Would I go there again? In a heartbeat.
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Would I go there again? In a heartbeat.
Thursday, November 11, 2010
Many, many years ago a horde of young girls suitably chaperoned by a pair of respectable professors descend on poor, unsuspecting hill town of Ooty. Their intention, while not exactly honourable, weren’t exactly dishonourable either. They just wanted to have fun, ala Cindy Lauper.
That wasn’t the stated reason for the invasion, of course. As students of Botany we had to go on a study tour and forage around in the foliage to complete our herbarium collection. For me, that was my first time away from my family. The first time I could inflict myself upon the world in a manner, as I saw fit. The fact that the tour barely lasted 2-3 days and was conducted entirely under the extremely watchful eyes of two of our teachers, still did not take away the exhilaration we girls felt (it was an all girls’ college). Perhaps that is why even after all these years I have a reasonably vivid recollection of the whole trip. As the gaggle of girls excitedly clambered into the tour bus the first thing that struck me was that almost 95% of the girls were in jeans.So what, you wonder? Well, this was somewhere in the 1990’s in Kerala, a reasonably conservative state even today. In those days walking around in jeans on the roads of Thiruvananthapuram was simply scandalous and just not done. And since were going out of the state, the girls were taking their one chance to break loose, I guess.
About 40 odd budding botanists (I am in touch with some of them but often wonder where most of them are and if any of them went in for further studies in Botany, our core subject). The driver cringed as 40 odd voices burst into song as soon as we were out of the city limits. What we lacked in vocal skills we more than enough made up in our enthusiasm. Our teachers and lab assistant were more experienced in such matters and seemed to be unfazed (or perhaps equipped with ear plugs). Things went merrily and song after song poured out of the bus as we advanced to Palakkad, unmindful of the shell –shocked motorists in our wake. The merry band of botanists roamed around the Malampuzha Dam in Palghat. Nestled in the Western Ghats, the backdrop was picture perfect. So of course we posed for photos, preened, and just let our hair down. Then we went on to Coimbatore to stay the night. As soon as we stopped for the night almost all the girls queued up at the nearest phone booth to call home (as I informed you in the beginning, this was a long time ago, in the Pre-Mobile phone era). For most of us that was the first time we were sleeping away from home and homesickness had started to creep up on quite a few of us. Some tears were shed and some smiles had slipped off. But we were young and perked up quite soon.
The next day we arrived at Ooty after stopping over at Coonoor. We Trivandrum-ites (used to warm humid climes) were shivering in the cold, but that did little to dampen our spirits. After checking in, we went boating in the lake, roamed around in Ooty market and haggled over things we didn’t even have a half a notion of buying. At nightfall we were shepherded back to our rooms. I don’t quite remember the name of the hotel where we stayed, but it was somewhere near the town square. The food consisted mainly of watery Sambhar. They doled out litres of it, whether it was with idls/ dosas in the morning, rice at noon, or even with chapattis at night. The rooms seemed adequate enough. Or so we thought. It was only at night after we went to bed after switching off all the lights, a pal noticed a thin beam of light coming through a from a corner of the room. One of the conspiracy theory nuts suggested a hidden camera (a radical and novel concept in those days). Just as we were about troop out hollering for out teachers, sanity prevailed, and a more practical friend pointed out that it was just a simple night lamp which had been fixed into the wall. The next morning was spent in the marvellous Botanical gardens. Most of us roamed around mouths agape and awestruck at sheer multi- hued brilliance of the place. Our teachers wisely pointed out this “Papilionaceae” and that “Rhododendroideae”. They also wisely pointed out that the annoying Romeos attempting to take our pictures probably did not have any film in their camera. Our teachers were probably right. This was, as I pointed out earlier pre-mobile phone era, so digital cameras had also not yet made their appearance, and photographic film and development costs were steep enough to cool anyone’s ardour.
Way too soon, it was time to go back. Back home, back to normal life. The return trip was comparatively rather subdued,much to the driver’s relief, I suspect. When we got back to college the following day all the jeans had made they way back into the closets and we were back to our 'pavadas' and 'salwar-kameezes'. But those couple of days left us with indelible memories.
Folks who've been to Ooty recently lament that the place is rather overcrowded and commercialized. But I would love to go there once again, and see for myself. Perhaps now that have seen more of the world the rose tinted glasses may come off, but in my heart (and I suspect there might be 40 odd other hearts out there in the world, somewhere) the Queen of hill-stations will always have a special place.
That is why a couple of years later, when my hubby-to-be asked me if there was anyplace I’d like to go for our honeymoon, I didn’t have to think much before replying “Ooty” and that is where we went.
What’s with the sudden nostalgia, you wonder? Well, you’ll find out soon enough!!!