In the early 19th Century, Udagamandalam, then known as Ootacamund, was a colonial hill station. But a lot has changed since then. What still retains of this quaint little hill station is its scenic beauty. A ride on the century-old Nilgiri mountain railway throws up scenes of evergreen forests and tea plantations.
The local treasures
For centuries, the Nilgiris have been home to hill tribes. You’ll find greater treasures in a Toda home than in the Nilgiri Library or the Tribal Research Centre Museum. The countryside open vistas of fields of short grass initially, followed by rolling downs with shola trees and rhododendrons in the background. Hawkers sell bottles of mountain honey by the roadside. A tiny village with barrel-shaped huts made of bamboo, grass and cane in the middle of a big, downy meadow is a lovely visual treat.
A group of women clustered outside the small, windowless bamboo hut, laughing uproariously, reminds one of the cockney extras from Mary Poppins. A woman dusky named Pingalamma, with curly hair and deep wrinkles, comes up to me in her traditional cotton shawl– puthikuzhi – distinguished by its black-and-red embroidered motifs. She came to me and whispered, "Want to see me blessing the young one of clan, the ancient way?"
Without waiting for my response, she lifted her right foot and placed it on the head of a little girl, who played to the gallery with obeisance. The Todas may have once bartered buffalo produce for grains, pots, and tools. Today, they show off their tribal ways to travellers in exchange for money. The aspects of ancient life here — starting from the conical diary temple, decorated with sun, moon, and buffalo-head motifs — matched the guidebook descriptions. What the guidebook didn’t tell was how warm-hearted the people are!