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 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 center 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,/cite>

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

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Hi, I'm Madhu. Wanderer. Travel blogger. Story teller. Bitten late and hard by the travel bug, I am on a mission to make up for lost time.

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

  1. 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.

  2. 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!

  3. 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.

  4. 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,
    Eric
    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.

  5. 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??!!? 🙂

  6. 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.

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