My India trip was one of those unplanned vacations…when a thought enters your head and you pursue it regardless of economic efficiencies. Of course once a thought germinates, little sub plans start appearing like satellites. Our primary destination was Chennai to meet my parents but the city was a humid oven and we needed to get out in search of cooler climes.
So much of Tamilnadu was relatively unexplored along with her hill stations. Ooty and Kodai were considered but both had become too popular for their own good. My father had a college friend living in Kotagiri whom I hadn’t seen since childhood. So Kotagiri it was.
Now Kotagiri is that naturally beautiful lass who unlike her sister Ooty, is very shy and has been content to stay out of the limelight.
We took the Duronto Express from Chennai and I must say I was very impressed by the hospitality and the service on the train. I was traveling by Indian train after a couple of decades and I would recommend the AC Chairs. Comfortable reclining seats and lots of leg space. Not for the finicky or the germophobes though. I was less impressed by the state of the restrooms and tried to use that as little as possible which was difficult considering how often we were fed during the entire journey which was about 7 hours.
Maybe we were over ambitious but after 7 hours by train and landing in Coimbatore, we had to take a car and drive to Kotagiri for another 3 hours as it can only be reached by road. Now if you were a tea baron or the Chief Minister of Tamilnadu, you could helicopter it.
My first impression landing in Coimbatore was “Dang, another crowded city but less heat. Would Kotagiri really be different?” The driver shook his head and said “Give me an hour as we move out of Mettupalayam and you will not believe your eyes.”
I was still a little skeptical as the car waded past traffic, honking, noise, clutter, bright sunshine till we started the climbing the hills and in an instant the terrain was transformed from brown to green, from cement and tar to lush foliage, from people to silence and a noticeable drop in temperatures. We were on our way and it was what was promised and more.
Kotagiri is situated at an elevation of around 1793m above sea level and is one of the three popular hill stations located in the Nilgiri and it is believed to have one of the world’s best climates. This gorgeous hill station is surrounded by acres of tea estates where the locals eke out a living gathering tea leaves. Britisher John Sullivan is credited in bringing tea to the these hills. Some say the cash crop has also destroyed the natural vegetation of the area.
A haven for trekkers, Kotagiri natives are used to walking. The local tribes still follow their adhered customs and while you travel it is not uncommon to see them walking long distances up and down the hills.
There is much to do if you are up for an adventure. The Mudumalai National Park is a day trip cutting across Ooty. Or a trip to Kodanad View Point and you are rewarded by an incredible view of blue hills, gentle slopes, a view of the Moyar river and the Tamilnadu Karnataka border. The Doddabetta Range is 22 km away. At Kodanad View Point, there is wonderment at the beauty of our earth, at what we take for granted, at petty irritations and the failure of man to understand the gifts that have been so gracefully given.
I fell in love with Kotagiri. With her lush beauty, with her gentle people, her serene demeanor and her sense of fragile balance. Where no two mornings were alike.
As I get older, I know one thing for sure. The most memorable vacations are those where the core is about renewal not sight seeing. We become so used to the concept of getting the most bang from our buck, that we believe that the best use of time is when it is fully utilized. Where every second has that ROI. The best times I have had, were those spent without urgency and a clock bound schedule. There is a reason why nature spends a portion of it’s life in hibernation. The act of renewal requires deactivation for awhile.
Somewhere between earth and heaven
Exist scalloped hills of tea gardens
Circled by spiraling narrow pathways
Eucalyptus sharply clears the air
Blooms of color brighten the fringes
Light shines only softly here
Rain mists the land throughout the year
Indecisive fog plays hide and seek
Rising slowly, then drifting without warning
Covering every mountain peak
A changeling knowing not what she seeks
Somewhere between silence and sound
The bison wanders slowly in no hurry to get around
Birds want to gently intrude
Even the harsh crow tries to fit in here
A panther, a tiger may be spotted at night
As boundaries merge into the wild unknown
Somewhere between cool and cold
The Sun disappears and reappears like a whimsical child
Tea pickers glide silently through rows of leaves
Unfazed by the rain, the chill, they have bags to fill
No highways can be seen over here
Narrow single lane roads snake up every mountainside
Cars honk to announce presence not impatience
School children walk home together
Somewhere between retreat and reprieve
Sore eyes and heart tired by the frenzied city
Time is measured by cups of tea
Through these verdant ancient hills
A fragile partnership exists
Man may eke his livelihood on natural terrain
But supremacy is not an option