So finally the Staff Course Special drops you at Mettupalayam station and you travel by bus to Staff College in Wellington (Nilgiris). You marvel at the beauty of the blue mountains with their eucalyptus trees and other foliage. You take in the allurement of the winding road of Kallar Ghat itself with its 14 hair-pin bends.
All throughout the way, the verdure and freshness do not leave you. There is only one feeling when you reach the DSSC: Yeh dil maange more.
The quaintness of the place, its sahib culture, and the babudom of the armed forces at its best/worst all make you want to quickly get out of the stifling class rooms, auditoria and the Div Discussion rooms and soak in the beauty of the hills and the valleys and especially the tea gardens.
So, after a week or so of your settling down, you go exploring during the weekends. The first few trips are naturally around Coonoor: Lamb’s Rock, Law’s Falls, Doorg etc, before you venture to Ooty, Dodapeta and Kotagiri with their Botanical Garden, Lake, beauty of the mountain peak and Tea Estates.
At this juncture, you are one with nature and your family because the majority of the families has not yet ventured out. Perhaps, you would come across some film shooting or the other (we saw quite a few of them because our stay there coincided with the height of militancy in Kashmir and hence Ooty and Coonoor emerging as locations for films-shooting alternate to Srinagar).
But, later, whenever you want to get away from the milling crowds of would be sahibs in the armed forces, you find that any place that you ‘discover’ in the clearings of the tea-estates or forests has already been taken. It would be somewhat similar to spending an afternoon at Wellington Gymkhana Club.
One day, the family was determined to find a ‘quiet’ place (a euphemism for a place without the would-be-babus-in-uniform) for an afternoon picnic. We packed a hamper of beer, cold drinks and eatables and drove off from Staff College. We tried many a place but discovered that their ‘quietness’ was deceptive and masked by the sound of water-falls or other activity. The fact was that our brethren and sisters from the Staff College were everywhere and merrily breathing in the pure breeze and oxygen that we wanted to fill our lungs with.
I am a Punjabi and I can assure you that there is nothing like a ‘determined’ Punjabi. I was prepared to go to any length to find a picnic place whose tranquillity was not marred by others of my ilk. So we drove and drove and found that our counterparts had taken over the entire world like those aliens from Mars. There was no place free of them.
I would have given up but my primary school time story of King Bruce and the undefeated Spider came haunting me and filled me with renewed energy to ape the bally spider and mark my place in history. I weaved myself a web that KB’s spider would have been proud of, going into this road and coming out from that. KB’s spider at least knew where it was; but, I had soon become Christopher Columbus’s newest reincarnation trying to discover a new world.
Finally, after about 115 kms of travel (around the globe, that is), Christopher Ravi Columbus reached the brave new world; a picnic spot that had everything that you could ask for: closeness to the road so that the Maruti 800 could be parked there, it had shade and overlooked a beautiful valley that looked distantly charming and fascinating with a blanket of mist over it.
We spread our durrie and laid out the drinking and eating stuff and started taking photographs. I read out Robert Frost and Keats and Wordsworth and felt happy that finally after much travel we had found the place that we were looking for.
“This is life”, I said with squeals of unadulterated joy.
“Agree” said Lyn, “This IS life”
“Ditto” said Arjun and Arun.
The mist was clearing away in the valley below and I took out the binoculars that I had purchased during one of my foreign-cruises.
“Beautiful”, I ejaculated adjusting the focus and then passed on the binocs to A&A. They said nothing on earth would be so beautiful. It was worth travelling 115 kms from Staff College to find this spot. The kids and I were thinking how to mark the spot for future generations on a large rock; somewhat similar to the rock at Cape of Good Hope.
But, then, the binocs were now with Lyn, who is, a practical sort of a woman. Whereas we had gone into the motions of adjusting the focus without seeing anything clearly; she actually focussed and said with finality: “Ravi, Arjun, Arun, please look again; the place looks familiar”.
I brushed it aside saying that since she was from that part of the world, ‘everything’ would look familiar to her. Anyway, she passed on the binocs to me and I looked into it with the clear focus that it now provided. And, there lay before us, the Defence Services Staff College with its red roofs and tall araucaria trees!
After beer and lunch when we drove down we discovered we were just 1.7 kms above the Staff College; but, had gone around 115 kms to get to that spot.
Christopher Columbus would have been proud of us!
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