The last two days have passed in the verdant bliss of exploring the misty, rolling hills. The quilted patchwork of tea, potato, cabbage, carrots, and fruit trees still leaves me in awe. Yesterday we went to Bini’s mother’s village, where Bini’s grandparents and many cousins, uncles and aunts live. Like so many villagers in this region, they cultivate tea. It was wonderful to see the family’s deep roots in both the soil and familial love. We stopped at many relatives homes to say hello. And of course, at every home you must drink or eat something, so after about five cups of tea and many cookies I was done for. Bini and I made a run for it as soon as there was a break in the rain. We went for a walk with two of her cousins, clambering over rocks, through mud puddles, and up trees to pick some not-yet-ripe gooseberries.
The mists seem to come out of nowhere, filling the whole valley with a puffy blanket of white and then gone the next moment. It makes you feel like you are flying. Have you ever tasted a cloud? It possesses a very distinctive smell, earthy.
Today Bini’s dad took us to his office. He works for the central government, researching potato varieties and their potential immunities to destructive viruses. When we came home Bini and I became potatoes ourselves. Snuggled under blankets on the couch, we slogged through two movies and some masala TV.
We also got to tour a tea factory! I love seeing how things are made. Tea needs lots of rain to flourish. It also likes to grow on steep hills, so only the most trepidious hills can be used for tea cultivation. Bini says that her grandparents always want it to rain more, as only then their tea is happiest. The tea leaves are usually harvested every day, to get the tenderest new starts at the top of the plants. The fresh tea leaves are brought to the factory by the farmers and then the leaves are dried and crushed up again and again until it becomes a fine powder. The pungent, bittersweet smell of fresh tea knocks your socks off when you walk into the factory. Needless to say, the tea of Ooty is delicious, and I will definitely bring some back to Pondy with me.