It is no secret, I hate winters and I am not talking of sub zero temperatures, ice, snow or whatever, just your ordinary cold winters. You see, I am from the south of India, the coastal region to be specific. Give me the hot bright sun any day, lots of it, topped with suffocating humidity, dollops of dark clouds hanging low in the sky darkening the day at noon, and rain, buckets of it for days together, and I might still occasionally complain, but at heart will be one happy woman. On the other hand put me in a place where it is cold, the skin chafes from dryness and you have to wear layers of clothes to keep yourself from shivering to death, like it has happened in my sojourns in the northern states of India as an army wife, and be prepared to see my miserable side. W-w-when-n-n is-s-s t-t-this b-b-bleddy c-cold g-g-going t-t-to end-d-d? Not even the sweet sesame balls or the chikkis are
compensation enough to ward off the blues the cold season brings on.
The redeeming factor as I see it, the only one mind you, is the few times when I was able to creep up on unsuspecting family members and gently place my extremely cold fingers behind their warm neck and watch them jump. You bet that made me rather unpopular to be around in the winter months. Wary of me, that’s what they ended up being, especially the L & M. But hey, a girl has gotta have some fun.
Brrrr….. what a season. There are usually plenty of good veggies around but who wants to get her hands wet to cook them? Not me. I had to, of course, having taken on the responsibility of feeding hungry mouths, total three, ummm.. four including my own. Unlike the Northies who go ga-ga when winter is on the horizon, all excited about the changeover of
clothing (the amount of work, not to mention the space you gotta find for the warm clothes) to winter-silks, sweaters, shawls and the like, I am quite happy with the wardrobe that remains practically the same all year round.
Egad. This is a pretty long introduction, rather unnecessary when you come to think of it, to what’s coming; but fret not, I will not waste any more time, we are finally there.
Imagine my dismay when before leaving on my holiday to Sri Lanka, I researched the places I’d be visiting and found that one of them is 6,128 feet above sea level and requires warm clothing to be carried. And this when I was trying my best to pack the least. Well, it is not like I had to carry a ton of them clothes,
just one to keep the cold out, or may be in my case, two. You see, unlike you strong and healthy people I need more protection from the cold or my teeth start chattering, and from there doing an impersonation of someone with the ague is but a single step. I had thus chosen mine carefully, something that would keep the cold out but will not take up space in my bag. As luck would have it, I soon found out how poor my choice was.
What welcomed us, the four lady travelers, as we got off the warm confines of the vehicle at Nuwara Eliya, was the howling wind. We made a
dash for the hotel lobby. I quickly pulled on my sweater. Too light, too light! My teeth had begun to chatter. As we sat in the lounge, each opening of the door for someone getting our luggage or for someone else to step in/out, brought in a blast of cold air, undoing whatever little warmth I had been able to gather up till then.
Now came the next blow. The rooms allotted us were on the second floor and there was no lift. Sigh. It was not yet time for dinner and the dining hall was on the ground floor. This meant that we’d have to come down again. Yup, you guessed it, no room service. This was not a problem for others, just me.
When we reached our room, we found it to be of matchbox size, not that we intended giving a bharatanatyam recitals, just saying. A dim light shone overhead. They probably didn’t have anything dimmer to keep us from noticing finer details of the room, so settled
on this one. Anyways, on the small side-table were a table lamp, kettle, phone and other usual paraphernalia. How cool, right? Wrong. None of them worked. I mean none of them could be plugged in. In fact, even our mobiles could not be charged in the plug points they had. The lone one which was to specifications was about 8 feet high on the wall with the wall mounted television plugged into it. But we let none of this bother us, we took turns charging our phone from the functional (and accessible) one in the bathroom. After all, we were soon going to be out flat snoring, and the morning would find us gallivanting the countryside.
The wind was still at it when we woke up the next morning, howling,
blowing hard against windows and doors, rattling them, asking to please be let in (Ha! Fat chance!), whistling through unyielding trees and running freely above the tea bushes. Sandhya and I stood in the balcony that was so tiny that it barely accommodated the two of us (I was most scared it would collapse) and watched the mist over the lake in the distance. One moment the lake was visible and the next the mist had swallowed it up, obliterating even the tea gardens closer. I spotted a couple of red-vented bulbuls on the electric wire having a noisy conversation with each other.
The previous evening we had entered Nuwara Eliya while night had fallen. So we were eager to see it by daylight and find out what it held for us. The name of the place means ‘City of Light’ and is the favorite haunt of city dwellers in and around Sri Lanka. Hordes from the capital city of Colombo descend on Nuwara Eliya during weekends to escape the heat and humidity, said our guide, Prem. The beautiful Lake Gregory and the parks on its banks are a hit with the weekenders. This hill station is a place people go to relax and chill. You bet we were doing a lot of the latter, especially me. The scenic beauty is amazing, but one can see signs of commercialization eating into it.
So what did we do in Nuwara Eliya?
We visited a temple dedicated to Sita of the epic Ramayan. Hanuman is supposed to have visited her here during the time of her imprisonment. There are imprints on stone which is shown off as the footprints of Hanuman. Like, really? I did not follow my friends into the temple. Not just because I am an atheist, as I’d definitely have loved to take pictures, but taking off my shoes and walking on the cold floor, uneven to boot, was simply out of question. Being an atheist though, comes in
quite handy in such circumstances.
Then we went to a spa to fix ourselves up for a full body massage, before which we would be going to see a waterfall. Our vehicle would not make it all the way up to the fall as the road was pretty narrow and Prem promised to arrange two tuk-tuks for the four of us. Walking out of the spa much to our alarm we found the vehicle had died on us. So while Prem got busy arranging for repairs, we hired two tuk-tuks that came by to take us to the waterfall.
The ride was quite bumpy. I am sure a couple of my bones came loose with all the rattling my body had to endure and have now been accommodated elsewhere. One good thing that came out of the bone-shaking travel was being introduced to Sinhalese music (we insisted that the driver play Sinhalese and not Bollywood songs), blaring from the speakers, and I have become a huge fan ever since.
The last one kilometer had to be done on foot. It was uphill all the way. The climb was exhilarating, though pretty slow as far as I was concerned (Thank you, Sandhya, for
slowing down for my benefit!), the wild flowers growing by the wayside beautiful, especially the pink ones, and the view spectacular, but my legs certainly took their toll. Being unable to navigate the absolute last bit as it involved some scrambling over rocks, necessitating use of both hands, knees and feet, I stayed put and had to be content to take pictures of the fall from some distance through the trees.
Such is the invigorating mountain air that after the walk, and the relaxing body massage that followed, topped by a filling lunch (for which we had to wait as there was only one cook at the hotel!), we were ready to go out again. The sun was still mild. A stroll in the park by Lake Gregory seemed perfect. But Lake Gregory was having none of it from us. “Why you no come in the morning to see me?” it pouted. As soon as we reached, it started raining. Ugh, the cold and the rain, what an ugly combo. I took some pictures from inside the vehicle and then it was back to our rooms for us.
It was only the next morning on our way back to the plains that we caught the real beauty of Nuwara Eliya. But the best of it was lost as it lay thickly veiled in mist in most places. On the way down we stopped to see more waterfalls, from a distance though, and a tea factory from up close and tasting some varieties of superb tea (I still have some left over from the packets I bought), also a temple (again my friends went in while I tried to track a bird that was calling out so sweetly). No, I didn’t get
a picture of the bird though I managed to see it. From there it was a long drive to our next destination by the seaside, with a brief stop at a spice place which was nothing but a try at getting tourists to buy medicinal oils and creams for all sorts of ailments (no, I did not buy any, I happen to know that there are no magic cures for anything), and a slightly longer stop for lunch. It was evening when we reached the seaside resort and the first thing I noticed was the smell of the salty sea air. The sea was right at the doorstep and beckoned us with its incessant murmur, but then that is for another day.
©Shail Mohan 2015