I have always loved the Nilgiris. As a child, it was the wooded mountains, the smell of eucalyptus as we climbed and then the chilly weather that fascinated me. It used to trigger off my childhood imagination which identified this place, so different from my Kerala, with places that I read about in the fairy tales. It was like an imaginary world come true.
I have never lost that fascination for Ooty and Coonoor. And in the last week that I spent in Coonoor, I had the same stirrings in my heart that thrilled me in my childhood days.
What is it that fascinates me about this place, I asked myself.
The incredible scenic beauty, I guess. As my brother and I drove through the Coonoor Kotagiri route, I looked out of the window of the car, thrilled by the sheer beauty of blue tinged mountains upon mountains, playing hide and seek behind the clouds and mist. The slopes were either heavily wooded or covered with tea plantation. Oh! It was simply beautiful and the feelings it evoked transported me to times and places I have visited only in the books. Was Camelot like this, I wondered. As a child so full of the stories of the Knights of the Round Table, I was convinced that King Arthur’s magnificent capital was somewhere in those distant blue hills which kept popping up thru the clouds. This time too, I couldn’t get Camelot out of my head. Silly and stupidly romantic, you might say. But the fact remains that Nilgiris makes me both silly and romantic.
I love the remoteness of the place. It seems to be so far from the busy world I live in – and so different. Wrapped up in warm clothes, the people too look so different. Move away from the crowded little town of Coonoor, and you are among the most incredibly beautiful hills. And the lovely chilly weather adds to the ambiance.
I visited Rev. Father Patrick who was the parish priest in a tiny area where the church going people consisted of factory workers. Wearing a sweater, muffler and a cap, he came out of his little house to welcome us. WE had some tea and biscuits with him while he spoke of his God and his parishioners. The gentle soul reminded me of Chaucer’s Poor Parson. He then took us to the church which stood in the adjacent compound in the midst of a garden full of flowers. My God! Everything straight out of the fairy tales!
The growth of the little town made me feel sad. As I stood outside the cottage on Quail Hill where I stayed and looked at the medley of buildings and the shanty shacks on the hills across mine, I wondered where the town planners were when this virgin landscape was disfigured by structures which were ugly as they did not fit into the profile of the Nilgiris.
God has made this world so beautiful, I thought as I visited two old people who lived in a cottage in a 10 acre land through which bisons walked around as though they owned the place. Real estate agents are overactive here making transactions for city dwellers who are pouncing on this paradise to gobble up the land to build hotels and guest houses to attract tourists – or small houses into which they can steal away from the hustle and bustle of life.
How long will it be before this lovely place is transformed into a crowded city, its trees cut down, its slopes covered with ugly buildings, and the tea estates vanish to give way to small holdings that house monstrous pieces of architecture that distort the very character of the hilly Nilgiris?