In Chhaiya Chhaiya country

In Chhaiya Chhaiya country

Climbing up from Coimbatore, which has the closest airport, higher and higher we went, one hairpin bend after the other (16 in total), with the temperature dipping and my tummy and the car’s engine mildly protesting at each one. And then, we spotted it. The train. You know the one. It is not often that this happens, even though there is one spot where the road and the railway track intersect almost. There it was.

All of us craning to have a good look at it; easy to do really, as it moves so slowly and majestically up the hill, in slow motion. The Chhaiya-Chhaiya train. One almost expected to spot Malaika Arora and Shah Rukh Khan, dancing away on top of the train. After all, that song was shot on this very moving train 20 years ago! Twenty? Talk about time flying!

The song comes to mind every time I take that road. The Rahman-Mani Ratnam-Gulzar combo ensured a hit, even coming in ninth on a world-wide poll conducted by BBC World Service for the top 10 songs of all time across 155 countries in 2002. For all the hype and fame the song acquired, most people do not know that it was shot on top of the Nilgiri Mountain Railway (NMR) train, a World Heritage site added by Unesco in 2005 as an extension to the World Heritage Site of Darjeeling Himalayan Railway and the Kalka-Shimla Railway under the name ‘Mountain Railways of India’.

Soon the forest gave way to well-manicured tea gardens on either side, until we finally hit 1900 m and Coonoor. Didn’t feel queasy this time. A good sign. The toy train was a long way behind; after all, it can only travel at approximately 15 km/hr up the slope.

I had willed it not to rain until I left the district, much against everyone else’s wishes. They were just not used to using fans; the plants were dying, etc, etc. But for me, coming from hot, hot, 42 degrees Gurgaon, I did not want the rain to change the bright blue skies or dampen the summer breeze. I wanted to enjoy my rare sojourn in Coonoor at this time of the year, to the hilt.

And, I did not want to walk around in gum boots, like we used to in boarding school in nearby Ooty; a multitude of green duck back-raincoat-attired children walking happily through the rain. It was great fun then; am too old to enjoy that now. The bright blue skies and the unusual warmth meant it was perfect weather for a shandy. Gosh, I had almost forgotten that word, let alone the taste! To sit under the olive tree and chill!

I remember a time when a tree box had been put up on one of its lower branches for the grandchildren of the house to sit and dream in, read in or just be in. A rope attached to a small bucket meant the occupant of the tree box was never hungry. It apparently bears fruit of the non-edible kind. The monkeys, however, do not seem to think so, as the seeds and half-eaten olives strewn under the tree bear testimony to. Obviously, nobody sent them the memo!

All too soon the holiday is over. I look out for the toy train on the way downhill, but no; one cannot expect to be lucky every time, right?