P. Lal recalls his visit to the Blue Mountains in Australia
A two-hour drive to the west of Sydney took us to the region of the Blue Mountains. The afternoon sun could hardly pierce the clouds covering the ranges but wherever it did, the sight was spectacular; the blueness of the mountains appeared to be dotted with sparkling diamonds (as the light filtered through the dense foliage).
From a distance, the mountains looked bluish; as we came nearer, there was a cocktail of colours: golden streaked with rust, beige besmeared with fluffs of white, and indigo curved like a crescent.
Though it was summer in Australia, the breeze from the mountains blew past us, cool and fragrant, smelling of eucalyptus. The trees (also called eucalypt) were not tall, unlike those in India, but spread out more in girth and covering vast areas on the hillsides. The guide claimed that eucalyptus was originally found in Australia but the name was Greek (‘eu’ meaning ‘well’, and ‘kaluptos’ meaning ‘covered’— the unopened flower is protected by a cap).
The "blueness" of the Blue Mountains, we were told, was due to the scattering of the blue light in the spectrum of the sun by the fine droplets of oil dispersed in the air by the countless eucalypt trees.
The mountains, rising some 3000 feet from the coastal plains, were formed, about 200 million years ago under the sea. Over geological times, the earth’s crust moved up and forced this gigantic plateau to its present position.
The city of the Blue Mountains has more than 20 towns and villages — Katoomba, Leura, Wentworth Falls, Bullaburra, Lawson and Glenbrook et al. It covers an area of about 1440 sq km.
Katoomba has Three Sisters (mountains standing side by side) which glow — golden in colour — at sunset (if one is lucky enough to have the clouds shooed away by winds). The Jamison Valley down below glistened with the mountain mist as the rays of the sun kissed it in an oblique embrace and burst into myriad colours.
The Blue Mountains were originally named "Carmarthen Hills" and "Landsdowne Hills" by Governor Phillip, in 1788, but soon these came to be known as the Blue Mountains due to the distinctive haze surrounding the area.
The Daruk tribe of Australian aborigines is believed to be the first to inhabit the area.
From the time, Captain Cook reached the eastern coast of Australia in 1770, there were several efforts to cross the mountains for expansion in the west.
However, it was only in 1813 that Gregory Blaxland, William Charles Wentworth and Lieutenant Lawson could reach the foothills, now known as Glenbrook. It was regarded as a great feat those days, as the success had come in the teeth of opposition by the aborigines, and also because the area was largely inhospitable to trek. The remains of a eucalypt tree known as the Marked Tree, to the west of Katoomba, even today commemorates the victory of the three explorers over the mountains.
A 75-km road — Emu Plains to Mount York — was laid by engineer William Cox in 1814. Later, Cox extended the road up to Bathurst. The road became motorable only in 1904.
The discovery of gold in Bathurst in 1850s resulting in the "Gold Rush" paved the way for the laying of a railway line. The project was completed in 1867.
John Heron, nicknamed "The Big Fish" because of his bulky stature, drove the service for a number of years between Sydney and Penrith; the train acquired the name "The Fish". One of the train services between Sydney and Lithgow is still known by this name.
Katoomba grew in importance with the mining of coal which started in 1879. The scenic railway, now a craze among tourists, operates in the hollows on the hillsides, left by coal mining.
Other attractions include hiking in the Blue Mountains, the Blue Mountains National Park spread over 216,000 hectares. One can also experience the thrill of the world’s steepest railway, ride the scenic skyway soaring several hundred metres above the Jasmison Valley or visit the Grand Canyon, also called stairway to heaven.
As night fell, we drove back with the images of the majesty of the mountains deeply imprinted in the mind.