XVII: Poi Tu Varen

Just had a very cerebral 10 days up in the Niligris Hills. The place is just one big tea plantation, peppered with little villages & rows of Butlins’ chalets to house the pickers (1.50 a day for 8 hours). British mountains are often purples with heather or brown with bracken, but in comparison the Niligris are very, almost purely, green. The best way to describe the scenery is to picture normal British hill country, then cut a huge wedge of rock out of it a mile deep, then cover this with lush forest. Every ten yards a new vista opens up; from the immense white snakelike streak of water that hangs from Catherine Falls; to the view from Droog, which took in twenty miles of Niligris – the town of Coonoor the pastel-spangled jewel in its crown.

I spent five nights in the delightful village of Karansi, perched beneath the Guernsey Tea factory like some industrial-age Lancashire milltown. About a hundred houses cling to a sheer slope, with a temple at the top that rewards the hike up to it with wonderful views of the surrounding hills & the plains of Coimbatore. By day it’s kinda busy, but after 9PM the whole thing shuts down into a dogbark silence. There is this cute as fuck ‘high street,’ with little chicks fluffing about & young goats warming themselves by a logburner. There was a tailor, a chi shop, a wee place to get some food & a little grocers. For the first time in 2 months I bought some fruit & veg & made a meal using ‘mutton masala’ for the spicy sauce. It wasn’t bad either, tho’ my landlord Deva wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole & got annoyed every time I tried to wash up.

My host was magic. I think he appreciated the company (his family is on holiday), plus the celebrity the village gossips gave him to have the first tourist possibly ever to actually sleep in the village. He’s a very simple man who earns a couple of quid a day working with the tea plaza next door. Every lunchtime, for about two hours, he shows a steady stream of tourist buses in for the obligatory cup of chi. The rest of the time he just pottered about, calling me ‘sir’ all the time. On one occasion I was watching Friends on TV & he came in & disapproved of the kissing on it. I’ve now found out that Christian Tamils don’t kiss – not even during lovemaking. In fact, I don’t think they do that either. To keep warm he sleeps with his daughter all his life & his wife sleeps with their son – all in the same room (which I’ve now got). He asked me if I was married, & I said I’ve been seeing someone five years, & he goes “but you’re not married – I suppose you have spent five years just talking then, sir!”

On the full moon I went out for a midnight hike in the epic, creaking Eucalyptus forests that climb out of the thick knots of Acacias like ballet dancers rising from the waves. Twenty minutes into my walk a car stopped & this gruff voice asked me where I was going. It turns out the forests are full of wild animals – cheetahs, panthers, charging bison, etc. – & I was sure to become one of the daily ‘incidents’ that plague the area. Suffice it to say I got a lift back to Karanci with them & from that moment on stuck to my room after dark.

After a few days of flower-peppered walks, from lofty dams to fertile carroty valleys, I moved back to Coonoor for a couple of days to work on the hardcopy Kural. The hills had been a perfect spot of serendipity in which to bring the poem to a close, & I finished the last corrections last night in an internet cafe in Coonoor. Just in time, actually, as this morning I was awake at 5AM, jumped on a bus to Ooty at 6, arriving a shivering wreck. I then took another bus over the Western Ghats, which was so much like the Scottish Highlands I recommend any Scot in India to visit them if they’re ever homesick. Several hours later we crossed the Ghats & descended into Kerala, which is basically one big jungle. Neither do they speak Tamil, which is weird cos I’d gotten kinda used to it & now have to deprogram myself.

I’m now in a very sweaty Calicut for three hours – just had some fine Keralian fish – & catch a train up to Goa tonight, arriving at daft-o-clock. I’ve got a feeling that this is gonna be the end of my journal this time round as you can only write so much about sun, sea, sand & fuckin about on bikes. Poi tu varen (Tamil for see you later)!


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