The bus winded through the dark stretch of the Bandipur forests. Thanks to the seating arrangement in the bus, belonging to the Govt. of Tamil Nadu, my back experienced severe jolts, and the pain running through the whole length of the spinal cord, throughout the journey. The full moon, intercepted by the tall trees, illuminated the thick forest range. The dense forest is divided between the two states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu ' known as Bandipur in Karnataka and Mudhumalai in Tamil Nadu. The Govt. of India has declared Bandipur as the natural reserve for the tiger, and Mudhumalai is the protected area for the elephant. My eyes espied, for the 'Crown of Bandipur', to emerge from the dense foliage, but settled down, for an elephant standing along the roadside, with its companion. A sambar sprang across the road and disappeared in the darkness.
We alighted at Gudalur, around 4 a.m. and waded through the deserted main road, in the darkness, to reach our destination. It had rained heavily, the previous night; the whole place bore a shabby look, with the stench, emanating from the decomposed objects buried in the mud. I had been invited there by my friend to attend her bethrotal ceremony.
Our host, an affectionate Malayalee family, welcomed us with a dosage of 'kattan kapi'.
We took a short nap for a few hours and woke up late, in the morning. After completing the daily rituals, we sat at the dining table for breakfast. The dining area of the house, with its wide open window, offered an enchanting view of the verdant hills rising high, embracing the sky, brushed by the wisp of white, soft mass of clouds. The sight of the green carpet, rising high, through the window was a feast for the eyes. The dining table seemed to be tailor made, running along its length and just two and a half feet wide to fit exactly into the available space. The breakfast comprised of typical Kerala dishes, like, the hot steaming 'puttu' with 'pachha pier', followed by a 'nendhrapalam' and a cup of 'chaya'. We savored the delicacies to the brim.
I, along with my cousin, set out to explore Ooty known as 'the queen of hills', after the breakfast. We boarded the bus to Ooty. It's an uphill drive for 2 hours, winding through the hazardous bends. As we drove further uphill, the bustling town with its ugly commercial structures, comprising exposed bricks, hollow cement blocks, and unfinished pillars protruding outwards, which are an eyesore, became diminutive. They appeared as an array of colorful saplings, germinating from the seeds sown on the vast green stretch far below. Distances are deceptive in mountain ranges for vehicles on move. The uphill tardy journey winded through the willow fringed alley of lakes, the lush green tea fields running down the slopes, the chortling, crystal clear waterfalls cascading down gently and the terraced fields.
The breathtaking beauty, along the journey, is punctuated by a couple of tourist spots. The Soojimalai is the perfect spot to savor the panoramic view of the Mudhumalai forest range. The vast green stretches seemed like a painting by a skilled artist.
Enamored by this ineffable beauty, we captured a few snaps though the lens of our camera. The other spots worth taking a break, enroute are the Pykara dam and the film shooting spot
The enchanting beauty winded itself into a typical Indian town, with the hustles, dust and the open drains, as we come across the whole country. The colonial style bungalow's
with its red tiled roofs, and the pine tree in the court yard, depicting the lifestyles of the British empire, came to the rescue of this, otherwise shanty-town appearance. As we got down from the bus, we headed straight towards the rose park. The black clouds were hovering, above, and we were welcomed by light drizzle. The chill air sliced our bodies and we covered ourselves with a jerkin to escape from the cold. The well-patronized bus services transported us to the rose park.
We trudged our way upward and entered the rose park, by paying a hefty amount to carry the camera inside the park. The euphoria of viewing thousands of variety of roses plunged down, as we trekked inside the park. To our utter dismay, we found that it resembled a typical roadside park. The variegated blooms dotting the roadside presented a splendid view than the rose park.
As the chill permeated deep inside the throat, we settled down in a cozy corner of a roadside restaurant, to soak our throats with a little bit of hot spicy stuff, to evade the cold outside. After the lunch our thoughts dangled, whether to proceed towards home or stroll around the place hunting for nurseries that sells exotic flowering plants. We walked towards the bus stop, and made a brief halt near the racecourse wondering how could the horses wade through the marshy land. As we strode further, a signboard displayed outside an old dilapidated building indicating the sale of ornamental plants deluded me into it. After a brief enquiry inside, I returned back disappointed. It was an administrative office of a horticulture institution.
As we sat down in the bus proceeding towards Gudalur, the thought of a jolly ride in the Niligiri express, which runs downhill to Conoor, struck me. We got off from the bus and rushed to the railway station, beside the bus stand. Alas! The train was scheduled at 6 P.m. and the time was 4.30 p.m. at the station. Disgusted, as we turned back, my eyes captured a signboard, on the other side of the railway track, glowing
'Flowering plants for sale'. Later on, the stationmaster informed us that the nursery was closed for the day. We came out of the railway station with a heavy heart; it was 'disappointment' showering on me all the way. This time I struck the gold! The lady selling the bunch of 'everlasting flowers' informed me that; a nursery selling flowering plants was located opposite to the boathouse.
The courteous police personal guided us to the boathouse. As I stepped into the nursery my mission culminated into joy and exuberance. The nursery had a collection of neatly arranged, well bred, prudently nurtured, variety of flowering and bonsai plants.
Resilient by the splendor of the blooms, I began scooping up the plants, with a nominal price tag. A hilarious smile lit up on my lips, as I walked out of the nursery, with the precious collection of geranium, begonia, carnation, gerbara's and orchidlilly. On our downward journey I was delighted at the sight of the effusively bloomed dahlias along the hillside. The crooning of the chill wind accompanied us on our journey downhill. The mist engulfed the mighty hills reducing the visibility to a distance of 10-cm. The vehicles maneuvered cautiously, with their headlights switched on.
The bustling town twinkled far below, as the mist began to clear up. The sight of the sodium vapor lamps dotting the streets, from above, resembled molten lava flowing down the by-lanes of the town. An eerie silence swept the dark hills, as our journey continued through the serpentine path.
The Muslim community migrated from the bordering Kerala, popularly known as the 'mapilaas' dominates Gudular. The flow of large amount of cash, and articles across the shores, from the Gulf countries, is evident at every hook and corner of this small town. One gets the pinch of the Malabar region of Kerala, as we walk around the town, although it is located in Tamil Nadu. The Gulf pronounced as 'Gaylf' by the Malayalees is the buzzword sweeping across the whole Malabar region, with, atleast, a single member of the family settled down there.
On the day of the betrothal ceremony, the dusky would-be bride was dressed in the typical Malayalee costume. Her hair was let loose, the sandalwood paste glowed on her forehead. The traditional yellow jewelry glittered around her neck, with the gold chain exceeding the length of the cycle chain. Thanks to her acquaintance with Bangalore, she wore an excellent sari, woven by the traditional weavers of Orissa. Her costume merged with the invited guests, with not a single distinguishable feature, which could be termed, her as the would-be bride.
The would-be groom's party hadn't yet arrived; I left, hurriedly, to Bangalore due to a prior appointment. On the return journey I relaxed in the comfortable plush seat of the 'Rajahamsa'. I vow a certain amount of gratitude to the Govt. of Karnataka for running such excellent buses.
I left the mist-clad mountains, the dense forest range far behind. The warmth and the affection of my host have penetrated deep inside my heart. The 'queen of hills' is a mystique land, painted by god on the green canvas. The sharp contrasting colors are visible in the bustling metropolis, with inhabitants clinging to the dangling strands of rush hour traffic, strenuous work hours in the multinational companies and the twisting English accents dancing on their lips. The standard of life here measured in terms of the materialistic comforts owned by an individual.
A visit to the hills is truly an exhilarating experience by itself. The amazing landscape embraces the bereft souls. The gentle pace at which the life moves around, with its inhabitants snuggling has captivated my mind. I have planted the precious saplings in my garden, the blossoms sprouting the memories of the mystique land in my heart forever.