My family got to the foothills of Ooty, India, as the sun was setting. Having unwisely chosen the front seat of our minibus, I had a bird’s eye view of the oncoming headlights as we wound up the snaky road to our mountaintop destination. The road seemed smaller than one lane as truck after truck swerved from our path at every curvy turn. I sat like an owl, alert with my eyes wide open, watching in amazement as the familiar sound of children quieting down and falling fast asleep lessened the chorus in the background. Ignorance is bliss. I sat eyes fixed on the road wondering if falling off a mountain in India was how it was going to end for us. Thanks to our capable driver who never flinched, we arrived safe and sound.
We had planned a family gathering for India. My oldest son, his wife and two daughters had been transferred to Bangalore and we thought it would be the perfect opportunity to meet up. We flew with our youngest three from Jeddah. Our second son flew with his wife from Ohio. Braving the blizzards of the winter of 2014, they managed to slip out between two storms. Only two of our daughters and their families were unable to attend. That left us with a group of twelve.
In an effort to squeeze in as much of India as possible within our ten day visit, we left for Ooty directly from the airport after a sound round of hugs and kisses. As we passed through the tiger reserve I reminded my son that we hadn’t prayed Dhuhr and Asr. It seemed the road was longer than planned. Our driver pulled our bus over at the safari welcome centre. Immediately, I saw just the building: “Muslem House”. Alhamdulillah! Getting down from our bus, we were greeted by various monkeys young and old. They were professional beggars and their cute little faces were too much to resist. We made our way, with an escort of monkeys munching on our bananas, to what turned out to be a small museum rather than a Muslim house. The man was gracious and showed us the direction of the qiblah and afterwards proudly gave us a tour of a variety of oddly stuffed animals that had once perused the preserve. We found masjids throughout the trip in every little town and hamlet, usually next to a church. We didn’t miss a prayer. Alhamdulillah.
It was in the morning that we awoke to what had eluded us in our arrival in the dark. I stood on the balcony of our cottage, coffee in hand, pinching myself as I soaked in the beauty of the mountains. What a contrast to the brown deserts of Jeddah. I fell in love as nothing brings peace and tranquillity to me like Allah’s (SWT) mountains.
We all loaded into the minibus to set off for Doddabetta Peak. It is the highest point on Mount Ooty, which offers a bird’s eye view of the beautiful tea plantations of this mountainous paradise. As we tried to turn on the road we were stopped by the police. The road was closed. A tiger attack had prompted an all out search for the killer of the latest victim. Happily complying with authorities, a prompt redirecting landed us at the Botanical Gardens. Alhamdulillah.
Colours pop in India, no doubt about it. The greenery of the mountain was a canvas to a quaint array of brightly painted homes nestled into the steps of the slopes leading to the valley below. No matter where I found myself waiting for the rest of the group to catch up, there was never a dull moment as colourful saris and shalwar khameez cascaded down the streets and pathways not once repeating patterns or colours. I was continually entertained as dressing smart is part of the custom of the people and place. I didn’t see one pair of sweatpants. Even the street sweeps had on their matching jewellery giving a festive atmosphere to their daily routine. Famous for its tea, coffee and chocolate, Ooty was finding its way into my heart and, yes, onto my thighs. I still walk around with India truly a part of me.
Growing up in the Mid West of the USA, salt, pepper and a slab of butter was all we added to our food. I had some pepper training from eating biryani and other dishes which our Indian and Pakistani sisters had prepared back home. At the restaurants where we dined in Ooty, the food was fabulous, but I was on fire. With every tasty bite my tongue sizzled. A call out to my sisters on “Whatsapp” gleaned the solution: lassi, a delicious yoghurt drink. I lined the drinks up before every meal: one lassi, one juice and a bottle of water. Although there are better ways to stop the burning, there was nothing as satisfying as pooling some lassi in my mouth and laying my tongue in there to swirl around. Once cooled off, I was compelled to have another bite and another. The variety of sauces was amazing. Again and again I was met with a colourful array of vegetables and curd smothered in yellow and red sauces and the butter naan bread – yum! No meal was complete without a tasty fruit salad featuring fresh pineapple, papaya and grapes, as well as sweet scented melon, apples and pomegranate.
A nice feature of India is that Hindu citizens are vegetarian, so most – if not all – of the meat available is halal slaughtered by the Muslim citizens. However, it is always best to ask. Many restaurants were owned and operated by Muslims as well. We also found that as Muslims we were not odd or treated differently. Since we spoke in a mix of Arabic and English it was understandable that people might wonder about our group but we did not encounter a single problem on our journey.
The zoo in Mysore was our next stop. I was happy to see that none of the animals in the zoo had been captured but rather were being nursed back to health or were being given a proper home after having suffered abuse. The variety of birds, which I had never seen before, was my favourite.
Next was Mysore Palace. The home of the last Maharaja whose family had ruled the state for more than 500 years was built at the turn of the 20th century. It was lit up for its once weekly display which lasts only an hour. Tours of the most visited palace after the Taj Mahal featured the luxurious living of the occupants. From gilded pillars to beautiful rosewood doors with ivory inlay and from dazzling chandeliers to the mosaic floors dotted with semi precious stones, it seemed no expense had been spared.
No trip to India could be complete without shopping. Once back in Bangalore it was a must to visit the area of Shvaginagar. After seeing all of those beautiful clothes for ten days we were not going to leave before we had a few pieces of our own. The streets were lined with colourful clothes, shoes and jewellery from traditional Indian styles to the latest trends. Any shopping trip that ends with a new pair of shoes and some great looking clothes is fine by me. Best of all we found a masjid in the middle of the market, too.
Ann (Umameer) Stock reverted to Islam 27 years ago and lives back and forth between Cairo and Jeddah with her Egyptian husband. She wants to help the next generation of Muslims understand more about their faith. You can follow her at http://umameerblog.wordpress.com, Musings of a Muslimah.