You don't always need a spa to get rejuvenated. Nature is the biggest spa, discovers G. Brindha
The dilemma finally and firmly sinks under my wet feet right on platform 3 of Mettupalayam R.S. where the blue piper, the pride of Nilgiri Mountain Railways would be towed in a few minutes from the yard. The grey clouds are swelling up over the sky. Deciding to skip the hill train for the moment, I head for the bus station that looks like a poolside from last week's rains and jostle for a cushion-less seat with a crammed leg space in a hill-typical bus. After a stretched ignition, the vehicle finally darts off — arousing a heap of muddy water besides a busload of hopes for a rendezvous with virgin nature's abode. The sojourn to Udhagamandalam (as in the gazette) aka, the Ootacamund (christened by the British) or the Ooty (known popularly), or the Ottaikal Mandu (the native name meaning ‘single stone village') is for a much-needed rejuvenation-sans-spa.
The bus quietly mounts over the curvy metallic road along the shifting scenery, parting with the humid air for the chill wind. Slim betel nut trees gradually make way for the leafy deodars, silver oaks and eucalyptus. The flora-kissing state highways leading up to Ooty is intersected by rain-induced rivulets of white foam where the bus makes a dawdling ascent. Devoid of tourists, the empty road makes a clear statement of conditions up in the hills. Two and half hours into the ride, the air turns nippier as the name board reads Coonoor (1839 mtrs + msl). Now, it is tea gardens all the way.
Thanks to inclement weather, the bus is an hour behind the schedule but the scenic setting through the jungle keeps my eyes engaged. So far so good, I comfort myself, as the bus is just 15 km away from the destination. As I zoom through the lenses, the bus makes an unscheduled stop here. A traffic snarl ahead but pretty close to the picturesque Ketty valley. “One bad news and one good news,” the driver quips. “There is a big tree uprooted on the road holding up the traffic for nearly half an hour. The good news is ‘Chaiya chaiya' song location is a few steps ahead. Tucking my camera, I get out of the bus for a stroll along the road. The railway track emerges out of a tunnel and runs along the cavalcade of tall eucalyptus trees. A majestic S-shaped road leading up to a village cuts through the track like a ‘pallu' draped over an angel. A little away, by a stream, cattle graze on the watery grass. As I sit captivated by the beauty of the landscape, the resonating sound of mountain rail engine brings music to my ears. I wait in awe to capture the “moments of the movement”. But fresh bouts of rain play a spoilsport.
As the clouds gather rapidly and engulf the valley with showers, the train chugs past the valley under a thick veil. Blurred by fading light and falling drops, my feet wither under the dreadful moments. Thankfully, Sivappa's loud shouts help me track the bus. Getting back into my seat, I find my teeth and fingers tottering uncontrollably. Freezing wind pierces my spine like a sharp needle. The rain takes a break and the bus makes a move, much like a crawling insect. As the leafy trees are draped in greyish tone, the ground is lit with bonfires.
Karim Khan, the tour guide, waits at Ooty bus station with a large umbrella to take me to Sterling Resort, Fern Hill. The massive resort has all the requisites — tranquil setting, manicured greenery, cosy rooms, multi-cuisines and personalised attention to give a ‘home away from home' feel plus - a very big plus indeed - the locational advantage of being so close to city yet away from the hullaballoo of the city life. The mainstream activity of terraced farming falls within the eye-catch here that allows freedom to stretch your legs and pack your lungs with pure air.
Wrapped up on its western wing by the dense silver oaks, the resort of 170 plus elegant rooms on its three sides is flanked by vast terraced farms of potatoes, cabbages, carrots in dazzling colours. The herbal soup rejuvenates my spirit and the Kancheevaram idli, served hot with large sprinkling of ginger and curry leaves is the toast of the day. A few metres away from the property, the locals, using a garden fork, loosen the soil around carrots and then pull up with a twisting motion so that the leaves don't break off.
The evening is spent on a medium trek to Hanuman cave temple about 3 km over a hillock. Here, Lord Hanuman is seated on a pedestal where I have had to crawl to reach for His blessings. A loud thud is heard from outside and we could see sudden gush of water rushing down towards the cave. Bomani urges us to get back to the exit lest we would turn a peeled-chicken with the temperature freezing below 5 degrees inside the cave. By 4 in the evening, a thick layer of darkness comes to surround us, and I begin to chant Hanuman Chalisa. We make cautious steps down the slope, scratching our way back to the resort. I get onto the fluffy bed at once on reaching the room to bring warmness to my numb feet, while listening to the rhyming taps of rain drops even as the hill is engulfed by another freezing night. The sight of numerous bonfires lit over the slopes keeps me wide-eyed until the fatigue finally takes over.