I always thought of Ooty as a place only fit for honeymooners: cold, hilly and romantic. “Ooty and me! no way,” was my usual response.
But I gave into the idea of visiting Ooty to make some pictures of landscape. While I thought I was going to have an uneventful time in Ooty, I was already high on the green and scenic Bandipur and Mudumalai road that I passed. The cool breeze in my face accompanied with elephants, quails, peafowls and spotted deer sightings made up for boring Ooty, I thought.
When I reached Ooty, I noticed horses thronged this place as much as the tourists. I knew I was not going to regret the trip. I gave all the must-visit tourist spots especially the suicide points a miss for another time I might feel suicidal. Instead, I explored the not so touristy and suicidal side of Ooty.
My agenda was to shoot some landscape while couples celebrated their love over a packet of chips and fizzy drinks and littered the place. My primary interest was horses, so I shot horses at various angles and reviewed the images. The images glaring meaninglessly at me appalled me. Therefore, I moved to shooting pine trees shrouded with mist hoping to succeed at least in this category.
Following the horses, pine trees and sunrise I stumbled into a carrot field, full of people, busy harvesting. The thought I trespassed someone’s property. To my surprise, I got such a warm welcome. They ushered me into the field as if they were expecting me and spoke to me, in Tamil though. Gladly I understand Tamil. I responded to their every query with a goofy smile and what I thought was Tamil and what they thought was gibberish. They had a hearty laugh every time I responded and I played along thinking I told them a joke.
A lovely woman, Jayanthi, perhaps in her early 40s, with curious eyes set in a beautiful oval face and a very happy smile, took special interest in me. She was practically covered head to toe: headscarf, hooded jacket, rubber gloves wrap around and sock.
She quizzed me about my work and what I was going to do with the photos. When she found out that I worked on computers, she wanted me to have a taste of their hardship. She asked me to help her lift a gunny sack full of carrots weighing about 50 or more kilo, to load on a truck. Four men lifted the sack and helped a man carry it on his back to the truck. I pretended to lift, for I could not so much as brush a thread of the sack under the weight. Triumphantly she asked me who’s job was tougher. When I accepted the defeat she added jubilantly, that they start for work at 2am and walked a few kilo meters with torches every day to reach the field. Suddenly I loved my job tenfold more.
While I walked back dreamily, as if I just won a trip to far far away land, we met another group of women in temporary settlements. They braided each other’s hair and giggled. They greeted me, to my relief, in Telugu. After a brief chat about life and other beautiful things, they guided me to a hut where Eucalyptus oil was gurgling over a clay oven. Out of the blue I caught myself saying, “this is the kind of place I would love to visit over and over.” I loved the other side of Ooty.
Although my photos turned out meh, I’m happy that I found out what goes on behind a Gajjar Halwa. Also Jayanthi and I stayed in touch over the phone even though we don’t understand each other beyond a couple of sentences. Ooty is definitely more than just a beautiful hill station.
Also read The Markets of Meghalaya
Ooty is carrot fields, horses and people spreading happiness.
Nomads of Ooty from Andhra Pradesh 😛
Eucalyptus oil maker 🙂