Thursday 19th September 6pm
Blue Star Lodge, 20/- single room.
In Tamil, Ootacamund is known as Udhagamandalam, so one can see why Ooty is the popularised form.
This was once a hill resort popular with the British. In the summer, they would come here to escape the heat in Madaras and, no doubt, admire their prosperity still evinced in the tea plantations which surround the town and cover much of the surrounding Nilgiri mountains.
The bus journey from Mysore was possibly one of the most pleasant I’ve ever experienced. The conductor gave me a seat right at the front to accommodate my leg length, so I had virtually all-round vision of the sights. We climbed steadily from 40kms south of Mysore up through the Nilgiri Hills and the wild life sanctuaries of Mudumalai in Tamil Nadu and Bandipur in Karnataka. Maybe a dozen metres separate the two, at a point where the Western Ghats meet the Eastern Ghats, There was little sign of crocodiles or tigers, just mounds of droppings every so often, each one big enough to fertilise Kew Gardens. From the appearance of the adjacent woods, elephants had passed that way. I did spot a herd of spotted deer dashing for denser undergrowth.
We passed onwards and upwards through the lush rain forests, the road hairpinning its way and offering stupendous views back down to the plain.
We began to pass through tea plantations through which I doubt any machine could work. Potentially tons of the stuff filled every terrace up the hillsides where shanty house weren’t situated. Shade is provided by eucalyptus trees whose oil gives such a distinctive aroma.
Somewhere en route the driver was warned to ‘Be Careful. Bride on Road’. I wonder if she’s related to the damsel immortalised in Leh (Ladakh): “Go gently on my curves, sweet sixteen.”
Having come to Ooty in order to leave it – by the narrow-gauge toy train that uses a toothed central rail to pull up and brake down – I spent the afternoon gently strolling round the lake, in the cemetery and in Chellarum’s Department Store. Shopping here, o frabjous joy, I purchased some hard local ripe cheese which is currently stinking my cell room out. Lunch tomorrow of cheese rolls. If I had been affluent (and foolish?) I could have also bought a Kit Kat, imported from England, for only Rs.13.75 (c.80p).
In town I’d noted some vintage cars: a Vauxhall from c.1948, a Vauxhall Velox c. 1959, and old American Dodges and Fords in circulation as minibuses and pickup trucks. Part way round the lake I was given a lift in a 1947 Chevrolet used as part of the local taxi fleet. As well as the ubiquitous Morris Ambassador.(Oxford), there was also a Standard Vanguard standing in the rank. A little flattery, childhood memories rekindled etc., and a group photograph was composed. It pays to be pleasant.
What most caught me eye, however, from across the lake where boats could be hired and vedio (sic) games played, was the parish church of St.Thomas. This then became my mission and focal point.
At close quarters it is not so impressive. The roof is of rust-painted corrugated iron, and the windows are clear leaded diamonds rather than stained glass, and some are broken or missing. And all the doors were locked. Yet the setting and scale gives a constant reminder of Victorian England and the power of the church in rural communities.
Several ‘coolies’ were tending the weeds fringing the edges of the paths and graves. The cemetery is too large for them to sickle away all the honeysuckle, dandelions, daisies, clover, sedges and grasses.
Watched over by raucous ravens in the surrounding conifers, the masters and mistresses of the Raj lay largely undisturbed. Colonel’s sons and daughters are buried under slabs of the severest grey – Nearer my God to Thee – whilst the remains of Daddy “of the 4th Ceylon Rifles are interred at Jalna, Deccan”.
I wondered here, as I’ve so often wondered in England, why it is that an Anglican cemetery generally has so much serenity when the church it surrounds offers so much dourness and damnation. The only reminder of a life of joy for the deceased is a rusting 1957 Standard Vanguard.
At least they can’t read the spelling mistakes, such as ‘Liutenant’, on their gravestones.