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Blue Mountain Home.
Jul 02, 2001 02:20 AM 6581 Views


Local Sightseeing:

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Into my heart an air that kills

From yon far country blows:

What are those blue remembered hills,

What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,

I see it shining plain,

The happy highways where I went

And cannot come again.

A.E. Housman 1859 - 1936.

We used to travel south from Hyderabad on the Deccan plateau toward the hill stations in the south. Our train journey used to be long and hot, (There were no air-conditioned trains in those days), and we longed to be in the hills.

At every stop along the railway there would be vendors selling Cha and they would hand over, into our compartment, a silver service of teapot, milk jug and sugar basin with the necessary amount of cups and saucers - These silver tea services would be handed in to a vendor at the next station, I never know how we knew who to hand them to, I have to imagine that they lost a lot of crockery.

Vendors would also be plying everyone with Charminar cigarettes named after a Landmark in Hyderabad as well as Golconda named after another famous Mogul Fort

The Nilgiri Hills, also known as the Blue Mountains, in Southern India. is one of the most beautiful places on this planet, or maybe, Nani Tal in Northern India in the mountains south of the Himmalayas, but that is another story.

Why the, ''Blue Mountains''? Well you just have to see them to really experience it. The colour is really a hazy blue brought about by the fact that the mountains are covered with eucalyptus trees. There are sights that seem familiar to English eyes. There are timber-frame houses like those in the South of England. These exist, side by side with run-down princes' palaces and local Indian shacks.

My first experience of the town of Coonoor will have to wait a minute as I get into full stride, as I remember the absolute pleasure of, ''Climbing'', these mountains. No, not with ropes and crampons but, by means of the, ''Blue Mountain Express'', Four and a half hours of heaven. Coming down was much faster cutting one hour from the journey.

This wonderful train comprised of little yellow and blue carriages, open sided so that we could see around without hindrance. Oh! For that kind of freedom today. The train ran on a narrow gauge track from Mettupalaiyam to Ootacamund. There was an extra track in the Centre of the main two rails into which a cog, engaged, underneath the engine, to prevent the train slipping backwards, on the steeper ascents. You will, or can, imagine, that this very journey alone was a constant thrill to children, such as myself. There were times when the driver had been over enthusiastic with his whistle, which he blew around every bend.

This, to warn itinerant cattle, dogs, local hill tribesmen and, sometimes even elephants, which might be crossing the tracks, up ahead. This constant release of steam by the engineer, left less than enough for the train to climb the steeper patches and much time was sometimes lost whilst the little train huffed and puffed to try and do its best for us. We children used to believe that our cheers and hoots of encouragement were a great help in this respect.

I understand that only part of the route is now covered by this little train from perhaps Connoor to Ooty and is more an attraction on its own than a mode of regular transport. India now has progressed well beyond the Raj in many respect and that includes wonderful road systems and better or at least safer and more reliable modes of transport.

On the way up the mountains we would pass mountain streams, or perhaps they should more correctly be termed cascading waterfalls of ice cold water which tumbled down to the parched plains below to probably disappear into a dried up river bed. Crossing these cascades would be by the trundling of our train, over, what appeared to be very unsafe, rickety bridges with a, never to be forgotten, clackety clack which echoed around the mountain gorges. Much of the way would be through spongy, hillsides of tea bushes that still today give us one of the best brews in the world. There were also all kinds of fauna and flora, wild arum lilies, air scented with pine and eucalyptus, twittering and cawing of myriad birds and the calling of troops of monkeys, telling others up line that we were on our way.

We passed many little villages on the way, some we stopped at but the main, and earliest stop I remember was Cooonoor, a thriving town.

I might mention that the climate in the Nilgiris was really ideal, the air itself was crystal clear, due of course to the altitude and also was filled with the very healthy odour of eucalyptus.

I won a scholarship to go to the Lawrence Memorial Royal Military School which was in Lovedale, further up the mountains. This meant that I spent all year in the Nilgiris, which is, term time at Lovedale and back, ''home'', in Coonoor -Heaven! Lovedale was fantastic, a wonderful, redbricks, public school, purpose built on two hills. Main School for the senior students and with dormitories for boys, Junior School for, yes you guessed it, for the junior students and dormitories for the girls. Preparatory school was in the valley between as was the hospital, church and various other ancillary buildings.

This school is one of four Lawrence schools (Two are in the Murree hills in Northern India and one was in Mount Abu in Rajputana or Rajasthan, but more of that, elsewhere). Lovedale still exists today, for the sons and daughters of the soldiers of the Indian Army - at least we left something behind that is good. I still go to re-unions of the pupils who exist around the world but that is another story. I am after all 73 years old and have a fund of them. You may have seen a BBC television programme, ''The Old School Tie'', in which a film of what I am relating was shown with, naturally, an in depth account of my old school.

The tranquil hill resort of Coonoor, standing at the head of the Hulikal ravine, 27 km north of Mettupalayam and 19 kms south of Ooty, at an altitude of 1,858 metres, on the south eastern side of the Dodabetta mountains is the second largest hill station in the Nilgiri hills. The vast array of different varieties of flowers found in Coonoor fascinate the tourists. Sunflowers, marigolds and rhododendrons are some of the flowers growing wild here. The vast extending tea bushes are pleasing sights to see. The weather is pleasant and soothing.

Places to visit

Coonoor's topography is perfect for trekking. A popular pastime is bird watching, as an extensive variety of birds can be spotted at the Nilgiris. Apart from the varied species of vultures, eagles and owls, song birds like bulbuls, thrushes, babblers, larks cuckoos, robins and several others are a treat to urbanites who are affected by noise pollution.

Sim's Park is a well planned park cum botanical garden on the slopes of a ravine with hundreds of rose varieties. A fruit and vegetable show is held every year in May.

The Lamb's Rock ( 5.5 km ) offers a spectacular view of the Coimbatore planes. The cliff sinks hundreds of metres into the heart of dense jungle.

Dolphin's Nose ( 12 Km ) has spectacular views onto St. Catherine's Falls on one side and Coonoor and Kotagiri streams, tributaries of the Bhavani, on the other.

To visit a Tea or Coffee plantation, contact UPASI (United Planters' Association of Southern India), ''Glenview'', Coonoor.

I only know that I would like to get back to the Nilgiris, Coonoor, Wellington, Lovedale and Ooty soon, it is my view of heaven. Make sure you go there soon.

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