view which I had captured on camera the previous night.
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Default Re: The JetŪ learns to make cheese: A farmstay experience in the Nilgiris

Day 2 (continued...) :

After coming back to the cottage area, there was still some time left to go down for breakfast. I decided to pay a visit to the cowshed and view the morning activities. These cows are the very reason this cheese-making farm exists anyway, so it is a customary thing to visit here.

Morning activities at the cowshed in Acres wild farm
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They have 10 or 11 cows in total I think
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The morning milking in progress
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Say cheese (literally)!
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For breakfast, there were the regular Indian items on offer, but we got to sample and savour the taste of delicious home-made garlic bread, home-made jam and 2-3 varieties of their own cheese, Colby and Cheddar if I'm not mistaken. Post breakfast, we came out of the dining area to find that the weather had completely changed, and drastically so! The clouds were engulfing the entire place, and within an hour it became fully fogged up and misty. What a rapid change from the early morning's sunny weather!

The weather changing from sunny to misty in minutes. No wonder they say the weather in the mountains can be truly unpredictable
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We wanted to do many things on this day. My mom wanted to visit a handmade embroidery store called NeedleKraft somewhere in upper Coonoor (I was protesting against this initially), Mansoor had promised to give us a gyaan session on how they make cheese in their factory, followed by a cheese tasting session of different varieties they prepare and sell here. We were also supposed to take the toy train ride to Ooty, do some shopping there and return by night.

Before all this could happen, we had to change our cottage and move our luggage from the smaller Colby cottage to Haloumi 2-bedroom cottage overlooking the cliff. Boy was I waiting for this or what! This cottage is one of the best places I have ever stayed at, and if given a chance, I would stay here forever. The cottage is on the very tip of the mountain, overlooks the deep ravine below, and you get a panorama view from any window inside. After seeing this, I was cursing myself for not booking Haloumi for both days.

Here's a virtual tour around Haloumi cottage. Sadly it was misty so the panorama wasn't entirely visible

The front approach area
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Walking closer to the entrance
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The sitout area in front of the cottage, overlooking the valley
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The friendly bull calf was all over the place, grazing nineteen to the dozen. He seemed to be following us wherever we went
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A view of the surroundings
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Why would someone shoot videos with a DSLR? Because he had no better work to do! Here are a couple of videos for your viewing pleasure , of the front approach to Haloumi cottage and the open sit-out area

Approach to Haloumi cottage



Haloumi cottage : exploring the outside sit-out area and the panoramic views from this place



As soon as I entered the cottage, this reminded me of a colonial era house. The antique furniture, the wooden flooring, rustic fireplace, the heavy wooden doors, the rosewood armchairs, etc added to the very British Ooty-ish feel. While the furnishing was pretty basic and minimal, it was elegant.


Entering the drawing room
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The living area with the fireplace
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The place was stocked with adequate crockery and cutlery, in addition to umbrellas and torches in case it rained
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It even had a fully functional kitchen, adequately stocked for the guests to prepare tea/coffee whenever they wanted. Fresh milk was also delivered every morning.
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The entrance from inside
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And when you go out of the door, this is what you see
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Heavy antique doors speak of European build quality
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The bedroom was tastefully decked up in a green theme. Again, the interiors were minimal but well done up.
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Whenever you feel lazy, feel free to sit here with a book in hand and gaze out of these large windows all day long.
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Even the rest of the furniture was built from antique rose-wood
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Here is a video again to explore the interiors of Haloumi cottage



After shifting our luggage, we had to go to upper Coonoor since my mom wanted to look at the handicrafts shop inside some house there. I didn't want to take out the car again since the roads were quite narrow and parking was a hideous problem inside the town. We took a cab instead, so the JetŪ was parked in front of the cottage and got a rest day.
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The JetŪ learns to make cheese: A farmstay experience in the Nilgiris-dsc_0423.jpg

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Default Re: The JetŪ learns to make cheese: A farmstay experience in the Nilgiris

Day 2 (continued...) :

At roughly 11 AM, we departed from the farm to visit this supposedly famous embroidery handicrafts shop in Coonoor. Some relative of mine had told my mother about it, and she wanted to go there once.

We took the cab to this place, roughly 5-6 km from our farm. I was initially hesitant to go here thinking it would be some typical girly store, but I was in for a surprise. There was a private road from the main street to a gorgeous Victorian era bungalow halfway down a hill. The handicrafts were a side business for the owner of this bungalow, supposedly. The misty weather made the atmosphere even more enjoyable outside the bungalow. I sent my mom and dad inside the shop (inside the villa) while I stayed outside and clicked pictures to my heart's content.

Erin Villa was the name of this British era bungalow. It now houses NeedleKraft, a handicrafts shop, perhaps a part-time venture of the villa owners
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The front walkway, with a delightful fountain, lawn and sitout
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The old fountain. Would I like to buy something like this house or what!
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A sheltered sitout area in the lawn
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The property itself is somewhere halfway on the hill, neither on the pinnacle nor at the valley
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The cliche'd macro picture of a rose in the garden
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Classic lawn in the front porch
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A picture of this charming, old-world bungalow. Ever wonder why they say old is gold? This is a fine example of that statement.
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Colonial era bungalow at NeedleKraft, Coonoor - a lookaround video


After my mom picked up some of the handicrafts, we left from that place after spending half an hour. For a change, or maybe for the first time ever, I wasn't bored when ladies were shopping. The outside of the villa/shop was more interesting than the inside .

On the return journey to the highway, I did manage to stop at some points on that private road leading to the villa. The road had some pretty waterfalls playing hide and seek with the lush greenery of the tea estates all around us. The mist made the sights a lot more fascinating.

The private road from the main Coonoor highway to Erin Villa.
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Stopping to capture some sights
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Tiny waterfalls dotting the surrounding tea estates
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This particular one was enchanting
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And so... I took a closer shot of the waterfall in motion
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A video of the waterfall near the colonial bungalow (NeedleKraft), Coonoor



Whenever someone goes to Ooty, one of the things that he/she has to pick up compulsorily, is Tea. The other one (more important for me) is homemade chocolates, regardless of how true that 'homemade' clause is. The cabbie suggested we stop at Highfield Tea factory at Wellington, at the retail factory outlet to pickup tea and chocolates. While I let my parents do the shopping, the sights around the factory were enough to keep me occupied for those 15 minutes that they spent inside the shop.

Approaching Highfield tea factory : the view from the road
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Bird's eye view of the Wellington golf course. Can you spot Tiger woods in there? Don't worry, neither can I
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Carrying on with the other snaps around Highfield tea factory and the adjoining tea estate valley :
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This was Highfield tea factory. We didn't go through the factory visit and all that again, since we had done the same boring stuff at Munnar the past year
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Treading through the estate trails
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Carpets of green
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After we came back to the farm and had lunch, we were invited to the Cheese factory where Mansoor's wife Tina gave us a demo and gyaan session on how the different varieties of cheese are prepared there, how they process cheese and export it to different shops and suppliers for sale, etc. Needless to mention, we also got to taste some varieties of cheese and got to know the differences between them.

Here are some snaps of the cheese factory room, their manufacturing process and storage area:

Pictures on the wall capturing the history of this couple's association with cheese-making
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There was a small room where the milk was being curdled and processed for that day's production quota of cheese. I'm not going to add any pictures/description of the cheese preparation, since it is something you have to see in person if you are visiting this place. Let me not spoil the suspense.
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Processed cheese getting ready to be cut and packed. The salt crystals would soon get absorbed into the cheese over the course of 1 day.
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The cellar of this small factory houses the processed cheese. The cellar had a strong, unmistakeable odour of dairy products (read as yummy).
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There are more varieties of cheese here than you can ever think of. I personally hadn't known anything beyond Cheddar and Mozarella, which are the commonly used ones.
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Each of the varieties is labelled and intricately cleaned and stored every single day. These cheese slabs have an astounding shelf life of around 6-7 months!
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The view from the cheese factory window, looks down at the same valley
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Default Re: The JetŪ learns to make cheese: A farmstay experience in the Nilgiris

Day 2 (continued...) :

We were supposed to take the Toy train ride to Ooty, but that was at 4.30 PM. It was still half past two when we were done with the cheese-making session, and had another hour and a half to go before the cabbie was supposed to pick us up for the drop at Coonoor's railway station.

While my parents decided to take an afternoon nap like they always do, I took out the camera again. This time, it wasn't to shoot landscapes. It was time for a team-BHP style automobile photoshoot of the Linea T-Jet.

One of the perks of staying at this private cliff-side cottage : I had the privilege of taking the JetŪ all the way till the tip of the cliff, making it look like a Tata Safari 'Reclaim your life' moment. Who says sedans can't climb rough mountains? They can, its just that.. er... they need a tarred road all the way till the top .


The original parking position I had left it in, during the morning
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The JetŪ learns to make cheese: the cover photo
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Now the JetŪ moves closer to the cliff
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And even closer
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Curious to know how close?? THIS close to the edge. There's nothing beyond that bush! The cliff drops from there.
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The cab soon arrived at roughly 4 PM and we reached the Coonoor train station in 10 minutes, since the farm wasn't too far away from the main town. We were able to get tickets for the 4.30 - 5.30 PM toy train, incidentally the last one for the day. Lucky us!

I broke my own rule when I visited this 'run-of-the-mill' tourist attraction, but I wanted to see how special it was, since I'd heard a lot about it. When we entered the platform, I thought I would see a relic steam locomotive powering this train, but it wasn't the case. Like the millions of petrol car owners in India, they too have jumped to diesel as the fuel of choice! The train itself, as expected, was plagued by noisy tourists who were more intent on making noise and screaming when the train started moving and entering tunnels. The toy train compartment was extremely cramped, and trust me, if you are 6 feet tall, you will need to sit sideways occupying both the seats. I can't complain, since the very name (toy) suggests it was a small and narrow train.


Departing Coonoor station
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One of the last few trains in the world running on narrow gauge railway tracks
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A view from the train en route to Ooty
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I managed to capture two videos of the memorable train ride with nice views from the window. Ignore the loud chattering by fellow unethical tourists.





The toy train ride was over by 5.30 PM. The railways in these areas, I was told, are always on time. The mercury had dipped to hitherto unexpected levels. At 6 PM it was reading 10 degrees celsius, talk about temperature drops!

Reaching Ooty, the deadend destination for the famed toy train
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Departing shot of the historic toy train railway station
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We hired a cab at the railway station and moved to the central shopping area in Ooty. After a bit of shopping in the freezing cold, we decided to stop for supper at one famous restaurant at Charring cross, Ooty. This one was called Nahar's Sidewalk Cafe, and he was famous in Ooty for making authentic Wood-fired Pizzas.

While the Pizza flavours and choices weren't exactly authentic (there were some Indianized flavours on the menu), I have to admit that these were some of the yummiest wood-fired Pizzas I have ever eaten till date, even if I compared with some high-end Italian restaurants in uptown Bangalore. The menu was completely European, and there were no half-hearted attempts by including Indian dishes. The service was brilliant, the ambience was decent and the food itself was thoroughly lip smacking and enjoyable. +1 to Rocky and Mayur (Highway On My Plate) for suggesting this place on their TV show. Excellent find!

I did manage to take a few snaps of this place, to carry back home with me. Here they are :

This is how the place looks like, from the outside
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They have a green and wood colored ambience on the inside
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Going through their elaborate menu
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And the Pizzas finally arrive! Piping hot pizzas for the freezing cold, anyone?
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Departing pictures of Nahar's Sidewalk Cafe, Charring cross, Ooty
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After a more than sumptuous dinner, we took the same cab back to our farm in Coonoor. The roads were almost deserted by the time (9.30 PM) we got back to our cottage, which by the way wasn't too late by Bangalore standards. I guess life follows the 'early to bed, early to rise' philosophy here. Simple and beautiful.

We didn't have much stamina to do anything else that night, so we retired almost immediately for the night. It started raining somewhere around midnight, and it kept pouring and pouring cats and dogs until the next morning almost, from what I can recollect. This brought an end to the second day of our weekend vacation.

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Default Re: The JetŪ learns to make cheese: A farmstay experience in the Nilgiris

Day 3 : Departing from Acres wild; getting back to home sweet home

We woke up to a bright Monday morning once again. The mist was all cleared up. There was a heavy dew cover all over, but the sun was about to come out at around 6ish, and from then on it would be only a couple of hours for all the dew to evaporate. Our plan was to depart from Acres wild by around 10 AM, post breakfast. There was a lot of time left for that. We spent the early morning watching the sunrise panorama at that sit-out area outside Haloumi.


First sights of the rising sun
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The mist had completely cleared up, allowing us a fantastic view of the East
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The other side
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Looking over the valley
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Time for a video of the morning views. Somewhere in that distant town on another hill, some Bhajans can be heard blaring out from some temple, perhaps the only disturbance to an otherwise peaceful morning.



And another video



And... the sunrise happens
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The view from the front porch sit-out
The JetŪ learns to make cheese: A farmstay experience in the Nilgiris-dsc_0495_6_7_tonemapped.jpg


The JetŪ learns to make cheese: A farmstay experience in the Nilgiris-dsc_0504_5_6_tonemapped.jpg


And my last HDR of the trip. Landscapes pictures sign off here.
The JetŪ learns to make cheese: A farmstay experience in the Nilgiris-dsc_0509_7_8_tonemapped.jpg

If you want to know why I was raving so much about the heavy dew cover here in the early mornings, and the extent of temperature drop overnight, check out how the mist and dew had attacked the parked JetŪ. The water droplets are like on a flower petal, thanks to 3M's Paint sealant coating *lol*


At around half past 7, we joined Mansoor Khan for a stroll around his farm. He is a very well informed person, not just an ex-film director, as we soon came to find out. He was really great company, very jovial, free and cheerful. While on the approximately 90 minute stroll that we went out on, we saw the ducks, fed them, fed the fish in the pond ad watered some plants, all of which are his daily morning routines. He explained about how he came about giving up his city life, his film-direction career and took up this cheese-making hobby along with his wife, which ultimately led him to settle here in this beautiful farm at Coonoor. We also learnt of how this farm was purchased, developed in 3-4 years from scratch, how the cottages were planned, farm layout was planned, etc.

He is also an expert speaker on subjects such as modern day Economics, peak oil phenomenon and so on. We had a superb time interacting with this gentleman and learnt a lot from him.

Here are some snaps (mainly of birds) that I managed to take during the stroll with Mansoor:

The JetŪ learns to make cheese: A farmstay experience in the Nilgiris-dsc_0523.jpg


The JetŪ learns to make cheese: A farmstay experience in the Nilgiris-dsc_0529.jpg


A parrot??
The JetŪ learns to make cheese: A farmstay experience in the Nilgiris-dsc_0530.jpg


What variety of bird is this? They were pretty common, and were as bold as crows, coming quite close to us without any fear
The JetŪ learns to make cheese: A farmstay experience in the Nilgiris-dsc_0534.jpg


The JetŪ learns to make cheese: A farmstay experience in the Nilgiris-dsc_0527.jpg


Feeding the ducks and geese
The JetŪ learns to make cheese: A farmstay experience in the Nilgiris-dsc_0535.jpg


The duck and goose family at Acres wild
The JetŪ learns to make cheese: A farmstay experience in the Nilgiris-dsc_0538.jpg


And a closer portrait shot of the Acres wild bird family...
The JetŪ learns to make cheese: A farmstay experience in the Nilgiris-dsc_0541.jpg


Feeding the fish at the pond
The JetŪ learns to make cheese: A farmstay experience in the Nilgiris-dsc_0548.jpg


Finally it was time to head for breakfast. After a delicious breakfast of garlic bread and toasts, served with some homemade jam and Tina's own recipes of cheese and butter, we decided to head cottage-wards to pack up for the return journey. However, there was still one petrolhead activity left to be completed. I wanted to drive the Bolero pickup truck in the farm, and boy was I glad I got to drive one of these rugged beasts . It felt very rough (and tough), rattled like hell, had uncontrollable torque, was shod with no plastics at all and was quite a handful to drive around. An unforgettable experience nonetheless


Yours truly, test drives the Bolero pickup!
The JetŪ learns to make cheese: A farmstay experience in the Nilgiris-dsc_0512.jpg


After the customary goodbyes, we departed from Acres wild by around 11 AM. As planned earlier, we took the Satyamangalam forest route for the return journey. I refuelled at a Bharat petroleum bunk in Coonoor town, and took the Coonoor - Mettupalyam route. The ghat section road was delightful to drive on, albeit narrow in places. We covered ground quickly nonetheless. We took the Mettupalyam - Satyamangalam state highway and this road was a flyer too.

The Satyamangalam route is completely tarred up now and is an absolute delight to drive on, mark my words. I cannot for the life of me understand why people use the boring Salem expressway to go to Coimbatore / Munnar / Valparai and other southern destinations. And for the same reason I cannot understand why people use the cliche'd, cursed, wretched Mysore - Bandipur - Ooty road when there is a better alternative available now. NH-209 is pothole-free, the traffic is almost zero, and there are no pesky speed-breakers either.

If you are heading southwards anytime now, please do try this road (NH-209) once. You may travel extra 20-25 km compared to other cliche'd routes, but you get to see better scenery, breathe fresher air, maintain better average speeds and don't need to use the clutch/brakes often.


I stopped for a breather somewhere after Satyamangalam town. Here are some pictures of this classic, single-lane highway.
The JetŪ learns to make cheese: A farmstay experience in the Nilgiris-dsc_0550.jpg

The JetŪ learns to make cheese: A farmstay experience in the Nilgiris-dsc_0551.jpg

The JetŪ learns to make cheese: A farmstay experience in the Nilgiris-12112012423.jpg


After two hours, we hit the Dimbam Ghats, which comprise of around 25-30 hairpins, again numbered at each turn like the Ooty shortcut approach. The hill is quite steep and some sections of the road are patchy in the hairpins, but nothing to complain about. We were done with the Dimbam ghats in half an hour, thanks to the T-Jet flying through the curves confidently. Post this hill climb, we were getting closer and closer to Bangalore's altitude, so the road started getting flatter and greener. It was around 1 PM at this point. My target for lunch stop was Chamarajanagara, which was the nearest big town after the Satyamangalam forest. Satyamangalam - Chamarajanagar was 76 km by the way, so I foresaw an hour's worth of driving before we could stop for lunch.

Now, NH-209 was always known for two things : one was the dense forests and the inherent danger of elephants/wild animals. The second problem was a lack of eateries for tourists. While nothing can be done about the former, the latter is now history, thanks to a new 3 star facility springing up at Chamarajanagar town, bang on the Chamarajanagara - Bangalore highway. This hotel, called Nijaguna Residency, is spread across a large area, has lodging and a decent restaurant too. Simply put, it is a full fledged resort. I had googled up this place before heading here, so I just had to call them and ask where exactly I could locate it, lest I overshot it (which meant I had to go hungry since there was nothing else on this highway till Kanakapura town).

We got decent fare to munch on, and though they claim that it is a 3 star facility, I doubt it. What I can vouch for though, is the cleanliness and quality of food and service here. It does look and feel like any other decent resort on the outskirts of metropolitan cities, and the prices were surprisingly low. All in all, an excellent find on NH-209 and I'm sure the presence of this hotel is going to help tons of travellers on this highway. Thanks to the proprietors of this resort, whoever they are!

These pictures were taken with my mobile, so please excuse the quality
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The JetŪ learns to make cheese: A farmstay experience in the Nilgiris-12112012425.jpg


The JetŪ learns to make cheese: A farmstay experience in the Nilgiris-12112012424.jpg


After a sumptuous lunch, we were on our way again. We departed Chamarajanagar by around 3.30 PM, and we had 180 km to go to reach home sweet home. The single lane highway ensured that we weren't stuck up anywhere, save for a few minutes at small village crossings with their bus stops. The route turned quite scenic between Chamarajanagar and Kanakapura. There were only hills, agricultural fields and fresh air for company. Nothing else.

The JetŪ learns to make cheese: A farmstay experience in the Nilgiris-12112012427.jpg


We hit the Kanakapura road - NICE road junction by 6.30 PM. We took the NICE road to hit Bannerghatta road by 6.45 PM or so. The irony is that from this point (which was just 5 km from home), I spent another 1 hour in annoying bumper to bumper traffic just to crawl home , in spite of being so close. We finally reached home by 8 PM or so. That marked the end of this fantastic weekend holiday. Would I go there again? Hell yeah!

Before I conclude the travelogue, here is the customary information that I give out with all my JetŪ flights :


Total round trip distance - from home to home
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Overall fuel efficiency was a bit low this time at 12.5 kmpl, owing to bad roads, ghat sections and last but not the least, the 1 hour long traffic jam to reach home on the final day brought down the average. Not that it matters anyway.
The JetŪ learns to make cheese: A farmstay experience in the Nilgiris-dsc_0587.jpg


Average speed of 39 kmph through hairpins, potholes, speed-breakers and single lane highways
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Total driving time : 15 hours, 44 minutes
The JetŪ learns to make cheese: A farmstay experience in the Nilgiris-dsc_0589.jpg


Thanks for taking the time to read through this travelogue. The next JetŪ flight will be coming up in the next month. Until then, its goodbye from me.
Cheers.

Last edited by KarthikK : 8th December 2012 at 11:42.
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Old 9th December 2012, 10:40   #9
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Default Re: The JetŪ learns to make cheese: A farmstay experience in the Nilgiris

Thread moved from the Assembly Line (The "Assembly Line" Forum section) to the Travelogues Section. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 9th December 2012, 11:46   #10
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Default Re: The JetŪ learns to make cheese: A farmstay experience in the Nilgiris

Lovely pictures! This place is a must visit. Thanks for sharing the trip details and pictures with us. How I wish I was living in a place like that!
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Old 9th December 2012, 11:53   #11
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I can't wait for that next month to arrive KarthikK. Your this log & that of Munnar is my idea of what a vacation should be

Looking forward to more single lane highway pics. I love them as much as you do
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Old 9th December 2012, 13:13   #12
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Default Re: The JetŪ learns to make cheese: A farmstay experience in the Nilgiris

Wonderful travelogue with awesome photos. Thanks a lot for sharing.

Great place, Hats off to Mansoor Khan. It needs courage leave glamorous bollywood career / "Bombay" lifestyle to follow heart and setup a farm in such far place.

Looks like "Perfectionism" flows in the genes of their family.
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Old 10th December 2012, 07:32   #13
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Default Re: The JetŪ learns to make cheese: A farmstay experience in the Nilgiris

Quote:
Originally Posted by amit View Post
Lovely pictures! This place is a must visit. Thanks for sharing the trip details and pictures with us. How I wish I was living in a place like that!
thanks amit! the place was heavenly, seriously i envy them for being able to live there every day.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Sheel View Post
I can't wait for that next month to arrive KarthikK. Your this log & that of Munnar is my idea of what a vacation should be

Looking forward to more single lane highway pics. I love them as much as you do
The next flight will probably be to a forest with white water rafting, etc . Lets see how soon I can plan to do that trip. Glad to know you enjoyed reading these 2 Sheel

single lane highways are so darn enjoyable, unlike those boring multi-lane expressways. Sadly, they are going extinct soon.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Vishal.R View Post
Wonderful travelogue with awesome photos. Thanks a lot for sharing.
Thanks Vishal!
Quote:
Great place, Hats off to Mansoor Khan. It needs courage leave glamorous bollywood career / "Bombay" lifestyle to follow heart and setup a farm in such far place.

Looks like "Perfectionism" flows in the genes of their family.
Yeah I agree, its really surprising that they gave up that glamourous career and came here. Requires tons of courage to do something like this.
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Old 10th December 2012, 10:25   #14
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Default Re: The JetŪ learns to make cheese: A farmstay experience in the Nilgiris

"There was this weird looking plant with wide leaves and hundreds of thorns. Could any botanical experts identify this plant? It didn't appear like a cactus for sure."

Thanks for the wonderful travelouge. The plant in question is a throny brinjal. here is a website with more detail http://www.indianaturewatch.net/disp....php?id=264272
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Old 10th December 2012, 10:28   #15
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Default Re: The JetŪ learns to make cheese: A farmstay experience in the Nilgiris

Good one Kathik, this place is really wonderful, we had stayed here for 2 nights in Sept, that time Mansoor & Tina were not present. We had encounters with Bison as well one of the mornings, that fellow cleanly jumped over the fence that you have below the cheese making cottage.

I remember the cooking lady with her Marathi hindi, Mansoor's dog Ria, she acted like some Bollywood actress, giving us her glimpse once a day .

If you want fast paced return journey then there is the Salem route as well, it takes the same time as the normal route.
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