Day Nine: Coimbatore. After yoga and breakfast we board our new bus for a little mountain town called Coonoor. We are going to a tea estate built and owned by the British during their time in power. The trip up is about three hours.
There are 14 hairpin tuns. 14. Hairpin. Turns. Up a mountain. In India. Let me see if I can paint a picture for you here. The paved roads here are not too bad, not a lot of potholes or debris. What they are is just wide enough. This road fits two bus/truck width vehicles side by side. Period. Now, let’s add in motorcycles that wind in and out of traffic, cars and rickshaws that do the same, and the ceaseless passing of one another with the use of various horn patterns – like morse code. But wait, we’re ascending up a mountain, there are sporadic guard rails, 14 hairpin turns (did I mention that?) and a ton of other S curves and 90 degree turns. Are you feeling it yet? We’re passing trucks going around corners, at speeds that seem unreasonable at this altitude, while a motorcycle is doing the same as he slips between us and the truck. Meanwhile, out our window there are sheer drop offs and monkeys to remind us that although we have mastered many things, they are still able to perch in the edge of oblivion and swing from vine to vine above vast chasms without fear. They mock us. I think I saw one laugh and shake his head.
I have never been frightened in a vehicle in India. From the first rickshaw, I knew in my gut to trust the person brave enough to take the wheel. I had once commented to a rickshaw driver that good brakes must be the most important thing. “Good brakes, good horn, good luck. This is all a rickshaw driver needs,” was his reply.
Today as we ascend, I find myself slamming on the brakes of the foot rest in front of me and digging my fingernails into the arm of my seat. I realize I am expending a lot energy in fear, no matter how rational, that I could be using to drink in the spectacular views of a mountain wrapped in a cloud and dotted with homes, waterfalls and monkeys. I relax. At least until the next turn.
We are nearly at our first destination. It is necessary for us to back up, ON THE MOUNTAIN, and reposition to enter properly. At last we are released into the cool mountain air. The residents here are wearing sweaters and heavy shawls. It feels divine and the views are magnificent. There is tea growing all over in neat rows with slender shade trees at even intervals. From a distance it looks tiered and lush.
We take our lunch at the Raj, the British Hill Tea Estate. It’s beautiful but it’s history is akin to that of our plantations – things weren’t always pleasant for everyone.
While we’re here, we do a little journaling and sharing. It’s a way to prepare us for the upcoming blog that I will administer. I’m so excited about this project. Not only will we get to read all our different perspectives, each person in this group is a truly gifted story teller and the richness of their stories completely transports the reader to that moment.
We move on to the tea factory. I don’t know why but this part is so cool. We have an affable character as our tour guide. He educates us on the process of growing and harvesting the leaves. Did you know that white, green and black tea all come from the same tree? You probably did, you’re smart. We got to go into the factory where they dry and process the leaves from start to finish. Then of course, to a proper tasting.
Wired, we head down the mountain to a tiny little town vibrant with people and activity. Half of us head to the textile stores, the rest of us follow Swamiji through a local market for a taste of the local. There are stalls and stalls of bright, colorful fruits, saris, flowers upon flowers, and clothes. As we turn a corner we see two goats taking advantage of some spilled grain – one on his “elbows.”
With no less than 5 types of tea coursing though our veins we are able to do both the market and a little shopping in the time allotted. It is in the scarf store that I am reminded again of home. We chat with the owners of the store for a bit and somehow we work our way around to purchasing for resale. One of the owners shows us the name and address of a yoga organization they sell to in the US. Amrit Yoga Institute – my yoga home. We truly are all connected.
Wandering around the parking lot waiting for our bus I notice all the disrepair. To be fair, it is everywhere, but here it’s decidedly dangerous. A bridge that covers a deep ravine with a littered stream has several sections of the guardrail missing, presumably from a car. Children, animals and the infirm could easily slip through. Yet somehow they don’t. There’s tremendous balance and awareness here.
Back down the mountain safe and sound we applaud our new driver. He has one more place to take us before he delivers us back to our hotel.
We are all tired and still full from lunch when we stop at the school Swami Satchidananda founded. It is an amazing operation and we are all very impressed but by this time most of us are pretty depleted and ready for bed. 45 minutes from our hotel we leave the school after 8. The trip back is quiet and collectively we drag ourselves from the bus to our rooms, and fall into our respective beds.