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Proud of their tribal ways

In the early 19th Century, Udagamandalam, then known as Ootacamund, was a colonial hill station.

travel Updated: Jul 17, 2010 09:36 IST

In the early 19th Century,
Udagamandalam, then
known as Ootacamund, was
a colonial hill station. But in
the face of overcrowding
and traffic jams, a
lot has changed there.

What it still retains is its scenic beauty; a ride on the century-old Nilgiri mountain railway throws up stunning scenery.

You're likely to stumble upon evergreen forests, tea plantations, fine viewpoints and Toda tribals.

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 quaintly built Nilgiri Library or the Tribal Research Centre Museum, with its wonderful collection of artefacts. Drive past the city limits and the countryside appears. First, fields of short grass, then rolling downs with shola trees and rhododendrons in the background. Hawkers sit by the roadside selling bottles of mountain honey. There are big trees on both sides of the road -- and then a tiny village with barrelshaped huts made of bamboo, grass and cane in the middle of a big, downy meadow.

A group of women is clustered outside outside the small, windowless bamboo hut, all laughing uproariously, like the cockney extras from Mary Poppins. A woman named Pingalamma, dusky skinned, with curly hair and all the lines of the world mapped into her face, comes up to me wearing the traditional cotton shawl called puthikuzhi, distinguished by its black-and-red embroidered motifs. She places the shawl around my shoulders, and whispers into my ear, "Want to see me give ancient blessing to young one of clan?"

An ancient ritual
Without waiting for my response, she lifts her right foot and places it on the head of a little girl, who plays to the gallery with obeisance.

The Todas may have once bartered buffalo produce in exchange for grains, pots, tools and even medical services. Today, they show off their tribal ways to travellers in exchange for silver.

The aspects of ancient life here starting from the conical diary temple that is decorated with sun, moon, and buffalo head motifs matched their guidebook descriptions. What the guidebook left out was how warmhearted the people are and how adaptable to visitors.