The dawn broke as we began the climb into the Western Ghats. The air was fresher, cooler and clearer than in the lowlands. We strained our way up a winding road, frequently potholed and with steep banks of lush vegetation on either side. The journey was punctuated by warning blasts from the motor's horn whenever people were walking in the road; more, I felt, because our driver liked the sound of the claxon than for any regard to the safety of the pedestrians.
The dark rocks rising above the roadside were dissected in places by fast flowing streams and waterfalls; a tropical paradise with the early morning sunlight dappling through the trees and lighting up the vivid-blue morning glory flowers that were draped over the undergrowth like floral bedspreads. The birdsong provided a tuneful accompaniment; strange, whooping sounds and little, coloratura arpeggios, unfamiliar to my English ear. The scent of cardamom filled the air as we drove past spice plantations. The blue-grey peaks of the distant hills pierced the mist, like desert islands in a pale sea. It was a kind of wonderland and I found it utterly beautiful. Despite the draw of the scenery, the motion of the car eventually lulled me to sleep, my head resting on Tony's shoulder until he gave me a gentle prod in the ribs.
'Nearly there, darling. Mustn't miss the first sight of Mudoorayam.'
I looked through the open window. The vegetation on either side of the road had changed markedly. We had entered tea country. The slopes were now vivid green, regularly ribbed with darker parallel lines—pathways between the tea bushes. It was like a huge carpet of green corduroy velvet or the ripples on a wet sandy beach when the tide's gone out. Protruding from the strips of green was the occasional big, grey boulder and areas where red soil was exposed, like bunkers on a golf course.
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