I always thought Ooty was overrated. It is a place only meant for honeymooners: cold, hilly and romantic. “Ooty and me! No way,” was my usual response.
But, I gave into the idea of visiting Ooty with a friend who tried to teach me landscape photography. Except photography, I thought I was going to have an uneventful time in Ooty. I couldn’t be more wrong, I found out. Even before reaching Ooty, I was already high on the picturesque Bandipur and Mudumalai forest road we took. The cool breeze in my face accompanied by elephants, quails, peafowls and spotted deer sightings was magical.
As we arrived in Ooty, herds of horses greeted us all along the way, till we reached our hotel. Horses thronged Ooty as much as tourists and it assured me that I was going to have an awesome time. We gave all the must-visit touristy spots, especially, the suicide points a miss for another time we might feel suicidal. Instead, We explored the untrodden paths of Ooty.
Our 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 glared meaninglessly at me. I was appalled, and moved on to shooting pine trees shrouded with mist, hoping to succeed at least in this category.
Following the horses, pine trees and sunrise we stumbled into a carrot fields, farmers, busy harvesting. We thought we trespassed someone’s property. To my surprise, we got such a warm welcome. They ushered us into the field as if they were expecting us. They spoke to me in Tamil and fortunately, I understand Tamil. I responded to their every query with a goofy smile and what I thought was Tamil. They had a hearty laugh every time I responded.
A lovely woman, Jayanthi, perhaps in her early 40s, with curious eyes set in an attractive oval face with a happy smile, took special interest in me. She was practically covered head to toe: headscarf, hooded jacket, rubber gloves wrap around and socks.
She quizzed me about my work and what I was going to do with the photos. When she found out that I worked on a computer, 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 heaved the sack and helped a man carry it on his back to the truck and I gave a hand. 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, love for my job multiplied manyfold.
While I walked back dreamily, as if I just won a trip to the South Pole, we met another group of women in temporary settlements. They giggled as they helped each other braiding their hair. 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 some 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 fell in love with 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 calls 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
Men making eucalyptus oil 🙂