The early morning light paints the hills ahead in nuances of blue and greys; dreamlike they calm the eye and soften the soul. The air fresh and vibrant, the scent of the day dawning is gently folding itself around me like a blanket in the breeze.
Winding through the narrow tracks between tea bushes the chop chop chopping of the ladies shears over the valley is audible on the wind. The mountainside looks like a mosaic of large green cobble stones, tea plants short and round with small tracks winding through them like veins through the body of hills. Scouring the mountainside I see the women appear as small dots in a line winding up the hill between the stubby green plants. Their clothing a myriad of fabrics wrapped and tied around their bodies, on their head a pile of folded material to buffer the weight of the strap of their bag; the tea leaf collecting bag slung on the tops of their heads and hanging down their back.
A siren can be heard in the distance, strangely reminiscent of the air raid sirens I know so well from films, though the rise and fall of the tone is confined to once only and happily fails to convey the urgency I associate with the wail of war. This calls the tea workers to the factory signalling the start of their day. Passing a factory the smell of the fresh cut green leaves mix with the familiar aroma of oxidised black tea. All around me such Indian Britishness it is difficult to know where one culture begins and the other ends. The tea estate manager walks briskly by in smart shoes, ankle socks fully pulled up so they reach half way up his calfs, bear knees with schoolboy grey shorts, a short sleeved shirt and a cap. So utterly school boy British, so utterly tea estate Indian. The traditional old England living immersed in this country so far from home.
Rounding the corner the sun magically emerges from behind the mountainous horizon. The eery line of silver oaks atop the hill that had looked as if they were living, walking, shaggy giants in the dawn light, now become placed, just trees in the full light of day. Gazing down into the valley a bison grazes; its huge dark form seems half cow half rhino with white socks on his feet pulled half way up his calfs just like the estate manager. As it slowly walks through the water its enormous flank ripples with muscles, well defined, like a gladiator of the river. He looks up as he hears us speak, his horns strong and bowed, ribbed, and set on his head clearly ready to charge at anything that gets in his way. Realising we are no threat he goes on unconcerned, his white nose bobbing up and down as his drinks, his enormous strong tongue stretching out and curling around the greenery he wants to consume.
Valparai, Tamil Nadu, India.
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