Last weekend, the four of us students went to a nearby hill station (isn’t that a quaint term?) for a bit of a change in scenery – and temperature. I haven’t been writing about the temperature much, mostly out of denial, but rest assured, it’s gotten HOT here in southern India. I am glad I did not bring a thermometer that reads Fahrenheit, so I can remain uninformed about exactly how hot it is. I am making it a point not to learn the Celsius conversion.
A trip to the mountains was just what the doctor ordered. We spent most of our time in the countryside near a town called Ooty, and we spent one night in Coonoor. Both towns are in the Nilgiri mountains, which entailed a steep ascent through tea plantations and pastel-colored villages. The cooler air was the perfect respite, and the views of the mountain ranges were stunning. Nil means blue, and the mountains did indeed look blue off in the distance.
We spent one night at a working dairy farm/adventure resort. While there, we took a moonlit hike with two guides who acknowledged that they usually don’t have guests who are as interested in nature as we were. We were thrilled by the silent walk in the semi-darkness and the encouragement to feel our surroundings with senses other than our eyes. The smell of the earth was moist and lemon-scented. As we entered a clearing, one of the guides whispered, “We may see some wildlife here,” and as if on cue, a wild boar ambled into view in the silvery dim light. It appeared to be the size of a large St. Bernard dog. When one of us made a small noise, he snorted in surprise and raced off in the other direction. Moments later, we heard a distinct honk like a car horn from the scrubby underbrush and an enormous stag walked into the clearing. Our guide said it was a “barking deer.” It honked again before following the boar away from us.
We also stayed a night at a bed and breakfast that also was a tea plantation. The patchwork quilt of the tea plants with their multi-colored greens set against the greens of the adjacent untended forest made a stunning backdrop for a hike to the peak behind the house. From the top, we could see three dams creating the series of lakes that surrounded the area. We felt very close to heaven.
We also visited the Ooty botanical garden which was a beautiful sprawling collection of flowers and plants. Crowded with people on a Saturday afternoon, we became quite used to being stopped by people on the paths and answering their questions: “What is your good name?” and “What is your native place?” and “Photo please?” were the most common.
We encountered a group of Sudanese men who were studying pharmacy in Coimbatore and like us were taking a weekend away from the heat. Although we’re getting used to attracting attention, it is still surprising to hear excited squealing coming from down the path in the garden and upon turning to see what the excitement is about, discovering it’s you. One group of girls literally ran towards us like we were celebrities. We hope we can spread even a hint of comparable goodwill in the world.
It plays with the concept of “home” to take a trip inside a trip. We got back to Vaidyagrama last night and although we had a wonderful time, it also was a relief to be on familiar ground again and embraced by our own little community here. We tumbled out of the car and into evening prayers a few moments later.
Shockingly, we have only three weeks of classes remaining. While it is beginning to feel like I’ve been here “a long time,” it doesn’t feel like it’s been three months. When classes stop at the end of April, we will travel for a few weeks before I return to Vaidyagrama to receive pancha karma treatment myself. So my journey is just half over….
Today, I am grateful for all of my versions of home and family. And speaking of family, happy birthday Ian! I feel so lucky that you’re my brother!