As it happens, VC and I hadn’t taken a holiday together in a couple of years now. The last trip that comes to mind is Sri Lanka. There have been several weekend getaways in and around Goa, but my privilege doesn’t allow me to count any of them as “holidays”. And so this December, we decided to take off on NYE. Two reasons. In all our years away we’ve never “celebrated” the day with a typical bang. Save for the one year we went to P’s for a small party of close friends, we’ve always only ever stayed home, cooked something nice and had an evening by ourselves, or with a friend or two – tops! It would be nice to get away, I thought. Second, being in Bangalore I was deathly afraid of getting dragged to VC’s annual family get together. So I figured, anything would be better than being here.
Having woken up very late to this eventuality meant we were left with little choice. It’s Bangalore, and every single getaway destination within driveable distance was naturally booked up. So we made multiple bookings in multiple places, because we really didn’t have the luxury of choosing. Unsure till the very end where we’d actually end up. The week before NYE, we received a strange email from the hostel we’d eventually locked down on, asking us to make a final payment to confirm the booking. In it was a clause: a no-alcohol clause.
Now, I’m not the biggest drunk around. I can go entire holidays without drinking actually. But I’d definitely like to have the option to choose. Especially if I’m on holiday with my husband, over NYE. It was a dealbreaker. And that’s how our final choice too went out the window. Back to the drawing board again, I was frantically hunting for a place that would have us. Even if just for one night, we thought. All we needed was a clean bed and loo, some peace and quiet. I’d manage the rest, I thought. Our standards were really dropping.
Suddenly, a property we’d never stumbled on in the weeks of hunting before popped up. A home nestled amidst tea estates, aesthetically designed, small and cosy, not housing more than 7 people at any given time, and available over the long weekend — it seemed too good to be true. So without much ado, we booked it.
And so it was that we decided to be in Coonoor. I was super excited. It would be my third time there, the second being just one year ago when S and I took off for a blissful week in the clouds, with no plan but to stay-in.
I realised that over 2016, I took many holidays, none of which were with VC. 2017 was dedicated entirely to settling in, and despite considering several opportunities to go away, somehow nothing materialised. It really was beginning to feel like it was time to go on holiday. Together.
My new-found excitement about going to cold places (even though I’m petrified about turning into an icicle) peaked when this trip came through. I bought myself woollen gloves and a beanie, in addition to the ridiculous number of warm clothes I’d packed.
VC laughed, but within mere hours of landing in Coonoor, the sun setting and the evening mist settling in, I had the last laugh when he gingerly asked if I’d perhaps packed any extra warm things for him. I had. An extra sweater, a muffler and lots of socks. So there I was, in two jackets worn over my teeshirt, socks, gloves, a shawl around my neck and my beanie — snug as a bug. While VC had to make do with a double-barrel sock arrangement, a sweater inside his jacket and a muffler. Before long though, he appropriated my beanie.
Google told me night time temperatures would drop to 3-4 degrees. I had that exhilarating combination of thrill and worry when I read that. But when we got there, the homestay owner pointed at his very dead looking tea estates and told us how bitterly cold it had been this winter. Temperatures had dropped to -3, causing the tea to be bitten with frost, dying a slow bitterly cold death.
But this is the wonderful realisation I’ve come to so late in life. Like the Danish saying N told me about goes, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing,” if you’re adequately equipped, you’re mostly good to go. I used to think I was completely incapable of handling the cold. This was confirmed by short brushes whenever I’d travel to cold places in the years I was away, but it was exacerbated because I simply didn’t own the right clothes. I’ve been too afraid to consider travelling to Ladakh for this reason. For years I’ve nursed the dream, but stopped short of committing several times over. This trip though has been a bit of a game changer.
We planned to leave early on a Saturday morning to try and beat as much outgoing traffic as we could. Anticipating that most of Bangalore would be on the Bangalore-Mysore highway, an early start was crucial. But it was not to be. We celebrated VC’s birthday the night before, had a late night, and stupidly forgot to set our alarms (forgetting that the auto-set ones only goes off on weekdays!) so I woke up with a start, a good two hours later than the time we planned to be out the door.
This put us considerably behind in our schedule and extended our drive time by three hours. But, since we weren’t on a deadline, VC and I decided to just relax and drive. I had a playlist ready and it was a long, but comfortable trip up, despite considerable traffic along the way.
Once we were in tea land though, the landscape is just so gorgeous. Rolling gentle slopes of green, so green it makes your eyes hurt, achingly blue skies, with the of fluffy clouds scattered, mist floating in and out casually, with tea pickers huddled under the weight of their baskets, tea stalls selling piping hot tea and vadais, the narrow hilly roads made us relax and enjoy the ride.
In Coonoor, I had no agenda but to put my feet up and chill. We had the house completely to ourselves the first night, and on NYE night, we were joined by a group of five people from Chennai. The hosts were incredibly lovely, hospitable, and cooked us simple homely food. The rest of the time, VC was determined to be outdoors shooting pictures. Having recently rekindled his love for still photography, he wanted to make the most of the best two slots of any given day — sunrise and sunset — so we ended up driving out everyday scouting for vantage spots. I’d carry my kindle along, and when we found a spot, VC would take off to set up his tripod and begin his patient wait for the right moment and right light. This would take anything from 1-3 hours, during which I’d listen to music and read. It’s how I finished the last book of the year in two days. I like this part of our life where we manage to make our love to travel and be outdoors merge, only to get there and have the freedom and space to enjoy it the way we please.
NYE itself was a very quiet affair, that surprised me. I had no expectations actually, and was fully prepared for another simple meal eaten between just the two of us, and an early night. However, the other house guests got chatty, invited us to share their daaru and maal, and were delighted when we offered them ours. It’s not usually like me to happily join a crowd like this, but I know now that that’s changing. So we joined them quite willingly, the hosts got a big fire going, and we huddled around it. Me in all the layers I could possibly have thrown on, of course. It was an added bonus that they had speakers, and remarkably good taste in music (they had a lot of Coke Studio Pakistan on their playlists, aside from some Beatles, good old classic rock and a few staple new poppy trash favourites). Dinner was simple, but it was all that was needed. I was high on the ambience, and the experience. Deathly silence, with our music playing softly, while we chatted — smack in the middle of a tea estate in a corner of Coonoor, with no humans for miles around us — it was like no other NYE I’ve ever had. Our house guests joined us half an hour before midnight, and entertained us with stories about interesting guests — of the human and wild kind — and by the time the fire began to die down, my energy was flagging. It was just before midnight when I called it a day and crashed. A hot water bottle snuggled into the sheets was such a welcome little touch of hospitality, in Coonoor!
Intoxicated on all the relaxation, and the perfect, best end the best months of the year, that I could ask for, I woke up on Jan 1st feeling physically energised. Happily grateful for where I am, excited for where I am headed. And just so happy deep into my bones. So happy, that we decided to extend our stay by another day, and drive out to Ooty, in the hope that the crowds would be on their way out.
We checked into a hotel there, spent the day roaming around, took an extra long nap, and headed out before sunset, grabbed a drink of thick hot, rich hot chocolate at Moddy’s and went off into the hills because VC wanted to catch one last photo opportunity. We topped that off with a hearty dinner at a rooftop Chinese restaurant in a hotel that VC has lots of memories from his childhood spent there. I was happy for the extra day and the chance to share this slice of nostalgia with him.
The next morning we woke up super early to hit the road back to Bangalore, only to find our car frosted over. Pretty soon I realised the grass all around that was looking oddly pale was actually encrusted with a layer of frost. I’ve never seen snow in my life, so this came pretty close and excited me no end!
It was a happy three days of peace, lots of snuggles, plenty of good hot tea and biscuits, soaking in winter sunshine, enjoying the mist and finishing off a book and just re-grouping all that I have been mulling over in my head. I cannot explain it, but the last six odd weeks have been so high on mental activity, I have felt like I have really crossed a major landmark and stepped into all new ground as far as self-awareness and growth goes. My heart was just so full. I came away with all the sights embedded in my head, and not more than half a dozen pictures. So almost all the pictures here are courtesy VC.
On the way home, the otherwise not very expressive VC gently shared how the holiday, simple and unplanned as it was, had unlocked something in his head.
“We’ve got it all wrong, Rere,” he said. “We can’t be working our asses off so we can travel. There’s got to be a way to make this our work.”
I’m summing up a conversation that lasted a good hour, of course. But I think he’s on to something. The same thing I’ve been on to for years now.
I heaved a sigh of relief, and ended the holiday on such a good note. My workaholic husband has come home to me, and is finally on the same page as I am.
One year ago: Inconsequential posts you really don’t need to read
Two years ago: Day 12: R & R