Only the widest angle lens can do justice to the sheer spread of Nature that is Coonoor.
Snuggled next to its more popular cousin, Ooty, that is teeming with tourists, Coonoor retains its serenity and sanity, as a happy result.
Remnants of the British who regarded Coonoor as a summer retreat are evident in the names of streets and markets, bakeries and quaint cottages spilling over with a profusion of vivacious flowers.
Perched on the mountains in spontaneous rows, the houses spring up in daring shades of pink, blue, green and even neon, as if trying hard to match the vivacity of the flora.
At 8000 ft above sea level, Coonoor has some of the highest tea estates in the world. As the car hugs the winding road, a gorgeous green thick carpet of neatly arranged tea plantations looks like a pattern of glistening waves.
Through the rolled down windows, the mist swoops down the blue mountains, and brushes your face, and brings in the unmistakable fragrance of eucalyptus infused with the sharp scent of pine. Interspersed with the birdsong of the Tickell’s Leaf Warbler, Indian Blackbird,Brown-breasted Flycatcher and the
Coonoor. Every scene is framed and feted with all the senses.
All through the rain-washed night, the wind raged,
Howling through the trees like a bruised lover,
Dragging the void of ages through the branches,
Bending them with an ageless sorrow.
The temperamental Irish weather behaved itself during all of the 12 days that we visited this small island country with a big turbulent history.
Officially summertime, with just the right nip in the air to enjoy long walks enabled by clear sapphire skies patterned with white tufts of clouds that seemed easy to pluck like vanilla candyfloss from the open blue space.
That and the lovely long stretches of the Atlantic Ocean lapping up to the cliffs and hugging the roads as the coaches and trains we travelled in made their winding way around towns of the island.
No better way to explore a new place than through its public transport as our experience has proven time and time again. So, we hopped on to the hop-on hop-off buses, caught the trains into different towns, and once within it, felt our way around it by its metro coaches. We pored through maps standing at street corners trying to align ourselves to its direction. Found the numbers on the buses and where they stop at, names of streets and areas, all converging in our minds to make a map of the place, to accustom ourselves to its layout and pulse. We got lost several times, but then that was the fun, to get back on track, ask around, and discover other things that we may have missed. It’s surprising how well, and how soon we can get into the groove of a place this way.
The bright modern cafes and stone houses and statuesque churches of Dublin that hark back to another era. The port city of Waterford and its stunning museums alive with stories contained in exquisite 17th century artefacts, the famed Crystal Factory, dazzling in its artistry and the waterfront, lined with magnificent ships. Killarney, the scenic town flanked by mountains and frozen in time, with carriages drawn by plump, bushy-legged horses, each house straight out of an Enid Blyton book with lace curtains and window ledges strewn with gorgeous flowers; the porcelain crockery, very old-world British. The city of Galway, the outskirts dotted with the ruins of medieval castles. And from it, a short ride away brings you to the stunningly scenic Cliffs of Moher, where an hour’s walk up takes you to a landscape open to the endless sky and sea and the gale winds that blow into the cliffs as they stand sentinel for ages over the ocean and grasslands. Right at the edge, where you stand buffeted by the strong wind, the seagulls come swooping by.
Through it all, there are Irish breakfasts of pudding, crepes with applesauce, French toasts served with a generous portion of strawberry syrup; Irish lunches with fresh fish and chips accompanied with tartar sauce and kipper; Irish dinners of seafood chowder with chunks of lobster. Every eatery we visited had their own version of apple pie, some tart, some sweet, served with scallops of light cream, each as different and delicious as the other. And of course, who can forget the Irish coffee, served on a bus halt at a charming café, the light drizzle and cold outside, and the frothy warm coffee shot inside!
As you leave the cities and towns, lush green fields stretch for miles into the horizon, and sheep with black snouts marked by different colours to distinguish them, graze under the watchful eye of the farmer who rounds them up as the day ends with his well-trained collie dogs.
Poised on a phase of transition, where a ferocious but rich past blends with a gentler, calmer today, the future hinges on a brink of divide as part of Ireland now belongs to Europe and the other, to UK. So strange is this rift, that some shops and houses will soon have an official border going through them.
But that’s tomorrow. For now, the horizon is smudged with orange grey clouds and night comes in at 10 in the evening and a gentle peace descends on the island. And it’s tempting to re- imagine your life here, flanked by medieval castles and meadows, stories and silence.