India’s hill stations provide brilliant views, not to mention some great roads – and the picturesque Nilgiris even has a car culture of its own.
As I type this, the birds have taken a short break from their hectic morning singing sessions while the sun is drying up the dew from the grass. The view is stunning, with the Nilgiris looming ahead and white clouds scudding across them, creating a beautiful play of light and shade. As you would understand, it’s an effort to tear my eyes from the view splayed out in front of me and get back to the keyboard. Yes, I am in the middle of a vacation in this gorgeous part of Tamil Nadu, but the deadline for this column looms.
Since I am in a vacation mood and, by the time you read this, the monsoon clouds would have covered sections of the southern part of the magnificent Indian peninsula, I can only create word pictures for you that hopefully will stay in your mind. I mustn’t, of course, neglect to mention some of the machines that I have observed here in the Nilgiris during this short stay.
I am returning to this part of the world after a couple of years, and now I notice a better level of prosperity all around. Not just with the fruit and vegetable stalls groaning with a wide variety of produce and a spiffiness of the retail outlets, but with the kind of vehicles that populate this area. Being close to the wealthy city of Coimbatore, the sight of an E 53 AMG casually parked close to a picturesque restaurant is not surprising. Or that of a Cayenne parked on the grounds of the Taj Savoy, which also was the only place I saw an EV charging station. New cars are all around, even recent launches from a host of manufacturers. But my eyes are drawn to out-of-production cars. Like a smartly maintained Peugeot 309, a few Premier Padminis scattered about, a few crisply turned-out Ambassadors, including an immaculate Mark II, and battle-scarred Mahindra CJs and MM540s. A rigid Mahindra FC van does duty as a mobile store in the Ooty Botanical Park (though it doesn’t look like it’s going to move anytime soon), while trusty Ashok Leyland buses indicate when it’s safe for you to overtake on the curvy mountains roads.
Similarly, well-maintained Yamaha RX-100s and RX-135s (they seem to be well-maintained in all parts of the country!) hold their own against brash KTMs and stocky REs. What struck me is the majority of the riders, as well as pillions, unfailingly wear full-face helmets and jackets. Coming from Mumbai, where helmets are worn by two-wheeler rear-view mirrors and crash guards, I am impressed with the discipline. I think the cops here, including the higher-ups, take their jobs seriously.
But I am surprised that I haven’t spotted a single electric scooter yet, though Coimbatore has them. Here, up in the Nilgiris, I expected to see at least an Ather or a Hero Electric but no sign of one yet in Kotagiri, though a local resort owner tells me there’s an Ather charging station near the railway station in Ooty. I’m sure I’ll spot quite a few in there because it’s a bustling part of these mountains.
And then there are the mountain roads! Right from the moment you start climbing from Mettupalayam, the twisties are clearly marked and there are Armco barriers all round. The roads are paved smoothly and well-maintained, like those you’d find in a Cantonment area. These roads are subject to heavy traffic, as they are a lifeline to the markets, hospitals and Government offices and they also endure heavy rains for the better part of the year, yet they are sans potholes. The Mumbai citizen in me wonders what gives. Oh, these are great roads to have a rally championship or two, and I wish I had that E53 AMG to straighten up a few corners. These roads would also be excellent for evaluating vehicle prototypes, I feel.
How could this place further improve? Well, the next time I visit, I’m certain that there will be more prosperity and consequently more vehicles. Tourist vehicles belch out diesel fumes, finding breathing difficult at this altitude while the climb up is pretty unforgiving. It’s only going to become worse. The answer is probably electric. The way those prototypes were carving up the hillside gives me the confidence that electric cars and scooters will make a difference to this place… Whoops, did I reveal too much? No, it’s nothing, merely a wistful sigh as that cosy easy chair warmed by the sun and Salman Rushdie beckons me.