Recently, we went to see close assorted family living in the Nilgiris. We took the route that goes via Bandipur, Masinagudi, Kalhatty, Ooty, Wellington. The journey was a revelation, in many ways.
At the entrance to Bandipur, there were groups of young people cautioning motorists against speeding, or honking and littering the National Park. “It’s a Tiger Reserve”, they reminded us, “so, please don’t stop anywhere, drive with respect,” they added, waving us on with a smile. My husband and I were surprised of course, but also gladdened, to see such committed conservationists giving up their holidays to do something selfless. But then, inside the Park, we saw many motorists stop to click pictures of themselves with startled spotted deer, and many others uncaringly throw out water bottles as they drove on. Obviously the conservationists’ message had not reached them.
And then up the Kalhatty road, with its 36 twisting hairpin bends. Now, this road is one of the most dangerous Ghat roads in the Nilgiris, but with spectacular views. Some years, we’ve even been fortunate enough to see kurinji flowers in bloom on the slopes (the kurinji flowers once in 12 years). The crisp air, the wondrous mountains, the flowers–these are sights to nurture the soul. But this beauty is not without danger, which is why there are “ambulance-on-call” notices posted all along the route. Which made it all the more unsettling to see vehicles parked by the cliff-side, with their occupants taking selfies and groupies (er sorry, family photos!). Never mind that a misstep here can lead to certain death.
The same thing happened along the Ooty-Wellington road too. This 19 km stretch is a remarkable route. It passes through the Ketti valley, which is considered the “second steepest valley or second largest gorge in the world”. Isn’t it mind-blowing that such a natural wonder exists amidst us, in our part of the world, and just a couple of hours away from Bengaluru? Well, all along that road, we passed people taking selfies, posing or perching precariously on the valley side for that perfect, pouty shot. Did they see the beautiful valley just below them? Did they see the unbridled development that threatens to choke the place? I doubt it, but I sure hope they did.
Our journey was a learning experience. We saw committed people voluntarily giving up their time to stand in the hot sun, to make others aware of how fragile nature is. To tell us we can all make a difference, if only we cared to. Or rather, if we chose to care for something, beside ourselves.
Travel broadens the mind, it is said. So yes, it changed us, in many ways. And did we come away with cherished memories?
Hang on, let me take a selfie first.