An Army wife reminisces her stay in the beautiful Army cantonments and how going for walks on those scenic trails used to be a memorable experience.
I looked out of the window and saw that it was pouring! I sighed in relief. No walk today! Great! I got a good excuse for skipping my walk. This thought took me back to the days when come what may, a walk daily was something I never missed.
Walking has always been my passion. It’s also the best time for some serious introspection and reflection of the day that was. New ideas take wings as I walk. I prefer walking alone. That gives me the actual pleasure of soaking in the surroundings.
The best part of belonging to the Army fraternity is an opportunity to live in the best of cantonments which are quaint, scenic and ideal walking destinations. The breathtaking views are something that’s etched in my memory.
One of the most unforgettable walking experiences I have had, was at Wellington near Ooty in TamilNadu. Our house was on the Kothagiri road, flanked on one side by the vast expanse of the lush green tea gardens and the other side by the majestic DSSC (Defense Services Staff College).
Enroute, was the huge walled bungalow of the highly decorated officer Lt Gen Sundarji, the former Chief Of Army Staff whose pictures I have seen with the then Prime minister Indira Gandhi. He was famous for Operation Falcon (where he took the Chinese by surprise!) and Operation Blue star, to name a few. I remember his house was surrounded with high and intimidating walls with lots of security cover and all that one could see from the road was the observation post of the security men and the tall trees.
I often used to wonder what went on beyond the huge walls. It somehow seemed to be shrouded in total secrecy and mystery. Not once in my stay there, (nearly one and a half years) did I see the gate open or anyone enter the huge wrought iron gate, but the fascination always remained!
Once we descended the Kothagiri road, we would end up at the magnificent and awe inspiring DSSC . The imposing structure never failed to awe me. It had an aura of power about it. It is a premier Tri-service training establishment that imparts training to highly capable officers of the three wings of the Indian Armed Forces. The pride of belonging to this premier institution is ineffable.
Once we reach the DSSC, the road snaked down to the beautiful expanse of the WGC, the Wellington Gymkhana Club. One can’t help being smitten by the sheer beauty of the place. Near the WGC we could see a small stream gurgling its way down the lawns, the golf caddies walking purposefully with their bags on their back.
The clouds rolling past the hills were a sight to behold. The sun rays vying to stream through the stubborn clouds-Wow! What serenity! The weeping willow drooping down in a sombre mood and the bottle brush laden with fresh blooms in gay abandon seemed to depict the ebb and flow of life.
The tall eucalyptus trees on the hill slopes were a treat for the eyes and their omnipresent smell was mesmerising. The Lavender , Poppy , Geraniums and Rosemary growing wild, added to the colour around while the vibrant Nasturtiums took the cake!
The tall coniferous trees like the deodhar, oak and pine added to the beauty of the place, with the magnificent view of the western ghats in the backdrop. Succulents too grow well in the hills. Walking through them has its own romance and magic. The sloping roof cottages with wooden flooring, dotting the landscape surrounding it eluded an old world charm. The golf course was a massive expanse which stretched for as long as the eyes could see. The main winding road passed through the golf course dividing it into two parts. Once the golf course ended, the steep climb start again leading to a small forest with tall and menacing trees.
I wondered if they had a story hidden in them. They somehow seemed hostile, daring anyone to come too close to them. I preferred to keep my distance wondering all the time about their story. Or was it just my imagination taking wings? I would never know!
I could never walk beyond that and I used to return home through the same route.
The weather of Wellington could at best be described as moody. If it felt good and cheerful, it would be bright and sunny and suddenly as if someone had insulted it , it would turn cold and gloom . Inevitably without any notice, dark clouds would roll in menacingly, resulting in a downpour. I would be the only one walking in the pouring rain with an umbrella in hand. The peasants covering their heads under large conical shaped polythene sheets used to look at me with a quizzical expression wondering whatever it was that was making me walk in this downpour.
Once the rainfall would stop, it would get all sunny and bright, making us wonder whether it ever rained at all . The gradient saw to it that the water drain off easily without getting stagnant. The roads, the leaves, the cottages and everything would shine brightly as if someone had kept them ready for inspection.
After Wellington, the next hill station where walking was sheer pleasure was the Yol Cantonment in Himachal Pradesh. It felt like two years of holidays in the hills. The cantonment itself was surrounded by the mighty Dhauladhar ranges which used to be swathed in snow till the month of April. During clear moonlit nights one could see the mountains shining as if covered by a huge silver foil! Such breathtaking beauty I haven’t seen anywhere.
The terrain is harsh compared to the gentle slopes of the Nilgiris. I used to walk nearly six to eight kilometres daily. Our house was bang in the foothills and the only activity that one could witness was the grazing of the goats by the goatherds. It is a totally lazy and laid-back place. No stress , no worries whatsoever!
Miners used to mine slate in the upper part of the hills and those areas were known as the slate godham. The only other activity that happened was when the two buses which would take the people to the Yol Mandi below. used to trundle by. Rest of the day was totally peaceful.
Life was highly predictable and uneventful. One could occasionally see the Army trucks known as Shaktimans carried the children to school and back.
The villagers were tough , they were used to walking for kilometres up and down daily for work.
As for me, my afternoons were spent gazing at the butterflies buzzing and walking through my garden which had an amazing assortment of flowers,right from gladioli and marigold, the size of a tennis ball and dahlias of all imaginable colours! Chrysanthemums grew wild and the roses were sheer delight to behold.
Most of the houses had their own kitchen gardens too and we used to have a rich harvest. Strawberries used to grow a plenty. We had to be careful of the monkeys which used to come in hoards and attack the fresh grown vegetables. By the time they left, nothing would be left of the crop. Monkeys and langurs were a big menace in the hills.
Dusk would set in soon in the hills especially during winters and most of the peasants and villagers wound up for the day early. During peak winters when it snowed on mountain peaks, the leopards would come down the hills looking for food. No one dared to venture out late at night. One could hear stories of dogs and goats being hunted by the leopards from the locals. I remember, once the children found leopard cubs in their school bus.
Such magic and beauty of life in the hills is beyond description.The clean and unpolluted air scented with the smell of flowers- the memories still linger on!
After having walked in these beautiful environs, walking in civil areas of congested cities is unimaginable for me. I look for excuses these days not to walk. Walking, which was once a pleasure has now turned into a forced activity.
Image Source: Pixabay
I am an Army officer's wife having travelled widely across the length and breadth of the country, a teacher by profession and am candid enough to admit that I have learned more while teaching read more...
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