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, thank you for sharing your memories. How precious those years were. I know that life in a plantation, away from city comforts, may have been hard, but I can’t help romanticizing it and thinking of that place as paradise – which does look like one form the photos. I admire you and your husband for your more egalitarian philosophy.

    1. My pleasure entirely Imelda! It didn’t feel hard at the time, we felt privileged in fact. But i could never go back to that way of life again. Wouldn’t know what to do with myself 🙂

  2. Emerald… the real beauty of our Planet Earth, dear Madhu…. I always wished to look at such beautiful teafilds, but I never was in Tamil Nadu.
    I saw teafilds in Japan, a lot of them, and in western Kenya… always a superb experience!
    A great hug 🙂

    1. You should return then Claudine! Kerala grows tea as well, in Munnar. My sister and her husband lived there. Hugs back 🙂

    1. Thank you Col. I am sure the lifestyle of the time was shared by many erstwhile colonies. It was fun while it lasted 🙂

    1. Thank you Stephen. I would have finished an average of two books per day at the time. Today, it takes me weeks to finish a thin paperback! Almost done 🙂

    1. This year has been, quite unintentionally, one to revisit memories Gilly. Who knows which memory I will go chasing next? 🙂 Thank you for reading.

  3. Well this has been the story all over.. we have a small house in a place called solan..on way to shimla..when we built it ours was the second or third house on that particular hill and we could see the little town centre of solan..
    But now it is so very crowded..and it has become so warm and hot place..lost the idea of being called a hill station.

    And the title yiu say ten thousand. . Nooooo.. I am sure I can see ten thousand PLUS ONE..

    He he he he

  4. Amazing captures… 🙂
    Very exciting and interesting story – we are all a result of our life and experiences – often changes dependent on coincidences – we must always look ahead and see obstacles as opportunities and not say “ohh if just the thing had gone so or so” – but it is nevertheless always touching to see back in time – really enjoyed your post here so much, and really understand your feelings – during my entire life, I have lived countless number of places – and they all have a place in my heart… 🙂

    1. I tend to fall too easily in love with even the places I visit Ledrake, but this was special and we were so very young. I think I miss that more than the place 🙂

  5. Precious memories, my dear Madhu. Nostalgia is such a beautiful feeling [albeit bitter sweet] especially with places of your heart. And no matter how much they change, there will always be that little sniff or view or something that will take you on a ride to the past instantly! Beautiful place! 🙂

    1. We were returning, for a friend’s daughter’s wedding after three decades!! So we had a lot of remembering to do. Thank you Marina, for the comment, as well as the share. And Happy Wednesday! 🙂

  6. So interesting to read how your life began as a married couple. Seems like R was quite a rebel in his own way 🙂

  7. SO many memories packed into this post — the photos are like a picture book. Reminded of the simplicity of things that make us most happy, yet the opportunities that other complexities can create.

    1. You should try and work it into your RTW plans then Ginette and Gordon! 🙂 The parts away from the main towns are still magical with loads of stunning trails if you are into trekking or fishing. Delighted to ‘meet’ you by the way! 🙂

  8. The countryside and your life then sounds idyllic. I would have cried, too, when it came to moving. Life, however, brings changes – not all of them to our liking. I’m sad to read that your first home was washed away in a landslide and happy to learn that so many good things have happened since your move. Wonderful story, Madhu. Thank you for sharing your memories. 😉

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful response Judy. Our move was serendipitous for us, although we didn’t know it at the time.

  9. Now I’m feeling nostalgic, Madhu … nostalgic for beautiful jungly hillsides, manicured tea gardens, red roofed bungalows and English cottage gardens … and the lifestyle, anachronous even then, both there and in my island Paradise, mostly untenable now, except for tourists who can afford to pay. But that bridge … wow, that’s a shot of pure romance!

    Gorgeous photographs of those glorious views – ahhh – I can imagine how your feelings must have soared and swooped, Madhu – a bit like finding your way home from the club, those days!

    1. Oh yes that drive back was hair raising some misty nights! No city dweller would be able to navigate those bends in low visibility, sober 😀 It felt good returning after decades Meredith. Apart from all the memories, we got to catch up with many, many friends, all there for the wedding we had come to attend.

  10. How pretty – was there nearly two years ago – thanks for the reminder… yes water is a huge issue in the area – my mum had to get rid of her two cows due to a lack of rain for the past few years – she is doing it tough!

    1. Your mum lives in Kotagiri doesn’t she? With all the abuse the hills are subjected to, I am not surprised nature is biting back. The indiscriminate construction is only going to wreak more havoc.

  11. Thanks so much for sharing your memories of a bygone era. When we revisit the places of our past, things are never the same, and we realise how much we’ve changed in the intervening years. I so enjoyed reading of your lavish life on the plantation. What a lot of fun you must have had.

    1. It was great fun while it lasted Sylvia. And we cultivated some lifelong friendships there. Thank you for reading.

  12. It was so lovely to travel back in time through your words, Madhu. What an idyllic life! Your old bungalow on Adderly estate is beautiful (pity about your first house though)… And that view! Your photos showcase the beauty of the place so well.
    I absolutely understand the emotion behind your comment that your heart bled for all that has changed. So much of the change that we see in our country under the name of “progress” doesn’t seem progressive at all.

    1. I was aghast at the sight of Lower Coonoor! Tin sheds cheek by jowl with ugly concrete hotels! Who doles out licences for these I wonder? And how much grease is involved? Seems like we have lost the plot somewhere along the way Kan. I really don’t see how anyone can turn things around.

      1. It’ll get much worse before it gets better…There is just no catalyst for turning things around in the near term 😦
        I think the construction probably caters to the target audience, which is focused on affordability and not aesthetics… it is sad, but that’s what I think it is. A friend of mine was making the same complaints about the state of “hill stations” in the Himalayas. The demographic of the majority of the visitors has changed over time… and that has dictated how these places have evolved.

  13. Madhu, you have had – and have – an exciting and interesting life. When I revisit places of old and my memories wander, I always cry. For what once was, for old friends and for beloved relatives now gone. Life is wonderful but also filled with sorrow, with things we wished we had said or done. Isn’t it strange how certain views, scents and music can stir our very inner depths and let our hearts and eyes be filled…

    1. Interesting perhaps, exciting…..not so much Ann Christine 🙂 The most exciting incident in our lives was a burglary in our Hassan house. But that is another story!

  14. wonderful pictures…refreshing…in this hot humid afternoon your pics felt like a chilled glass of fresh lemon juice….sipped it drop by drop and aah how soothing and refreshing it felt.
    memories…nice to go through your experiences. Nostalgia is a necessary thing…those happy memories tucked in the scrap book of heart provide a bitter sweet feel.
    and yeah, almost all the verdant hills of our country are turning into chaotic places. heart bleeds to see their exploitation in the name of tourism.

  15. Thank you, Madhu, for sharing snippets of your early life. It came across as idyllic and charming. 39 years you say – now that’s some achievement and what a journey it must have been.
    All good wishes,
    P/s I did visit Ooty in the 1990s and unfortunately it was already a shadow of what my Grandpa had related to me. So sad.

    1. Makes me feel ancient to read 39 in print! The thing is I don’t feel old at all! 🙂 Ooty was best avoided during the summer months, even when we lived there Eric. It has fared far worse than Coonoor in the ensuing years.

  16. Oh my! I have to echo Eric—charming and idyllic comes to mind. And the photos are gorgeous. I really loved the story, a sweet poignancy here. Have you considered writing a memoir, Madhu??!!? 🙂

  17. Gorgeous views,Madhu and personal narrative of the tranquility of an uncomplicated life. At least you went back knowing there were many changes but were able to enjoy the sensuous beauty surrounding you in those lush green hills. Outstanding post.

    1. Thank you Lynne. My personal connection apart, the beauty of the Nilgiri biosphere is truly breathtaking. I hope we can return for a longer visit sometime soon.

  18. You take us to the most interesting places Madhu! Love this time travel down memory lane and how wonderful to gather with your friends, to celebrate and reminisce in ll that lush green!

    1. Happy you enjoyed my reminiscences Patti. Catching up with friends we hadn’t seen in decades was the best par of the trip.

  19. Glad I came to find out what you were up to tonight, Madhu. What a lovely post and what an amazingly romantic place to start your lives together. The scenery is incredible.
    I wondered as I read if it was a mistake going back and seeing the changes, but it still looks incredibly lovely to me, and I think from reading your comments that you still find it so. 🙂

    1. It still is very beautiful away from the center of town Jo. Not sure how long it will remain so. Some of the tea gardens around the periphery have been converted to housing plots!

    1. It was Juliann. Still is, away from town. And our friends who have settled there cannot dream of living anyplace else.

  20. Your photography in this post is exceptionally beautiful, Madhu, as are your reflections on your early years in Coonoor. I can understand why you have a strong connection with this area!

  21. your tales of earlier years are my favorites; ah, nostalgia! our hearts ache when we return to changes in those idyllic landscapes. the wounded hill has many cousins throughout our world…i grieve with you.

    the hollyhocks are always happy flowers! the tea fields are stunning! the thunbergia – ah, i am sure it was once stunning draped high above and dangling like a curtain.

    thank you for sharing such a lovely heart-felt post.

    1. The Thunbergia ‘curtain’ hanging over lush green ferns was the showpiece of our garden. And the huge Azalea bushes. I miss those flowers the most, the ones that don’t grow in the heat of the plains. It felt good to see and touch some of them 🙂 Thank you for reading Lisa.

  22. What an idyllic setting Madhu! It was lovely to get a glimpse into your life. How wonderful for your family to have had this experience. 🙂

  23. Return to Eden.. your narative reminds me of a family saga, which combined with these views in expertly taken photos makes me dream of lands I never thought of visiting. The post is very touching as it reveals so much of you Madhu.

    1. Yeah, kind of! 🙂 My ‘memories’ posts always elicit the most attention strangely!! The one on my childhood home has received the most comments to date, apart from my about page! Glad you enjoyed this Paula.

  24. Idyllic is what comes to mind while reading of your time in the hill stations. Lynne and I thought of you often during our short time in Munnar recently. But nothing last for ever and I can certainly attest to the crush of tourism, we being a part of it.

    Thank you for sharing your memories.

    1. It really was an idyllic life. We avoided Ooty in summer even then, especially during the week of the flower show. Now they are both shadows of the towns we knew. Incidentally Munnar was not a tourist destination when my sister lived there, between the late sixties and late eighties! All those hotels were built much later. Wish you could have seen it then. Thank you for reading Ron.

  25. Madhu, what a fantastic storytelling and the images as always. How terrible to lose your home in landslide, were you living in your home at the time it happened?? Your story is so full of warmth – it’s like I’m sitting beside you and sharing it in person with you. Hope you understand what I mean.

    Do you know which country is the greenest in the world??? Norway – they claim they have 52 shades of green – one more than Ireland, but I think it is a Norwegian that has been counting.
    Not a tea drinker, but I understand that it goes a lot of work, care and passion in to the tea plants.

    1. Glad you enjoyed reading my reminiscences Viveka! No we weren’t living in that house when the landslide happened although we were still in the district. An assistant manager lived there, but no one was hurt!
      I am inclined to agree with you about the Norwegian stats! My title used poetic and nostalgic license of course 😀

  26. Your writing is always so real and your images truly take me to places I will never get to see but for you. Thank you Madhu!

  27. I could have read on and on. You’ve taken me on your journey down memory lane. I enjoyed every word as I read it.
    The images created by your description and photo were the exclamation. Thank you for a taking me on a visit to your past.
    Great post …. !!! ~~~ : – )

      1. Happy you enjoyed my trip down memory lane Isadora. And thank you for the kind words. Hassan is a common Muslim name, not restricted to India. I doubt there is any connection with the small town I referred to.

  28. What wonderful wonderful memories you shared. I can taste the tea! You’ve made me ever more desperate to return to India as soon as I can. I love the hill areas 🙂

    1. You should Ken. Does Bangladesh grow any tea? I am truly clueless about that country except for the fabulous food we tasted in Kolkata last December.

  29. Madhu, your life in the plantations sounds like something straight out of a wonderful period film – I can just imagine the sounds and smells of the hills, and all those simple pleasures that us city folk rarely get to enjoy. Your photos capture the Nilgiris so beautifully as well. If you hadn’t made the move to Hassan this blog may well have ended up becoming ‘The Urge to Drink Tea’. 😉 When will you be publishing a memoir?

    1. Ha, I would have had a lot more time to devote to that tea blog certainly! 🙂 A memoir??? I am not sure my life is interesting enough to fill a few hundred pages James 🙂

    1. It is a stunningly beautiful place. Guess we took it for granted when we lived there 🙂 Thanks Busybee.

  30. I have spent some years of my life here, I am glad I could live here in the hills. Ooty, Coonor, Kotagiri 😀 …Feels so much in love with these places now.

    1. True. We leave behind a part of ourselves in each place we reside in. Thank you for the visit and comment Anoop.

  31. Madhu during the 20 years we lived in and travelled India we developed a deep love for the peoples (for there are many nationalities) the culture and topography. This kind of blog tugs at our heartstrings. I’ve travelled the busses, taxis and 3rd class rail gari and been totally exhausted in the process. lol But never got tired of the changing landscape and kaleidoscope of experiences as I went. Who needs TV! One of the most comforting memories is of being in some non descript building far from the cities and going to sleep at night with the sound of a Hindi song blaring from a far off village. Something familiar in unfamiliarity. 🙂

  32. Madhu, these magnificent landscapes remind me of Munnar. Having spent just over a week there back in 2012, I can understand why you had such a difficult time leaving this beautiful part of the world. We, too, met such kind people.

  33. So, so, so beautiful…reading this post for the second time 🙂 The development of the hillstation for domestic tourism and general commercialism is very similar to our hillstation and tea plantations in Malaysia – it’s sad. This is definitely on my bucket list when I venture to South India some day, and at the rate am travelling to India, it could be anytime soon, LOL!

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

  35. 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 🙂

  36. 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.

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