If there is every anything more satisfying than looking at the mountains, it is being on them…
A sleepless midnight flight to Coimbatore followed by a 100-minute drive past several hairpin bends took me to the Nilgiris, the home of the Blue Mountain express, the narrow gauge wonder that still chugs along efficiently several times a day.
A light breakfast of 6 idles, two omelettes with toast and butter and several cups of tea later, I sit down to write.
The time is noon and Coonoor gets nice and misty. Interestingly a highly animated Kingfisher is flying around and keeps swooping down every half hour. I wonder if it’s worms in the garden that is getting this lightning blue bird all excited. He didn’t seem particularly happy about me raising my mobile to capture his flight and turned around and gave me a nasty glare.
Almost as though he was telling me that I needed to take his consent before indulging in these juvenile touristy things. Serves me right. You don’t come here once every few years and disturb the ecology of this wonderful little hill station.
As my readers may recall, this variety of Kingfisher isn’t one of my strong points. But less said than better on those indulgences.
What caught my attention beyond these lovely flying creatures is the stark reality of commercialisation that hasn’t spared even this quaintly British hill town of Coonoor. What was once acres and acres of lovely tea gardens are almost entirely been replaced with monstrosities of concrete, ranging from the horridly built bungalows and home stays.
Not even aesthetically done unfortunately and the lush green now resembled a badly made pizza with some coriander thrown in for garnish. Chunks of concrete sticking out like jalapeños sharing space with tomato coloured roofs.
Apparently, this town for the first time has a water shortage too and the tanker lobby has moved in. Returning after seven years had me aghast and the only seamless link that remained were the street names; Bedford Circle, Brooklands Road and the Gray’s Hill confectionery remained untouched.
The mist that settled in almost into the garden of my brother’s old bungalow was the saving grace allowing us city types to bring out the sweaters and stoles to keep warm.
A visit to the neighbourhood superstore Cedric’s also brought back nostalgia with the affable owner Cedric Joseph all smiles, proudly showcasing the innumerable varieties of breads and preserves of Gray’s Hill. He now couriers them all over the country too and has adapted to the city-goers tastes. They share space with products from across the world now and gives you the best of both worlds.
The bread is still as lovely and obviously made its way into our basket without further ado. We came back for more of his date and nut cakes and the essential oils too. It felt much like the old town that we once loved.
Sitting around the bonfire that night, I wondered what would happen to such quaint towns across India in the years to come. Would it still hold promise or will it also go the Mahableshwar way.
Noisy, decadent and often dotted with tourists showing off their wads of notes and in search of the pure vegetarian thali. A hill town with slot machines and dirty gambling dens masquerading as video game parlours, screaming crowds and traffic jams that make you wonder why you thought of the hills in the first place.
Industry replaces serenity and all brought in by much gusto by each one of us in one way or the other. What will remain of the quiet nights with only the sound of crickets or the occasional fire fly regaling your tired eyes? I have no answers unfortunately and believe I am equally responsible for all this, demanding my creature comforts each time I travel.
I must learn, albeit with difficulty the fine art of doing nothing beyond just admiring the little that is left of these little towns.
Jd also consults in Consumer Neuroscience and Neuromarketing, both of which are integral to his brand interventions.