The last time I came to Ooty was when I was graduating from high school. I was a certified loner then, and I remember thinking that my biggest fear then was if anyone would agree to be my roommate. I don’t remember anything of Ooty. Not its hills, not its climate, not its gorgeous chocolates. Over the years, I avoided going there, as much to avoid this childhood memory, but also driven by the perception of it being a ‘touristy’ place. Yet, when I was offered a relatively ‘free’ stay in Sterling Resorts, I thought that maybe it’s time to lay the grinning imps of the past to rest, and clear my mind of its old judgments.
I was glad I did. There’s much to Ooty that can still charm. Hiring a Honda Activa bike and going around the little hill town reminded me so much of being out in the Philippines on my own. Vistas unseen immediately opened up. Little roads chanced upon unknown moments. I thought of how to write this as a travelogue, but I realized I was thinking too much. Isn’t the purpose of travel to just let the mind free? And that’s what I chose to tell my mind in Ooty. To be free. Here are my moments of vignettes from Ooty:
Stumbling Upon Quiet
Ooty was the favorite haunt of the British, and I see why. The air carries a nip and as I ride down the hills, I almost find myself wishing I had a jacket. I have no fixed itinerary in my mind. I do what I love doing best – finding something when you expect nothing. The sun is just peeking from the clouds. I have a general idea that I would find the Ooty bus station and then figure out where to go from there. Of course, those who are my good friends know that I never travel solo. Not really, when I have Google’s GPS for company. I turn a corner and then I see it on my right. Dressed in white against the dark skies. I stop. I love nothing more than spotting little churches or temples in the unlikeliest of places. There’s not a soul around when I drive up the driveway. A dog does pass me by. I park my bike and wander over to read the inscription.The doors are closed, and I stand there till I notice the graveyards all around. I walk around, at peace with the silence, and then I notice that I am not alone. Sitting with his back to me, gazing out, is a man. I pause, wondering if I should continue. He has no idea I am there, right behind me, this intruder into his moment. For that moment, I don’t move. I just stand there, trying to see what he is seeing. I think then, if only we could all see what others see, would not our lives be easier? Would not our hearts be quieter? The man does not turn around. I turn back. Together, we are unaware we shared this quiet beat into silence.
PS: I have no idea which church this is. I tried hunting it on the Internet, but couldn’t find it. I like to think of it as my own little church. Unseen. Undiscovered.
I am standing at a chaotic junction in Ooty, trying to figure out the way to a “scenic spot” in Ooty. A few people point me in the right direction, and I realize that the hustle and bustle of what seems to be a market is worth taking a photo. It’s then that he slides into the frame. I pause. He is blocking my National Geographic shot of the hills framed against the market. Or is it vice versa? Then he grins the biggest, broadest smile, and beckons to something on the street. I lean forward to see. And it is a black stray dog. He is now ready, grinning still, and waits for me to take a photo. I click. It’s not the best shot because it’s blurred. I wasn’t ready for this – this random act of smiling friendliness. Photo taken, he smiles again, nods and goes on his way, leaving me to take a photo of the dog he left behind.
On my way to Doddabetta Peak, the “scenic spot” I mentioned above, I spot a sign that entices me more than anything else in this world. Tea tour! A random conversation with a guy on the road gives me a free ticket to the tea factory.
I love tea. I love tea. Did I say I love tea? It used to be my drink of choice every single day before I realized that the tannins and caffeine in green tea make me queasy. I have since switched to decaf and flower or fruit teas. Neither of this is made here at the tea factory. I watch as the crushed tea leaves are processed, eventually reaching the end of their lifecycle in a sachet or tin. Toward the end of the tour, you are given a small sample of tea to taste. I stand by the window, which overlooks the hills, sipping my green tea. I try again to take a photo that would frame this for me in my mind’s memory, but I fail. Till I don’t. I realize that I am looking at the wrong view. In front of me, on a wire is a bird. Chubby. Adorable. A bird. It hops here. It hops there. Turns its head this side and the other side. I am enthralled. I click. Click. Click. Click. It’s not enough. The bird looks up, sees something else it likes, and just like that, after entertaining me for 10 minutes, it flies away. In front then are just the hills. I don’t try to take that photo. I already have taken my photo. Was it a lesson, I think? That I am too focused on finding what I want that I forget to see what is right there?
I think it was indeed a lesson because when I ride down and I see a sign that says “Chocolate Museum,” I don’t wait. I step inside not because I like chocolates, but because I don’t. That is Serenitea.