Ten Thousand Shades Of Green…..

I had forgotten the smell of the hills. The fresh clean smell of rarefied mountain air mingled with the spicy fragrance of eucalyptus and the aroma of crushed tea leaves. But as we negotiated each tricky hairpin bend on our drive up the Coonoor ghat, it was the colours that opened the flood gates of my memory. The lush verdancy of the sholas bordering the highway, fading into a smoky blue haze that gives these hills their name: Nilgiris or Blue Hills. And as we climbed higher, the endless light green carpets of tea.

R brought me here as his bride oh so many years ago, and our new life began in a little cottage in the first estate on the highway approaching Coonoor, with the propah Scottish name of Glendale. Our proximity to town, and to Ooty, was the envy of every planter around.

Within a year we moved to a palatial manager’s bungalow on another plantation nestled in a valley over an hour away, and accessed by the narrowest and most winding road ever. The drive, especially after particularly ‘happy’ parties, could be terrifying but our vehicle always seemed to find its own way home however inebriated its driver!

DSC_4764 copyLife on a plantation replicated the life of the English pioneers who hacked their way through these jungles to set up the first gardens a couple of centuries ago. So we had butlers and bearers to serve us food, and bungalow servants to clean the house and wax our floors. We had two full time gardeners to ensure every inch of the enormous garden was in full bloom in May and an ayah to look after our baby girl.

English high tea was the norm, with dainty cakes (baked in cast iron firewood stoves.) and thin cucumber sandwiches, although spicy pakoras did make an appearance every now and then. And we had call bells in every room, even a foot switch discreetly concealed under the dining table, to summon the servants. Really!

Pretentious? Very. But R and I drew the line at not allowing his staff to enter our bungalows, a tradition inherited from the days when native underlings were unwelcome in their white managers’ homes! R, the faithful follower of every rule book, broke this one by inviting his staff to tea! And  they, and I, adored him for it.

Tea gardens in Coonoor
Green carpets of tea!

Most of all, I remember the tranquility of our uncomplicated life here. The absence of TV’s and other modern distractions. A prehistoric phone that needed to be wound briskly to get through to an operator, if at all! The long winter evenings cuddled together in front of the fireplace. The unlimited time I had to go through the huge library I had inherited from my father in law. The overseeing of the garden. And the simple, companionable days spent with close friends. We had many.

Then one afternoon, at a planter’s meet at one of the exclusive clubs in town, R was informed of his promotion and transfer to a coffee processing plant in Hassan. This was the break that opened up many opportunities for us later, but at the time, I cried.

A bungalow servant came with us to help us unpack. The day he left, our five year old daughter sat on the front step of our Hassan bungalow and cried. She, like our cat, hated changing homes, and that boy was our last link to the Nilgiris. I sat down beside her and cried again.

Adderley Bungalow
The hidden rooftops next to the pointy pine at centre left are those of our bungalow on Adderley estate. And beyond is the view from our lawn to the plains all the way to Mettupalayam, and even Coimbatore on the horizon on a clear day!!

In many ways we have come a long way since…small town ‘bumpkins’ seduced by big city lights. Reveling in the energy of our dirty metropolis. If R hadn’t been transferred at that point, we would no doubt have retired to our very own cottage on the edge of town, with many old friends for company. And not a thing would have been different from the day I stepped foot there, except for the absence of the army of servants.

Would we have been happy? Most probably. Only, our daughter would have remained in boarding school longer, and my design school would have been a distant dream. And we would have been too broke to travel. (We were always broke then, as were most of our friends, and we often laughed over our running accounts at the clubs and stores…everywhere actually.)

Still, I gazed wistfully at the rows of pretty bungalows on what was once another tea garden, and dreamed of what might have been.

Monkeys on highway
A simian encounter on the drive back!

Equally, my heart bled for all that  had changed.  Water is now a major issue (In town. The gardens have their own springs), as is power. The roads were unbelievably crowded, where once you would be hard pressed to pass another vehicle for miles.

Unbridled (unlicensed?) and ugly construction catering to increased domestic tourism has turned this once beautiful hill station into a shanty town. Making me wonder, how long before the entire country degenerates into one?

What was our life like? I almost don’t remember now.
Though I remember ‘it’, the space of time it occupied.
And I remember it fondly.
~ “The Sportswriter” by Richard Ford

PS: Our first home was washed away in a landslide!

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Madhu is an Interior designer turned travel blogger on a long sabbatical to explore the world. When not crafting stories on The Urge To Wander, she's probably Tweeting @theurgetowander or sharing special moments on instagram.com/theurgetowander

130 thoughts on “Ten Thousand Shades Of Green…..

  1. Madhu, have you ever read any of the M.M. Kaye’s biographies (there are three)? She grew up in India and based some of her fiction there. They’re fascinating. Beautiful post. I’m glad you mentioned it, as this was before I discovered your blog.


    1. Thank you taking the time to read Janet. I read Far Pavillions a long time ago. Not the biographies. I think she wrote a novel based in Kashmir. Need to hunt that down. She lived in the North, Shimla if I am not mistaken.

      1. I think it was called “Death in Kashmir”. All her mysteries are called “Death in ______.” I really like them. I should have said “autobiographies” as she wrote them and her memories are quite something. She also wrote “Shadow of the Moon” which takes place in India, too. I haven’t read that one for ages and may have to pick it up again. Rumer and Jan Godden also grew up in India and wrote autobiographies about their lives there, as well as novels.

        1. Thats the one! Haven’t read Rumer or Godden. Shall try and pick them up. Thanks Janet.

  2. Hi Madhu,
    So well titled and beautifully written.
    This evoked so much memories of the childhood. I can so much relate to the environ, growing up around coffee and tea estates in Chickamagalur. With parents we had visited few of the estates and manager’s bunglaw when we were kids and the luxurious warm hospitality we were offered.
    It was a life so close to nature,
    Thank you for sharing this post 🙂

  3. I’m fan about your photography your fabulous shot and thanks a lot shearing your blogs

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