Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Riots are for Nobody

Ooty also known as Udhagamandalam is the "Queen of hill stations" and the capital of Nilgiris district. It is one of the most popular tourist resorts in India. Nilgiris means "Blue Mountains". It is a land of picturesque picnic spots. Used to be popular summer and weekend getaway for the Britishers during the colonial days. It is situated at an altitude of 2,240 meters above sea level.
An added attraction for the tourists to Udagamandalam is the mountain train journey on a ratchet and pinion track which commences from Kallar, near Mettupalayam and wends its way through many hair-raising curves and fearful tunnels and chugs along beside deep ravines full of verdant vegetation, gurgling streams and tea gardens.

It was sometime in 1996 Winter season in India, when we had a study tour organised for Southern part of India. We were to visit about 17 cities which included places like Hyderabad, Madurai, Kanyakumari, Bangalore, Mysore, Thiruvananthpuram, Ooty, Kodaikanal etc.. We were 36 of us from the College of Engineering Pune, batch of Mechanical engineering wanting to get away from our usual routine of engg. studies and have fun. We had an exciting journey all the while from the eastern coast side from Hyderabad to all the way to Kanyakumari and on way back till Ooty. It was a first time for lot of us to visit this "Queen of Hill Stations".

We got down at Ooty and the beauty of the place just mesmerised us to forget the world around us. We had got a lovely hotel which was located in one of the VIP areas and was a quiet and serene place. We started our day going to the Botanical garden in Ooty.

This garden was laid out in 1847 by the Marquis of Tweedale and is spread over 55 acres. Lush green well maintained lawns, rare tree species (like the cork tree which is probably the only such tree in India, the paper bark tree and the monkey puzzle tree - monkeys cannot climb this tree), a 20 million year old fossilized tree, an Italian-style garden bordering a clear pool, a vast variety of flowering bushes and plants in myriad hues (exotic and ornamental), fern house with a vast range of ferns and orchids, are some of the many highlights of this garden. A flower show along with an exhibition of rare plant species is held every year in the month of May at this garden. The Garden is maintained by the Horticulture Department of the Government of Tamil Nadu and has a very wide variety of plants that include different types of roses, imported shrubs, rare flowering plants etc.

We then went to another famous attraction in Ooty.

From just behind the Main Bus Stand (also near the Railway station) the famous Ooty Lake stretches, in an irregular 'L' shape, for about two kilometres in length and varrying distances in width. At the far end is the Boat House where all kinds of boats are available for hire from eight in the morning to six in the evening. During summer seasons, in May, boat races and boat pageantry are organised on two days at the lake which draw huge crowds.In recent years the lake and the boat house have become the hub of entertainment for the visitors. At the boat house end there is children's park with a toytrain. In the adjacent site there is a deer park. A mini-garden is at the bus stand end and a well laid footpath circles the entire lake. Just outside the Boat house local ponies are available for jolly rides at a charge.For the curious, this lake was artificially formed by Johm Sullivan, the founder of Ooty, in 1823-25 by damming the mountain streams flowing down Ooty valley. The lake which breached thrice, completely emptying itself, originally extended upto the present day market and ferries were used to get across one side to the other. The lake gradually shrunks in size giving place to the present racecourse, the bus stand, mini garden and some part from the mini garden end.

We were thoroughly enjoying the beauty of Ooty and I was enjoying getting to handle expensive cameras, since there are lot of these Honeymoon couple come down to have a good time and they want someone to take their pictures near the lake etc. And of course we too had lot of things to catch on and so we were busy clicking snaps of our own as well. We then thought of doing some shopping for ourselves and started walking towards the market place which is not too far from the central Bus stand and the railway station.

We could hear some distant voices as we were approaching the market in kannada/Tamil I could not make out, but it seemed like a big political meeting on the way. One of the key political leaders was supposed to be in town. We ignored the voices and continued with finding some bargains for us. We collected afew things for all of us and started walking from the market towards another area and suddenly the voices had begun louder and more like words out of angry people. We were in our own thoughts when we saw a huge mob of people walking towards us on the street in the direction we were heading to.

Somehow, we were unknown to what was happening - since none from our group were known to Kananda or tamil. But the way the mob was moving with some people wearing saffron colored bandanas and carrying sticks it started making our legs shake and start looking out for options to get out of this place. Until this time we hadn't realised but behind us we saw another mob with green flags and their faces showing similar kind of anger and approaching us from behind. This was it, we started telling each other to run and we started looking for place to run and saw these small houses going up the hill where we could see people who were trying to tell us to get away. We started scrambling and started running through the small lanes in between these village houses and looking for place to get shelter and suddenly realised that the mob was too close to us and they had started running towards us with their sticks ready to charge.

We were all scared like anything and we started running as fast as we could just to realise the hills side was getting steeper and difficult to catch on. I was not the lean types then as well and was not so fast but close to my friends, who were tlaking to each other and screaming to run fast. I almost saw a guy too close to me to reach out with his stick, but somehow I managed to run ahead and the man was not seen behind me. We kept on running for god knows how long but we finally reached the top where we could see familiar road which led to our hotel & somehow this place was unawares of the things going on just down near the market place. Did I mention that we were at Hill station... and well usually the temperature at this place in Summer : Max. 25°C, Min. 10°C & Winter : Max. 21°C, Min. 5°C and I was sweating, we were all sweating and panting and trying to catch our breath...what just happened was something I still dread to not happen in anyone's life. I know there have been worse things happened to people during riots in the other parts of the country and around the world.. but I think it was just luck that we weren't among the injured or the long lost ones... which we got to know the next day on news channels.. etc..

I hope we all realise sooner about the examples which we are setting for the new generation who at a very tender age has to see things which usually he won't see in a movie since movie talks about PG or A certificate which is harmful for the gentle minds of our children.. Fact is the newspapers and things around us have become more violent and ugly than the movies showed us earlier... and hence people tend to get back to a fanasy world or watch movies which don't show reality but a nice fantasy....

Lets make our little bit to avoid such things else we might not have a generation to tell our stories to our generations to come..

lets share happiness and peace for all......

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