“The Todas are a unique tribe that has lived in the Nilgiri hills of Southern India for centuries. The distinction of their village is the round tops on their homes with small doorways. They welcome visitors but do expect tips for pictures. Cost Rupee 300 per person.”
300! We were a group of back-packing school girls and that was clearly not in our budget. What we did have however, was the spirit of adventure, and a recently charmed friend at the tea shop who could give directions. “If you want nice pictures, go to the botanical reservation. If you want to meet real people, climb up that way. After an hours trek you will see a small settlement”. Bags packed, bottles filled, sunscreen lathered on, off we went. The climb was more perilous than we expected- loose rocks below, a sweltering hot sun above, the constant accompaniment of insects and occasional guerrila attacks by monkeys; we hadn’t exactly been trained for this in our conservative all-girls school.
An hour in and we were seriously contemplating going back. The only thing that kept us on track was the horror of loosing face with the cutie at the tea shop. He had made it sound so easy. So up we went, driven on by our egos and the fear of looking down.
My feet were aching, my arms were aching, even the parts that I didn’t know could ache, were aching. Then just as we were about to die of exhaustion, we came upon a clearing. We looked around hopefully. NO TRIBALS. This was just a regular settlement with regular houses in regular shapes housing regular people, doing regular things, like the two totally regular looking guys playing regular badminton. Who it appears had now stopped playing and were staring curiously at us.
“Excuse me, we were looking for the Todas”, we panted out.
“We are the Todas.”
“No, we mean the Toda tribe, you know. We want to see the tribe.”
One of them obviously found something funny and started laughing. How rude! The other, more polite one, just smiled at us and explained, “Look, we are from the Toda tribe. But we don’t live like they show you in the pictures any more. We go to school, speak English, and everything”.
“But we climbed up that insect infested hill just to see you. Doesn’t anyone wear the traditional clothes any more?”, we wailed. O, those lying, dirty, rotten, tourist guides!
Sunil turned out to be a rather sweet guy, really sympathetic towards the naive tourists. He took us home, gave us some tea, and even cajoled his grandmother to pull out her traditional hand woven shawl that she normally only wore on festive occasions, so we could have our picture with the Todas. And best of all, he and his ‘funny guy’ friend, who had eventually stopped laughing, showed us the easy paved road to return.
So we met the Todas, saved our money, and learned a very valuable lesson on the ethics of marketing. Isn’t that what school trips are for?
P.S: Based on a true story….Actual names & cost forgotten due to extreme fatigue 🙂
Word prompt: Slog