” Its a long drive, so please eat your fill”, said Ayaan’s Nani over breakfast. Given our love for tasty home-cooked food we duly obliged.
With a hearty breakfast tucked in we began our North India summer road trip.
The journey from Delhi to Ambala cuts through the state of Haryana. The 45 degree (113F) temperature confirms its peak summer here and the monsoon clouds are still some weeks away. I’m already missing my hills.
As we wind through Sonepat, Panipat towards Karnal the passing scenery is constant. Unending tracts of dusty brown farm fields on either side of the road.
This is the historic Grand Trunk (GT) road which Wikipedia says was established 2500 years ago. Starting on the Haryana state stretch one has to keep an eye on the road as sporadic villagers keep swaying dangerously.
With heat climbing further I wonder who in their right mind would stay here. The answer to this question I learnt was coming soon.
The roadside Dhaba’s on the GT road are famous. Its barely been a couple of hours after the large breakfast, but we are tempted to stop and indulge in a snack. Why skip something good coming your way?
Sim googles for references and a whole list of Dhaba’s pop up. ” Lets try Gulshan Dhabha, its a few minutes away and has great reviews” she declared.
Its 10:30 am when we wheel into Gulshan Dhabha. As we steep out of the temperature controlled car the heat and the hot winds strike hard on the face.
Seated in the modest Dhabha, we glance the menu and eye the food being carted around.
“What do you recommend?” I quiz.
” Do you want Parathas?” He responds,
Our three heads nod back in glee.
Alu pyaz paratha and onion kulcha arrive with pure desi makkhan on the side. Followed by a typical large glass of Lassi which you get in North.
Then he comes over to suggest ” Our Kulfi is good, should I get some?”
When we finally finished with our breakfast I realized our road trip in North India had begun on the right note – Double Breakfast.
Back on the dusty brown GT road we resume our journey. And its 1pm when we reach our midway halt – Ambala.
Our friends Umang and Rohini are kindly hosting us for lunch. Ambala is a large Army and Air Force base and I have childhood memories when my father was posted here.
As we enter the town I immediately noticed the famous bombed Church (est 1857) of Ambala had now been restored.
For decades the tall broken church spires were a reminder of the 1965 war.
But this trip while I saw the restored Church I also stumbled onto another connected story – of Naga Baba.
Over lunch Rohini mentioned that Ambala is known for numerous Pirs & Baba’s ( Saints) who have been buried and the soldiers have a strong faith in their spirits.
In the afternoon Umang took us for a drive around. At one point he stopped the car and said “Wait inside, ill just come”
” Why, what happened ?” I wondered what got Umang to step out in the blazing afternoon heat.
” One never passes by Naga Baba’s dargah (burial ground) without paying respects” he said.
Immediately on cue we all trooped out and followed Umang to pay our respects. Next to Naga Baba’s dargah was an inscription that stated that in 1965, Pak Jets came at night to bomb the Airbase. But the bombs missed the airbase and hit the unfortunate Church adjacent to it. Since then the men in uniform have held a strong faith in their guardian spirit. For me it was a childhood story getting updated.
Back in Rohini’s house we had a glass of chilled lemonade and bid goodbye to start the last leg of the drive.
Patiala our final destination is about an hour away from Ambala. The drive takes you from the state of Haryana to the state of Punjab.
It fascinated me no end on how much change is possible in such a short span of time.
Though the hot weather was constant the scenery was rapidly turning green as we entered the state of Punjab. I noticed intricate farm equipment, irrigation patterns and crops stored in tall neat piles. Also the GT road got smoother and trees start lining alongside. I felt confident about the road discipline and increased the car speed.
It was evening when we reached my brother’s house in Patiala. This is a special homecoming as we were now in my Dad’s Battalion. I have fond memories of growing up and this is Ayaan’s first experience with my Dad’s Battalion. And with my brother and sister in law being posted here it made it more special.
End of Part 1
Where The Streets Have No Name::
This was an epic song in an epic album – Joshua Tree. Why even the music video was epic. The U2 number touched each of us at sometime once it was released back in 1987.
In a strange way the song title came smashing back in our lives. A blast from the past if you please. And here is the story.
We shifted in early July -2018 and the first checklist was to get the kitchen working. This required a visit to the gas agency to complete the documentation.
” Where do you stay?”, inquired the man at the HP gas agency. Little did we realise this was a question to haunt us from here on.
In a small hill town there are numerous winding roads ‘sometimes’ bearing a name. The house rental agreement stated our new abode as 243/1 South Lake Road, Fernhill. Our car GPS aptly called it the ‘unnamed road’.
“Never heard of South Lake Road” replied the gas official.
It was difficult to blame him as there were no families staying in our vicinity, just a couple of caretakers.
Then I remembered a sign board which proclaimed a Deer Park close-by.
” Deer Park Road, im sure you know of the Deer Park”, I said confidently.
” Oh yes of course the Deer Park”, and he promptly filled up the details on the new gas passbook, stamped the official seal on my photo and we had our gas connection going.
So we gradually settled in the town and got on with our lives, making new friends, Ayaan enrolling into skating class, Sim with her Book Club and Zumba class.
I came to the conclusion that Deer Park Road was the best way to explain where we stayed.
Meanwhile our landlord from Kerala who owns a large coir business came for a visit. They kindly gifted us sturdy coir mats with “Welcome to LakeHouse” inscribed on it.
A bulb struck inside, the currently unnamed house now had a name – LakeHouse, Deer Park Road.
A couple of month later I realised I had to renew my passport.
” You will have to visit Coimbatore and for documents you will need two address proof”, said Anthony the agent.
The only official address proof I have is the gas passbook.
” Why don’t you shift your bank accounts to Ooty, that will help”, Anthony suggested.
So off I went to our local bank branch and inquired how to transfer our accounts from Mumbai to Ooty. Having been a Banker previously I knew a bank branch is delighted when business walks in through the door
” Sure we can transfer your account from Mumbai, do you have any official proof of your current address?”.
I offered my newly minted gas passbook with my stamped & sealed photo.
” Well that should do”, and the beauty of modern organisation efficiency took over. What we also know as -> Cut- Copy- Paste. So now our new bank passbook was ready with another beaming photo duly stamped.
But one person was most upset with this development in town. Postman Ravi. Our postal envelopes now arrived with a school teacher like correction. Postman Ravi diligently striking off Deer Park Road and mentioning Southlake Road, Fernhill.
There was little I could do as he was the sole soul who could identify with the original official address.
Sometime later with our appointment fixed we went down the mountain to Coimbatore passport office. And a repeat of the organisation efficiency took over. Our two documents were submitted and a third document printed out with our local address.
Meanwhile Ayaan skating classes was progressing rapidly.
“We should do some early morning sessions on the road, it will help them to learn rolling” suggested one parent of the core committee.
Idea accepted the first Sunday session was held at 7am opposite the Modern Store. While the coaches and the students could see the benefit the sporadic traffic was causing a concern.
Post the session the parents huddled in.
” We need another venue”
While some options were being discussed I offered ” Why not the Deer Park Road?”.
” What’s that? ” Most parents being third generation Ooty residents were unused to being baffled in their own terrain.
” Oh the Deer Park you know, the Deer Park Road alongside” I suggested helpfully.
Recognition struck the members and they nodded in understanding. Promptly an announcement was issued in the WhatsApp skating group of the new venue – Deer Park Road.
We had left our little mark on the hills.
Nani and the Bison:
” Tomorrow morning I am going for a walk”, announced Ayaan’s Nani who was visiting us from Delhi. An avid walker, Nani had a knee replacement 10 months back and was cagey about the gradient around the vicinity.
Now Nani felt it was time to be brave and continue her walking habit. Perhaps her spirits were lifted by the cool mountain air.
Next morning armed with a walking stick she took off on the Deer Park road. And gradually over a couple of weeks Nani’s confidence increased and she kept increasing her distance.
As shared in the earlier posts the Deer Park road is a 2 km wooded stretch. Early morning at best a stray walker or an athlete may passby besides the Deer in the park enclosure. It is as quiet and picturesque as it gets.
Unless another local resident decides to stroll on the road.
As it happens our sparsely populated neighborhood has a family of Wild Bisons also called the Gaur. And occasionally they step out to nibble at the grass outside the woods. With our experience I would rate the chance of seeing a Bison at 15%.
And so it happened. While walking slowly one morning Nani saw an old couple frantically gesticulating. Amongst many Tamil words they uttered the Hindi word -” Gaur “. Nani understood.
The three members then entered a gate of a nearby cottage and waited. A few minutes later at a distance of 10 meters a Wild Bison sauntered by.
An average Wild Bison weighs 850kgs, some even measure upto 1500kgs. Only Elephants, Hippos and Rhinos weigh more.
Back home on the breakfast table with Nani’s still startled face the experience was narrated with vivid details.
The story would have ended here but another member in the house was foreseeing the future ramifications. Nana realised that once back in Delhi, Nani would have an upper hand in all gathering. She had afterall experienced a close sighting of the Wild Bison.
He promptly decided to take matter in his own hands. Next morning as I was about to leave for Basketball I saw Nana all dressed and ready to go.
” What happened, where are you going?” I quizzed. Nana getting up before 8am was a rare sight indeed.
” I have decided to go for a walk”. And he promptly took off on the Deer Park road.
I dont know what prayers Nana uttered or if the Nilgiri gods heard his wish, but Nana walked straight into the 15% probability zone.
The last marker on the Deer Park road is the Kabaristan / Cemetery. And to Nana’s delight a Wild Bison was nibbling away in the premise.
That would have done it. But being a man from the Forces, a Retd Naval Commander no less, he knew the value of records and documentation. So he fished out his phone to take a picture.
The Wild Bison was at a distance so Nana decided to climb a bit and get a good shot. Now job done Nana was faced with a new problem. Namely getting down.
There was no option but to take the lord’s name and jump. Past the age of 70 such hard landings can take a toll and Nana promptly sprained his calf.
But in a true soldier fashion the mission was accomplished. And a prized photo to showcase.
But that was not all. Back home Nana soon realized he had a twin win.
Next morning as Ayaan was leaving for school, he asked ” Nanu aren’t you going for a walk again ?”
” Id love to child, but unfortunately I have sprained my calf”, he replied gleefully and promptly tucked himself in the warm blanket.
Overhearing the conversation in the living room Nani just rolled her eyes.
Growing-up the month of May has always been associated with Summer Vacations. It meant boarding the train to your cousins. We would play during the hot days and at night arrange the mattress under the fan to maximize the night breeze.
The month of May in Ooty is spun differently. With temperature hovering between 10-22 degrees and cool winds blowing through the day.
But with Summer temperatures hitting 40+ degrees in the 3 states of TN, Kerala & Karnataka, the folks from the plains swarm up the hills in droves. Whether they have cousins in Ooty or not, I don’t know.. anyone would take a 15 degree balm over a 42 degree burn.
Locals term the May phenomenon as ‘Season’. It means for a month you numb yourself while the cash register rings furiously.
Rizwan bhai, Cyril at the coffee shop and Charanya who runs the famous bakery business say the same thing, ” it will get better next month, they will soon go”. Excess business doesn’t seem to entice the local folks, they prefer their usual rhythm and pace.
Meanwhile in May a set of Shows are unfolding in our hilltown. First up is the Annual Dog Show, followed by the Flower Show in the Botanical Gardens and finally the Fruit Show in Sims Park, Coonoor. The 129th edition of the Annual Dog Show is sponsored by South India Kennel Club, also India’s third oldest kennel club,
Curiosity aroused, we headed to investigate early last Saturday. The stalls were set up on the vast grounds of the Government Arts College. The surrounding Nilgiri mountain ranges offered a lovely back drop.
Inside the venue the sense of competition is intense. 350 canines across breeds from Ooty and multiple cities are vying for top honors. On the grounds we spot Caravan Hounds, Rampur Hound, Fox Terrier, Yorkshire Terrier, Whippet, Saluki among others.
Its time to move to the scene of action and currently in # 3 pen six Labradors are being assessed for obedience, gait, attitude, fur quality, and a host of parameters. The black coated dog handlers take their Labs for a circular jog while their judge an Australian lady watches closely.
In the crowds the owners are clapping and cheering their pets. The final test has the six labs sitting in rapt attention. Clutching the coveted ribbon medallion in her left hand the lady judge walks past each lab.
Decision made she hands over the medallion to the dog-handler of Lab#3. Jubilant, he waves the medallion towards the delighted owners.
Lab #3 has had enough and promptly leaps up and jaws the medallion. And spits it out. “Yuck, was it all about this”. There is laughter around the pen.
Back from the Dog show its time for the weekly visit to the vegetable and fruit market. The arterial roads form serpentine jams with tourists cars, vans and buses. Its Season we remind ourselves.
During the “Season” week I was soon to stumble on another set of visitors.
To catch a breather from work I sometimes step into our garden. This week my ear caught a different bird tune. Unlike most birds which tweet in bursts, this chap is chattering away incessantly. As most of the birds are tiny – fist sized, I fetched my camera to zoom in to catch the culprit.
After a few minutes I snapped our little chatty visitor on the Peach tree. A local Birder later confirmed it was the Ashy Prinia- a Warbler.
In those moments when I was transfixed by the Prinia I sensed that our grounds had been attracting another version of tourists. Aided by the Nilgiri ebird section this week I identified the Crimson Sunbird feasting the Lilly, Blackbirds which I was confusing for Mynas, the pretty Orange and Black Flycatcher bathing on the barrel and the Scaly Breasted Munia.
The reason for our winged visitors became clear. The flowers and tree fruits are in spring bloom and with gardens tended, lots of juicy titbits are available for plucking off the soil…. Or perhaps they are all cousin’s visiting
It’s a moment to feel blessed.
Our grounds though smaller in size to the Government Arts College, I was witnessing a personalized “Showtime”.
Last week two incidents caught me off guard in quick succession.
It was a usual Tuesday sunny spring morning. Ayaan had left for school and Sim was in her Zumba class. I was neck deep in work, as April tends to crazy in recruitment business. Outside the birds where chirping. Seemed Perfect.
Then the doorbell rang !
I almost jumped off my chair in alarm. It felt like an intruder was around. You see, our doorbell rarely rings. The last time it rang was around mid March when Postman Ravi had dropped by.
Curious, I opened the door and it was Peter, a caretaker from a nearby cottage.
” Are you receiving water from the Municipality ?”, He had a worried look.
“Yes of course, though last week we had a problem for a day or two. But its allright now.”
” Oh I wonder what’s wrong, its been a week now. And our storage tanks are running dry”.
He left in a somber mood.
I don’t know what prayers Peter uttered then but the next day – Wednesday 17th the bright morning skies turned grey. Soon followed a heavy downpour with pelting sound on our roof. I stepped out of my office to investigate the cause of the sound.
I realized this was no ordinary shower but we were witnessing a full blown hailstorm. My first thought was if this was normal, would this extend for more days? Clearly it was time to seek expert advice.
Enter the Tamilnadu Weatherman !
Sometimes in life a simple layman can become a Messiah in a specific area of knowledge. Mr Pradeep John has combined his passion and knowledge of meteorology and used the Facebook platform to Blog his interpretation of the weather as – The Tamilnadu Weatherman
The quality of PJ’s observations is incredible and the Tamilnadu Weatherman Blog has over half a million followers on FB. Do check him next time you login.
So I promptly logged onto his FB page and sure enough there was a warning I had missed. PJ detailed the unpredictable Mango Showers and followed it with a hint of a warning of cyclone Fani.
The words “Mango Showers” piqued my interest. I had never heard this term before.
The Mango showers I learnt are crucial for the Mango growers in South India. These unpredictable summer showers help the trees retain their fruits and avoid them being dropped prematurely.
While I dreamt of the juicy mangoes to arrive at our local market I heard our Inverter / UPS kick to life. OUCH.! As expected in pouring rain we had lost power. A tree had fallen on the Deer Park road and power would resume once the branches were removed and the electricity pole restored.
The following day our dear friends from Mumbai – Ayaan’s school buddy Kabir and his lovely parents came over for a visit. But all our weekend plans to picnic in the Glenmorgan meadows and Emerald Lake were washed away.
With continued rain the winds were becoming cooler. It was time to get the firewood to warm the house and huddle in during the day and sip some wine at night.
After a couple of days spent with indoor games and warm food, the storm subsided and we all finally headed out. As we went past Peter’s house I could see him washing the car. Clearly Peter’s water woes were behind.. and I wondered if he had sought Hail Mary or the Hailstorm.