Friday, 15 November 2013

travelogue coonoor and ooty

Travels are always great experiences which give opportunity to reach a confluence of new relations and events. The planning of holidays began way ahead. The reason to move out at least for a few days out of this noisy city Mumbai was of course a prior but then there was also a bodily desire for the change of a climate and the search for viewing different places, serene and untouched by the city crowds.
The planning therefore began in July. The choice of the place which was finally decided upon was Coonoor; a hill station in the south of India. A lot had to be taken into consideration such as the vacation dates in the calendar of the school and college, the nearest airport to the destination, the flight timings and none the less the rates of the flights which kept increasing as the time for departure crept nearer and also the hotels and their rates couldn’t be overlooked. Many thanks to Dadu and his secretary Rosy darling who catered us with a perfect booking, to the extent of the delivery of the boarding passes to make the trip have a facile start.  Mr. Ravi Bhojan from the MGM Hill Worth Hotels Coonoor was a very soft spoken, and a helpful gentleman who emailed the receipt for the advance sent to him via the bank.
All papers then were neatly holed into the file which was kept away carefully till the date of departure. Life then got busy in its several duties of living; in our case, work, studies, kids, home, doctor visits for several little emergencies which did manage to scare us helplessly leaving a string of hope to hold on to which reverberated ‘all will be well and this too shall pass’. And finally the positive vibrations did their work and on the day of departure, all was indeed well and the file was carefully picked up from its safe and sound nap of four months. Dadu’s birthday was celebrated two days before departure by cutting a nice chocolaty cake and feeding the poor children of the Lord with freshly cooked vegetable pulao and sevaiya. The day was also celebrated all over the world as Diwali, the Hindu New Year.

Only a day was now left before we took wings to be with the clouds. To avoid the crazy traffic which we had been warned about we left home early and were at the airport for a nice hot breakfast at the Café Coffee Day. A soft chicken sandwich, a crunchy vegetable sandwich and Irish coffees generated strength enough to move to gate no 7. Indigo airlines considered one of the best however forgot the boarding announcement unless of course they have a pattern to do so at the last minute.

 A rush to the Indigo crew and Sakina a petite staff ran to gate 7 with me first, followed by my flock and the other passengers followed suit. ‘Coimbatore? Coimbatore?’ the question began to reverberate and the answer was given in nods of affirmations. Indigo is the best just forget the rest. It’s the ‘coolest airline’ as the air hostess with the wig (Chidiya ka ghosla-sparrow’s nest) welcomes all in the bird machine. I wonder if it is a wig and the girls say, ‘Yes mum can’t you see it is.’ I don’t like the scary white foundation on their faces and personally feel that India must celebrate its earthly colours and leave the ghost like white to the English, after all they are the ghost of India’s past. Though I teach English I prefer Hinglish as I feel it has a spicy, homely touch of familiarity. Dhumra peti, seat belts, life-jacket explanations done with the flight takes off beautifully in the midst of the clouds where there is no movement, only a little at times and again the same stillness. The food is ready, the kids love the junglee sandwich and I prefer the coffee. It says ‘the hottest drink on the coolest airline’. Well the cup is good and the coffee inside is delicious.
An hour has passed and we are above the cottony clouds. My world down there is so tiny in the vast magnificence of the above. A south Indian little girl of six or seven has kept the otherwise serene flight lively with her non-stop interesting chattering. ‘The plane is running in the sky as I run at the sports in my school. Where is the pilot?’ Her curiosity is pouring out with her incessant questions and statements, and is probably the reason for the south Indians to be a clever people. Then there is a sudden drop in height. The shape of the clouds is simply amazing; there is the teddy bear and the tiger and a foamy bed. ‘Idhar snow hai kya? Is this snow?’ the little voice asks again. Only questions can be heard loud and clear, the answers are muffled in her ears probably due to embarrassment.
Soon land can be seen again from the little windows. From heaven to earth the journey has snow replaced by rocks of human constructions. The landscape is awesome; the machine bird swoons left and then right. One moment it is the earth and the next it is the clouds again.
After about an hour and forty minutes in the air we rest our feet on land again and the legs move fast as if longing for some exciting travel in another place on this beautiful planet.
 The Coimbatore airport is quite empty of people as we walk with our bags to the exit and see Mr. Shankar our driver and guide waiting for us.

 He speaks good English and is a very caring fellow. It’s a two and a half hour journey and at a short distance we halt for a short break to get a clean wash room and some snacks for our hungry tummies. The pay and use method at the wash rooms in the city is really cool and it leaves the places spotlessly clean unlike most of them in Mumbai.
Surprisingly there is nothing spicy in the menu on the streets and so we do with a specialty of a banana pakoda, it’s really tasty and different and keeps us stuffed till we reach the MGM Resorts.

The place is amazingly beautiful with its fence of flowers which have an amazing relationship with the rays of the sunlight appearing to caress everybody with a warm hug in spite of the cold wind all around.

After the journey in the mountains sitting cozily in the car covered with shawls and warm wear the ambience of the hotel is cold enough to give us exciting shivers. We explore the place and then settle in as it has begun to drizzle making the temperature drop even further.

The restaurant serves us hot parothas, chicken noodles, rum for some warmth and thumbs up for a cheer. We get into bed early as the next day for us is going to begin soon but realize that we just can’t sleep as our teeth keep rattling a different music like one on an ice piano. Thankfully a room warmer comes of help and we manage to sleep in comfort under heavy woolens.
The next morning has hot tea and then smoke coming out of our mouths. 

We talk and we talk simply to enjoy the sight of the vapours spilling out in between our teeth. After a delicious south Indian breakfast with red hot spicy chilly chutney served by Mr. Laxman and a manageable bath, since the water by the time it reaches the bucket gets cold, we rush to the mini train journey in the mountains from Coonoor to Ooty. We make French friends with a couple as we move in the mountains marveling at the water falls, the tea plantations and everything green and colorful. 

The flowers seem to be embracing the sun in Ooty. Each station has its own beauty which has to be seen to be believed.
There is the Wellington, and the Aravankadu, followed by the Ketti and then a home probably for lovers, Lovedale after which there is the Udagamandalam; the real name for Ooty.

Our guide Shankar is waiting for us as we step out of the station to take us on a tour of this beautiful place. We head for tea factory at the Aravankadu station by car. The tea plantations are an amazing place to move through until we reach the factory. A tour in the machine world were the world’s most pure tea and oils are made is a successful adventure in itself.

After walking through the machines which crush and turn and curl the leaves (the CTC tea) we move on to taste different teas. There is the ginger tea and the cinnamon tea, and the chocolate tea which taste just like hot chocolate and the orange tea with a slight orangy flavor and then there are oils to be taken back home. The almond oil for skin care, the citriodora oil for hair fall and dandruff, the eucalyptus oil for cold and cough, the lemon grass tea oil for and gastric problems, and the gaultheria oil for joint, rheumatic and muscular pain all go into bags and packed up for the return flight. We then move on to the highest peak in the south, the Mukuruthi Nilgiri Peak to get a bird’s eye view of Ooty town and on our way down indulge in hot and spicy tit bits just for some munching fun. There is the hot masala channa and the masala nuts topped with onions and coriander and the most amazing raw mango slices and pineapple cubes topped with chilly powder.

After a fill of the view and the spicy mouthfuls we move down again to the sale counter of the tea factory to collect some yummy chocolates, a variety of milk chocolates, almond rocks and dark chocolates are stuffed in our bags to melt in our eager mouths later in the day. The chocolates are the making of the Todas who are a most ancient and unusual tribe of the Nilgiri hills of Tamilnadu. They guard their secretive customs and worship nature like hill Gods, Lord Amodr who take charge of the realm of the dead and Goddess Teikirzi. They are well known for their embroidered garments. Their livelihood is mainly by making milk products of which we have already collected a handful to taste later.
The Todas are divided into two groups where one believe themselves to be the descendants of the Pandavas and the other those of Alexander who invaded India. Some of these Todas are even great poets and singers but the only musical instrument they play is the flute called pooheri made out of hollow bamboo and played without finger stops. The shops there have a collection of their handmade shawls which the visitors to their land take back as memories which gave warmth in the cold mountains. Later we pass by almost a century and a half year old school the Breeks Memorial Anglo Indian High School and go to the famous St. Peters Church which too stands strong in spite of its old age beyond a hundred years.

Its colourful glass window depicting the birth of Christ and the visit of the three wise men is breath taking. We then after a thanks giving prayer to the Lord move on the Sims Park to feed our hungry eyes with a platter of beautiful and exotic colours.

The women working over there are bent in work picking out the weeds to let the flowers grow without any hindrance. White roses and other foliage are to be visited again and again by a nature lover. There is so much that it all cannot be digested at one go. A small lake in the middle of the park has a few boats for the interested and the lovers to take a ride in.

The Christmas tree is in full bloom awaiting the celebration of the birth of Christ in a months time. It’s here that we meet Saroj akka who speaks English explaining to us the whereabouts of the Rudraksha tree and the different Rudrakshas which fall off as the monkeys pick up the fruits to satiate their hunger. From there we once again move on to visit the Swamy and Swamy Plantations Pvt Ltd. and the High Field Tea Factory. Here we walk amidst the tea plantations and click our pictures in the tea collectors dress to turn back to probably in remembrance of the warmth not only of the hot cups of tea but also the people there.

The next day we spend travelling a long distance to the Nilgiri forest and reach the grand lake late in the evening at five. It is too cold and therefore gets dark soon. The lake is too inviting but due to lack of time, we turn back to once again move through the woods hoping to see some wild life as our driver-guide tells us that there is an abundance of black cats, bisons and wild deers hidden in the greenery. We aren’t that lucky but not that unlucky too as we do get a close glimpse of a wild deer and it certainly does look beautiful in its brown overcoat. We actually wait to look at it better and it too looks at us and perhaps getting bored of us moves away in a silent understanding.

Having stayed for two days in Coonoor we suddenly decided to move down to Coimbatore, a major industrial city in South India on the third day to visit the world famous Isha Yoga Centre by Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudeva situated in the Velliangiri Foothills.
On the third day therefore we drive down the mountains to get a taste of communion in meditation at the Dhyan Lingam, the world’s tallest Shiva Linga which is placed in a very vibrant dome. The black Nandi (cow) outside the space is simply awesome as it sits concentratedly looking at the Lingam; it’s actually a symbol of patience and an endless wait for the Lord which all seekers need to have. We have managed to book a cottage for us at the centre and are given batches of guest to wear round our necks. In the evening we rush to the Lingam for the Nad Aradna, a beautiful symphony of sound which echos in the dome. There is certainly some greater presence there undoubtly. Then our journey of fun and sightseeing has suddenly shifted gears to that of spirituality and we sit in the Ling Bhairavi temple to hear the holy chanting over there, after which we rush to the Kundas, the surya kunda for the men and the Chandra kunda for the women. It’s royal in appearance like an ancient Egyptian bath. The steps lead us down to the flowing water and we walk down in silence to finally take a holy dip in the cold water. The whole space is awe inspiring.
The journey of three days has come to an end. We fly back to our home and soon will get ready to for the regular; the school, the college and work. There is so much that could be learnt on the road and yet we waste our time in schools.

“One day it happened, a lady who was a big professor I the university bought herself a home appliance, a little complex home appliance. She took it home, she read the instructions and tried to put it together – all those pieces that come in the package. She just tried very hard, she couldn’t put it together. So she left all those parts in a heap and went to work. When she came back in the evening, to her surprise, the appliance was properly assembled and already used. She called the maid and asked, ‘Who fixed this?’ The maid said, ‘I did.’ She couldn’t believe it. She said, ‘How did you do this?’ Then the maid said, ‘When you don’t know how to read and write, you have to use your brains.’”

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