The bus, a very comfortable “Volvo” bus came to an abrupt stop and the driver yelled gruffly that it was the last stop. It was 5:35 in the morning and we had arrived at the Ooty bus stop 25 minutes early. I hadn’t thought to put on my warm fleece layer since a driver from the Red Hills resort was supposed to pick me up. Bad decision.
Even at this early hour, there was a fair amount of activity. Buses came and went, auto rickshaws waited patiently for passengers, and street vendors had already set up shop. My ride finally came and off we went, both front windows all the way down. That might have reduced the wind shield from fogging up too much but it left me cold!
Ooty is in the Nilgiri hills and the town is situated at an altitude of roughly 8000 ft. It is the premier hill station destination for South Indians wanting to escape the heat of summer. It is also a choice place for newly wedded couples to honeymoon. My destination, Red Hills, was only 25 kilometers from Ooty but took almost two hours and included a car ride followed by a 4 wheel drive for the really bad roads. Red Hills is really remote. And simply gorgeous.
The beautiful white washed villa was built by a British man over a hundred years ago. The current owners who also run the surrounding tea plantation, have built additional rooms and a large hall into the place. This quiet and romantic location is not only perfect for honeymooners but also for small weddings! There is even a small Krishna temple on the grounds.
The British introduced tea cultivation into India in the 18th century. The three major regions that grow tea in India are Assam, Darjeeling and the Nilgiris. While all are black teas, the flavor and aromas differ considerably. Tea from the Nilgiris, when brewed, has a lovely dark gold color and a very light taste with pleasing aroma. The Badaga people of the area who were once livestock owners and organic farmers are now the tea producers and most still stick to organic farming.
The owners of Red Hills, Mr. Vijay Kumar and Mrs. Banu were gracious hosts. I was welcomed into the kitchen and had many opportunities to learn the style of cooking of their community. The next few posts will cover more about the cuisine of the Badaga community and a few typical recipes that are very easy to make anywhere in the world.
For now, I’ll leave you with the proper technique of brewing tea. If you have tea from the Nilgiris or from Darjeeling (or for that matter, most teas), I learned that it should never be boiled. These are light and delicate teas. Heat water till it comes to a rolling boil. Remove from heat, add 1 teaspoon tea for every two mugs, and steep for 3-4 minutes. A slice of fresh lime in the tea gives it a refreshing touch.