I had the feeling that she had enough of the stories about Ooty and good ol' Lawrence and it was time to show her the real Nilgiris. The past weekend happened to be the perfect time to take some time off and go on a visit down memory lane. We left for Ooty at 5:40 am on Saturday.The Bangalore-Mysore highway (which I think has been pathetically planned), thankfully did not have too much traffic and for once driving on the highway was a pleasant experience. I was still apprehensive about taking the Mysore Road via the Old HAL Airport road. The old part of the city still confuses the hell out of me and I stuck to the tried and tested route via Silk Board, -> JP Nagar -> Kanakapura Road -> NICE Road finally into Mysore road.
We made it to Mysore by 8:10 stopping by at a Coffee Day outlet somewhere before Mandya (don't remember exactly). The roads from Mysore to Nanjangud in my memory have never been good and this time was no exception. But the highway from Nanjangud to Bandipur is a drivers delight. We reached the Theppakadu junction at about 9:15 and began the ascent to Ooty through the famous Sigur Ghat.
The scenery along the way to someone who is coming down this road for the first time must be a truly awe inspiring sight and Schatzi expressions were telling me just that. Jaws dropping in amazement. It was as though she fell through the rabbit hole and entered a whole new world. The sight of the monsoon clouds climbing up the tall peaks was truly a sight to behold. For me it was even better - seeing the fantastic scenery and seeing the child in her really open up! I had hoped for some wildlife sighting on the way but sadly it wasn't to be. A peahen is all that we saw along the way. Tutlam was marveling at the hills and the step cultivated fields and was in her own world and I felt a sense of joy and fulfillment in having got her along.
We reached Ooty at 10:45 am and checked into Lawley Institute courtesy my brother-in-law. Before that, I showed the missus Ooty thatha's house in Kandal (now home to Peripa). The rooms at Lawley are very well maintained and comfy too. I chose to visit Avalanche for the afternoon and wanted to avoid the usual touristy places like the botanical gardens, lake and Doddabetta. We had a quick lunch and Nahar and the butter masala dosa as always was fantastic. I was also overjoyed to see that King Star bakery was open and I went ahead and got some of their divine chocolate fudge and home made chocolates.I showed the missus the Ooty lake and quickly made my way out of town and was soon on the road to Avalanche when disaster struck. We had kept the camera on the back seat and while make a sharp turn the camera fell off the seat with a loud thud and to my dismay the 18-55mm lens somehow refused to work in auto mode. Tut was upset that she caused the damage but I managed to convince her that she wasn't to blame (poor thing really wasn't at fault).
We stopped by at Emerald and to my dismay the Emerald lake was bone dry! I had never seen the lake dry in all the years I had spent in the Nilgiris. The locals told me that the monsoons this year had been a major failure and that Avalanche lake was dry too! Bummer! But that did not prevent me from getting a few nice shots of the surrounding scenery.
The roads towards Avalanche weren't that great and soon we found ourselves enveloped by forests on both sides and the missus seemed to be a little frightened. The forest department (wisely) has put up a check post just after Avalanche FRH to ensure that vehicles do not sneak through and go towards Lakkadi and Upper Bhavani. The forest guard insisted that we needed prior permission to go further and somehow I was not in the mood to argue or try and bribe my way through. We instead visited the trout farm nearby and took some pictures. I wanted to show the missus the grounds we camped on way back in '95 when I was in the 12th but the area has been taken back by the forest. (I still remember us getting the scare of our lives when we saw pug marks of a leopard just outside our tents after getting drenched thoroughly the previous night thanks to a pretty leaky tent.)
We headed back towards Ooty and this time I chose to take a completely different route via Edakkadu. The roads between Edakkadu and Thangadu are being done and I could almost hear the Swift cry in agony when negotiating the pot holes and the steep ascent. The effort was worth it for the scenery in this route is stunning. as the road meets the Ooty -Kundah state highway. For anyone visiting the Nilgiris the Ooty - Lovedale - Kundah - Thaishola - Korakundah - Upper Bhavani road offers hand down the best scenery (perhaps one of the best in India).
We passed by Lovedale and tried searching for Yashodamma, the woman who literally brought me up but she had apparently moved to her daughters place and we could not manage to track her. We got to Ooty at 5:30 pm and was tired to the bone. A quick nap, and I took Tutlam for dinner to Kings Cliff, right on top of Havelock Hill. This property is possibly one of the best in Ooty. A old British bungalow has now been converted to a hotel offering 9 rooms with a view to kill for and a multi cuisine restaurant with a outdoor glass house! We had a quiet romantic dinner with just the two of us in the glass house. A couple with kids ruined the peace for a few minutes but thankfully they chose to move in-doors.
We chose to crash early that night and Tut got a first hand experience of how heavenly the Nilgiris can be for one who loves to sleep. Absolute bliss!
We check-out the next day after breakfast and first stop was good old Lawrence School. I was swarmed at the entrance itself by many of the sub-staff that were delighted to see me (Jyothi, Ramani and others) and almost everyone ended up saying Avanthi looked just like mom! I introduced the missus to several staff members - Selva, Mr. Mani, TG, Mrs. Mani and others. We spent a few minutes at the house where I spent the 13 odd happiest days of my life.
I was sad to see the condition of the buildings in general. The house badly needs a paint job and the interior woodwork needs polishing. I still remember that polishing the wooden floors at home was a monthly household chore that I loved. An hour or two was spent polishing and cleaning the floor with mansion polish and worn off battle jackets. The memories seemed to be coming in non-stop. The garden has long vanished and so have the creepers. The house seemed to be begging for attention and I got the feeling that the whole place was stuck in some kind of time warp.
Another interesting thing I noticed was the the areas suddenly seemed much smaller. The back yard in prep school that seemed to be huge suddenly appeared to be shrunk. It was the same case with the garden at home. Change of perception perhaps? We spent a good 20 mins at Mr. Mani's house talking about old times.
I then showed the missus around prep school and showed her the office that Appa used to have. I could still see him in his suit sitting on this chair, in his own world doing something he absolutely loved. I'm sure that Appas spirit or at least some part of it is still in that small office of his.
The school uniform seems to have changed (Navy blue trousers and a crazy bluish battle jacket type of top) and it looks totally crappy. Junior School is busy getting a total facelift and should be ready by the end of the year. The missus was blown away by the campus surroundings. I took her to senior school and showed her my old classes, the dorms, the entrance to big bog and kind sub staff at the kitchen recognized me and gave us a few fresh biscuits from the bakery!
We were in luck as Yashodamma's son-in-law had heard about us searching for her and had graciously come to show us the way. We apparently passed by their house the previous day without realizing that it was her house. Yashodamma's happiness as always, knew no bounds and she was sobbing in joy and boy was I happy to see her too. It is moments like these that you cherish the most and we spent a good 30 mins with her and were being fed payasam, bajji, tea and all other kinds of snacks all the time. Age has finally taken a toll on amma and she is just a shadow of the the fierce woman she was. Her memory too is starting to slip away but the pure love and affection that she has for me has stayed the same as always.
We headed back to Ooty and visited Peripa and family and had a quick lunch there and started the long journey back to Bangalore at 2:30 PM. We reached Mysore at 5 and it was 8:30 PM by the time we got home thanks to the awful traffic between Mysore and Bangalore.
Trips like these not only serve as pleasant and happy reminders of the past but also go a long way in strengthening the relationship with the person you come to love and care for the most in the world and I for one am hoping that this is the beginning of many more such pleasant visits to come (the only kabab mei haddi in this is the wifey's workplace and their fucked up leave policy).
An oh! almost forgot to add. Pictures are put up on Picasa