I was 18 when I first learnt to drive a car. I had just acquired my driver’s license and was sitting in my father’s car, staring out the windshield waiting for him to conduct my final driving test before deeming me fit to drive. I passed with flying colours. Those were valuable lessons my father passed on to me, during all those road trips we had done as a family and during those tense moments of staring out the windshield. My love for the road is definitely inherited. For years we had driven all over the south and one of our first trips was in a Maruti 800 during the 80’s. Five of us, packed tight like sardines, drove south for a few days. Windows rolled down with no air conditioner and taking roads that were hardly traversed by tourists in those days. That was the trip that sowed the seeds of love-for-the-road, in my heart.
Now every time I pull out of the driveway to go to the Nilgiris, I feel the adrenalin rise and the endorphins begin to flow. Mile after mile, as the scenery improves from industrial waste to lush green lands, there is a beautiful reminder of life outside city limits. Simple and rustic, lush and bountiful – the scene that unfolds is fodder for the soul. A 9.5 hour drive can take the mojo out of driving, but when you negotiate these routes and you submit yourself to what surrounds you – the body automatically rejuvenates. The national highways up to Krishnagiri are well laid 4 lane highways and is the best part of the journey to make up for the time lost, before one starts making photo stops along the second half of the trip. Not that this road lacks its share of drama, but at high speed one is more absorbed in staying safe and feeling the power of your car as it zooms past milestones.
It is almost easy to miss the turn onto the state highways leading to Mettur, but once on it rural life engulfs you from mile one. Endless stretches of farm lands, dotted with tiny villages – all of them somehow signaling the existence of a bountiful goddess named Cauvery at the end of that road. And she makes quite the entrance; the road literally runs into her at Mettur Dam. She is resplendent, magical and majestic in the way she ebbs around the town and its surrounding hills. Creation, in general, boggles my mind. I can’t but believe that there is this creative genius of an architect who is piecing this earth together in all its abundance. Who thought one should put a gurgling river flowing through a bed of rocks, and a bunch of grey hills – which will then feed life in to the green fields that provide the humans with their very existence? Look at the colour combinations, the matching of shapes and sizes – just how complementary they all are! She flows alongside the road for a few miles before giving one final gorgeous glimpse of her through coconut groves before parting ways. She isn’t the only attractive woman on this road though. Slowly the road starts to make its way towards Satyamangalam and the Blue Mountains start making their appearance on the horizon. In the distance over one of the hills in the range, a rain cloud breaks its silence. A seemingly endless stretch of black tar lies between me and that rain cloud. One that goes by quickly, purely based on the promise at the end of it.
As I turn on to the winding roads of the hills that test one’s skill as a driver, especially when going uphill, my heart squeals with excitement. I roll down the windows, let in the fresh mountain air laced with the fragrance of fresh tea leaves and pines and cool enough to send that tingle down your spine. I turn off the radio and hear the tread of my car on the tar and the echoes of that sound combined with the roaring engine. Intermittently, I hear the chirping of birds breaking through the silence, reminding me that I am not alone after all. There is fresh rain on the ground as I ascend, and the smells get more intoxicating. The home stretch is a dirt road with steep climbs and space enough for just, a car. On the last 100 metres, the climb is the steepest and most treacherous with a highly slippery surface. There is but one way to do it – take a moment, find the spot with the best tread, rev up and take it in one shot with the wheels exactly where they need to be and, I’m home!
This was one of the shorter trips that I have made to the hills, but one I have been looking forward to for weeks. The rains took a short break for a day to allow me to acclimatize to my surroundings and step out without hesitation, but the clouds had no problem keeping me company. It was as if they knew that I loved the atmosphere they helped create, it was as if they knew that I needed diffused lighting for the shots I had planned on taking. They were there to help remind me that I was far away from the seething heat of the city, that there was this languidly ravishing scenery somewhere in the valley waiting to be captured by my camera. So I set off once again, down another set of winding roads and even managed to lose my way, till a treacherous bend revealed a valley with a tiny village and a landscape that could have been taken out of a tourist brochure for Tuscany! Terraced fields lying in wait for the next season’s sowing besides those that were set to be harvested. Tiny makeshift plastic scare crows fluttering in the wind, protecting a bed of carrots from indolent birds- that weren’t looking to dig for their meal. Simplicity! The beauty embodied in that one word comes alive in Ketti Valley. It isn’t on any tourist brochure made for the hills, and my sincerest hope is that it remains that way.
On the very last day of my stay, the rain gods had had enough. They were bursting at the seams and let their might flow unrestrained onto the hills. For a few hours, the hills were blinded by the pounding rain. Roads turned into tiny gurgling streams that overflowed onto the edge and formed mini waterfalls. Satisfied and deflated, the clouds dissipated only to give way to a thick and rapidly forming fog. Unable to drive up the last treacherous stretch home due to the slush, we parked and walked home from 1.5 kms away. Hand in hand, through a dense fog that was snipping away at our heels, while the valley lay silently ahead of us, my husband and I walked home – soaked in the beautiful moment that had crept up on us.
P.S – I apologize to those of you who have been following me despite my languor in posting frequently. There are some projects that I am working on, that take up a good amount of my time. All will be revealed when they have hit the peak of perfection, but do stay with me through the journey – sometimes those can be far more interesting than the destination! As with every post, I would like to gently remind you that all photos and written material are under copyright. Please DO NOT reprint any material on this blog without my permission. Do click on the pictures to view an enlarged version.