As the calendar flipped into August the Covid cases started climbing down in the Nilgiris. Gradually the State government eased the restrictions and movement was permitted.
Perhaps I could resume my morning walks soon. I so missed the morning jaunt. Saying hello to the tiny Pied Bushchat, soaking the sights of the distant Mukurthi ranges and pausing at my little coffee shop called KGK.
Early morning as I would savour the filter kaapi there would be the usual tractors parked, stray dogs wandering, horses grazing and a tired old auto rickshaw parked adjacent to the gate of a nondescript Helipad. ‘No Trespassing’ said the board but the gates were never shut nor was the guard booth ever occupied.
Then walk back home watching the play of the rising sunlight on the tea gardens and watch for any activity in the lake. And occasionally dodge the Wild Bison.
But right now I had a set of chores to accomplish. As I drove out I noticed some broken road patches were being repaired. Life is really getting back on track I thought.
I was glad to hear that all our favourite Baker’s were open again. I was already sniffing hot buns from Aazam, rich plum cake & croissants from Virtues, bagels & donuts from Smyrna and the honey cake from LakhDe.
With these dreamy thoughts I parked and got about the real business of honouring the procurement list. An hour later as I trudged back the image of bakery goodies started tantalizing my senses. Sometimes it is difficult to resist a temptation. Does anyone know a cure?
It was noon and the weather was perfect. Cool breeze flew across the market road and the clouds tempered the Sun. Maybe I can walk all the way to Virtues Bakery I thought, I’m sure there won’t be any parking available there in any case.
As I stepped close to Virtues I was surprised. Not one car was parked in the limited parking spot. Just a few busy looking policeman. Strange. From that spot I noticed the tiny Imperial Bakery was open too.
If there is one place in Ooty where you get a perfect cup of tea then it is Imperial Bakery. Actually no outlet can make a decent cup of tea in this coffee crazy South India. Just like you never get a good cup of coffee in any joint in North India.
The promise of hot chai and their crispy samosa had me swiftly at the door of Imperial.
“Hello Praveen, its been so long”, I greeted my friend the owner.
“Good to see you again, I noticed you were coming and I’ve already asked him to make your chai”, smiled Praveen.
“I walked all the way from Commercial road, if I had known parking was available then I would have been here sooner”, I grinned.
“Oh, but you won’t be able to park here for sometime now. The President is coming tomorrow”, he responded.
” President? Which President?”, I questioned. Our State has two key political parties who take turns to rule the State. Was one of them coming I wondered.
“The President of India”, he stated simply passing me my hot chai.
“What? Really”, I couldn’t believe it. Our little town really.
“For how long?”, I continued my naive course of interrogation.
“What ! Really, four days in Ooty?”.
I was flummoxed. Busy people often wonder what one can do in this tiny town on the 3rd day and here the President of India was coming for 4. Incredible.
The hot chai helped soothe for a moment while I tried to digest this news.
Back in the car and heading home everything was making sense on the road now. Furious paint work was on the sidewalks and even the dusty board proclaiming the Office of Superintendent of Police was now beaming a fresh life.
Goodness even the Ooty lake and the garden next to our house was getting a fresh scrub. Like a typical Indian household all attempts were in motion to impress the big visitor.
As I shared the news of the visit at home a logistical query cropped up. How would the President arrive? It is 3 hours by road from Coimbatore our closest airport.
Then the news flashed. The President was going to land in a Helicopter. And the Helipad was none other than the one opposite my little coffee shop – KGK.
Next morning we heard an enormous chopper landed at the once sleepy Helipad behind our house. The President had arrived.
Then our distinguished visitor did what a distinguished visitor does. Visit the Botanical garden, plant a tree, give a lecture at the Defence Services Staff College in nearby Wellington, attend a special dance performance by the Toda Tribal et all.
While the President was busy I was curious to visit my coffee shop KGK and check the activity at the Helipad. And sure enough the gate was gleaming with a rich new blue paint. Serious looking policemen and barricades manned the entrance. While a police van, fire tender and an ambulance were stationed on the heli-field above.
“Kaapi please Akka”, I requested the old lady at my coffee shop.
The owner was present too. We smiled at each other.
“Yesterday must have been quite a day with the President arriving?”, I asked holding the hot kaapi glass in my palms.
” Oh yes. Such excitement”, he concurred.
“Did the President come for a cup of coffee?”, I asked in jest.
” No ! And thank god for that. There were at least a thousand people. I don’t have so much coffee”, he replied.
We both exchanged a laugh.
While the President’s movement was causing some inconvenience there were some instant benefits too. You see the obscure Helipad was connected to the Governor’s House – Raj Bhavan by series of small roads. All these were miraculously restored to race track conditions.
Finally the day arrived for our dignitary to depart. But the Nilgiri weather God’s watching probably wanted more work done. Sometimes we humans forget who the Big Boss actually is.
The Storm clouds were building again. Saturday morning the Helicopter arrived but a landing was determined too risky. Which meant Plan B was put in motion. The President and his convoy would depart by road.
There are two roads that connect Nilgiris to the plains below. The quicker and busier Coonoor road which everyone prefers or the scenic & quiet Kotagiri road which takes 20 mins longer which I love.
On Sunday as I bought the newspaper from the market I had a smile. The President went via the Kotagiri road. Whatever patches had to be repaired there would be leveled for sure. The Visit had its gifts even while departing.
The Helipad post “The Visit”
Sunrise over the Mukurthi Ranges