During days of roll-film camera, you were a bit too tentative to click anything because you knew you would be in for a complete mockery after the prints came out. Oh, but there was at least this great element of suspense lurking throughout the vacation of how the photos were going to turn out. And you could hear your heart pump when you are about to look at the prints for the first time. All that anxiety is clearly missing in the current digital age where the photos you have just snapped are into Facebook the next moment with Likes increasing exponentially by the minute.
On the other side, a couple of rows upfront, a man wearing a sweater and a monkey-kulla took his little sleek camera out. Frustrated that he was mostly on the hillside of the climb, he stood on the aisle, inevitably staggering in the choked ride, and occasionally tripping upon passengers (only if women were on the aisle-seat) while pointing his camera for a snap of the scenic valley. Inspired by him, a few more, including the father of the fussy baby beside me, started taking snaps of the valley. Many of them came over by my window as it had no bars obscuring the view. I loved the restless look on their faces when they were trying to poise themselves and yet hold the camera still and wait for that full view of the valley. One of them even stumbled during a rough bump he probably managed to click only the silhouette my nose-bridge. Anyhow, that should have been a unique addition to his collection.
As eventful as it got, I spent the climb, watching broken-down cars with their mourning owners kicking the tyres, adorned idols of hill-deities studded in tree-holes for travelers’ goodwill, and those vicious hairpin bends where heavy vehicles literally bullied the measly ones to backtrack, all in the company of therapeutic whiffs of fresh eucalyptus tangled in the breeze.
After a considerably slow journey, the bus reached the destination – Charring Cross, Ooty. Time was around 11 a.m. Sun was striking down crispier than I had thought. But the hill breeze kept me unscathed. Auto-walas swarmed around us in no time, reciting the top destinations for the blank tourists and their fares. The moment I said “Lake View Hotel”, all of them stepped back and redirected me to another auto parked at a distance. I dragged the luggage to that auto and without a word being said, he started the vehicle that only meant I needed to get in right away.
For the first time, I was going to the other side of the Ooty main lake. The curvy and reasonably desolate road that bends around the lake – West Lake Road looked scenic, more private, and appealing for a long walk. The auto-wala drove effortlessly on the steeps and almost stormed into the hotel premises as the vehicle came to screeching halt at the main entrance as if it were a hospital and I were having a condition of exploding appendix.
The hotel had a serene look and feel. I felt refreshed right away. I inquired the auto-wala about the general fares to go to places around indicating him that I was interested yet clueless. It is a good tactic generally to know about an auto-wala. He immediately asked me to book his auto for local tours at slashed rates. Since the rates were appalling, I politely refused that I hadn’t planned for any local tours and sent him back. With a huge sigh of relief, I stepped into the reception carrying the luggage as all the bellhops were busy unloading luggage (people too) from an Innova.