Ooty, Tamil Nadu

Ooty! Melodious little name, no? Now, let’s test your phonetics…Say Udagamandalam in a go.
Pat your back if you did. Well, that’s the original name of this quaint hill station, the British discovered, back in the early eighteenth century. So captivating was its beauty that they couldn’t help but compare it to Switzerland and soon after made it their summer abode. Udagamandalam proved bit of a tongue-twister, which is why they fondly rechristened it to Ooty. And, we absolutely love it.

90 kilometers from Coimbatore airport and a three hours snaky drive up the verdant mountains, Ooty is nestled in the Nilgiri district of Tamil Nadu. Nil-Giri means Blue Mountains in Tamil. You know you’ve entered the Nilgiris when you roll down your windshields, stick your nose out and inhale the earthy aroma of Eucalyptus trees strewn around. That’s the beginning of your journey to the spellbinding destination of breathtaking vistas, never-seen-before magical lakes, mystical pine forests, glorious colonial bungalows that still stand tall and proud of their British Raj history, the overwhelming not-to-be-missed ride in heritage Nilgiri Mountain Railway, the diversity of teas that’ll make you go berserk…. All of these and you’ve barely scratched it’s surface.

Rose Garden:
Perched on the Elk Hill and spread across massive 4 hectares, the Rose Garden is the largest in the world boasting more than 20,000 varieties of stunning, blooming and blushing roses in colours and sizes you’ll wonder even existed.

Ooty Lake:
John Sullivan, the erstwhile Collector of Coimbatore constructed this artificial lake way back in 1824. This pristine fuggy lake is hemmed by a thicket of Eucalyptus trees, making for a picture perfect backdrop.

The boat house at the lake offers various options like paddles, row and motor boats. The queue is insane. But, the experience is worth all the wait. There’s also a garden, amusement park and a canteen for when you’re peckish.

Government Botanical Gardens:
The Brits indeed left no stone unturned in developing and beautifying this place. In 1848, a British Architect was summoned to contruct this garden. The purpose was to supply the European residents with vegetables at a reasonable cost.
The Gardens are a horticulturist’s delight and a picnicker’s haven. Aroma of the greens wafts through the air and follows you all through the park.

Shooting Point:
Bollywood-ies couldn’t be happier. Many many movies have been shot here.  ‘Raja Hindustani’… ring a bell?
Tall, handsome horses trot around, beckoning you to saddle up for a breezy ride up this gorgeous hill.

Pykara Lake:
How I wish I’d taken a video. This post-card perfect lake is a pure sensory overload. Go boating for 20 minutes. There’s nothing else you’ll hear, except the invisible chirping of birds, the splashing of water against the boat and the oars slicing through. And, if you are lucky enough, the raindrops may fall from the heavens above adding to the unforgettable drama. Lastly, there’s yummy food, ice-creams, coffee and homemade chocolates upstairs to satiate your rumbling tummy.

Dodabetta Peak:
Normal people do the regular. We being the intrepid kinds, did the offbeat – We took a hyperbumpy, nose-chilling, cheek-numbing yet super-fun auto-ride to the top.

The mountains here have their own way of weaving a very special magic. Doddabetta is the highest at 8600 feet. It’s captivating up there. Cool cottony clouds coming right at you. Where do you ever find that? The chill is numbing and the feeling…it’s profound. Take a deep breath, marvel at the spectacular panoramas of Ooty and forget the cacophony of the other world for a while. Mountains do help us understand… the place, its beauty and many times… ourselves.
Squeezing in a bit of snooze:

Kamarajar Sagar Dam:
Come on. Let’s sit down, only for a few minutes. Let’s just sit and glare at the still waters of the deep blue lake, the rhythmically swaying pines, the mystical blue skies, the floating clouds…  Let’s breathe in the silence. Can you hear that? Can you actually hear silence? The answer is, you can. Right here. The land gently breathing in and out, that’s silence. When you are able to dive deep into your soul, that’s silence. When you feel the world is frozen in your moment, that’s silence. And it’s right here, at the Kamrajar Dam.

Tea Factory:
I still remember that triumph on my grandpa’s face when he’d taken that first slurp of the tea I made. It was my maiden dish, beverage rather… at the age of 6. Surprisingly, I’m a coffee aficionado.
4 kilometres from the City Centre, the Ooty Tea Factory is a tea-lover’s haven. 40 minutes tour around the factory and you have a complete lowdown on the entire history of tea and the tea-making process. You can actually witness the fresh green leaves being subjected to a series of processes, the CTC (cut, twist, curl) machines and lastly the packaging too. The aroma is intoxicating. It’s educational, insightful, and inspiring and you are sure to love and appreciate your cuppa all the more. After the tour ends, you are rewarded with a steaming hot cup of Masala Chai, the product of the factory itself. At the counter, you’ll be spoilt for choice and price. Parcel home some of these aromatic infusions for your mandatory morning fix.
From shrub to cup:

Adjacent to the Tea Museum is the Chocolate Factory, where you can sample the dark homemade beauties in rum and raisins, roasted almonds, fig and honey, coffee chocolate and many others. They’re sure to make for some amazing gifts for your folks back home.

Pine Forests:
Bollywood has had an age-old love affair with the Pine Forests of Ooty. They’re painfully romantic and stunningly eerie at the same time. This is that one place I’ve been craving to visit, since the time I watched the horror flick, Raaz, way back in 2002.
Posting a clipping for you from the movie and you’ll know what I mean.

Walk till the end, and you are rewarded with spectacular views of paradise. Swathes of lush greens and spotless blue skies, as far as your eyes can see.

Mudumulai Tiger Reserve:
They say, “it’s all about the journey, not the destination”. I feel, it’s about both, and in this case specially. A magnificent 4o km narrow, winding stretch of extremely steep ghats, laced with a whopping 36 hair-pin bends, is something you’ll never forget.
Does the name “Veerappan” ring a bell? Yes, that ruthless murderer, the unrelenting sandalwood and ivory smuggler and an incessant menace to the police and the civilians alike. These verdant hills were his abode for more than a decade, until he was finally ambushed and killed. Now, that’s quite a journey, isn’t it, seasoned with such hair-raising anecdotes.
Look at all that he has for company 🙂 :

Well, it doesn’t end here. When you finally touch the plains and heave a euphoric sigh of relief, the driver suddenly slows down, his eyes peeled on the road-sides, and you wonder, why?
That’s exactly when he yells, “a boar. Look, a wild boar…to your left…”
Now, you join him in the search too. An elephant (his rear, actually), on the left hill, handful of deer to your right, a peacock little farther. All of this has already set the tone for what might lay ahead. I’m now expecting the big cat to pop out from somewhere. How ridiculous of me! But there’s always a hope, isn’t there 🙂

One hour thirty minutes of an eventful drive later, we arrive at the reserve. Book tickets to a jeep or bus safari and you are off on a 45 minutes adventure deep inside the jungle.

About 50 tigers are reported to live here apart from deer, peacocks, wild boar, langurs, jackals, Malabar giant squirrels, wild elephants and the Indian Bison.
Here, you’re bound to see a lifetime supply of deer. Magnificent and graceful, lounging, sunbathing, strutting their stuff…
Lazy tiger! Where was he?

Wax Museum And Chocolate Market:
Well, this isn’t exactly Madame Tussauds, if you so expect. But, it definitely is a work of art. You have to appreciate the efforts of Mr. Shreeji Bhaskaran, the sponsor, owner and creator, who’s put his heart and soul into the making of these marvelous pieces. Mr. Veerappan in the picture above, sits right here.

The chocolate and spice shop is just next door:

Nilgiri Mountain Railway:
In 2005, this heritage toy train was added by UNESCO to the list of World Heritage sites. Built by the British in 1908, this royal blue beauty takes you through a time warp more than a century ago.

An old steam locomotive plinthed outside Coonoor Station:
There’s something inexpressibly romantic about train journeys. Chugging through numerous curves, tunnels and bridges thrown in for a good measure, the one hour fifteen minutes joyride from Ooty to Coonoor is something you should not miss. Clinging to the mountain sides, the train maneuvers the sharp turns, huffing and puffing all the way. Towering pines and firs hem the tracks. And, when they are not, it’s the panoramic vistas of rolling hills and sweeping tea estates that leave you gasping for breath and grabbing your cameras.
If that’s not all, quaint little stations with colonial names like Runnymede, Hill Grove, Adderly, Wellington and Lovedale reminisce you of being a part of the British history.

Ensure you book the window seats, at least a month in advance, so you don’t miss out making some wonderful memories.

Coonoor:
The heritage train ride sets just the right pace for an amazing holiday that awaits in Coonoor. Earmark a day at least to explore its sights and surrounds. Coonoor is one of the three hill-stations of Nilgiri. The other two being Ooty and Kotagiri. It’s smaller, quieter and a little less touristy than it’s famous sister. You can still do the exact same things here, like, visit tea plantations, soak in those splendid mountain views, among doing hordes of other touristy stuff. But, when you do decide to hit the tourist spots, pick quality over quantity. It’s a whole lot different to actually be in a place than to just see and tick it off your bucket list.

Shopping is crazy in Coonoor. Loosen your purse strings for those rare and indigenous ayurvedic oils serving various purposes like medicinal, beauty, aromatic and massage. Make pit stops to sample teas in diverse flavors at the countless factory outlets. Stock up on some incredibly fresh and aromatic spices, that you won’t find in the cities.
Few outlets even give you a glimpse of their factory-like setting where the extraction of Eucalyptus oil takes place:

Park yourself in one of those gorgeous heritage hotels or return to Ooty, taking the last toy-train back home.

There’s nothing like planning a perfect holiday for that perfect experience. Or, may be there is. But, in a place like Ooty, bursting with captivating landscapes, steam-puffing lakes and brilliant blue skies, you’re better off throwing your plans to the wind and just pace yourself. There’s something hypnotic about it’s tranquil air… it’s gentle nonchalance that is just as enticing as it’s natural beauty that’s here to stay, year after year…season after season…whether we are here to witness it or not…

Where To Stay:
Ooty’s got a whole bloom of gorgeous heritage villas and hotels scattered all over. Glancing over the misty mountains and perched beneath the sun-kissed pines, they are sure to hark you back to another time.

We stayed at Sherlock:
It’s a perfect bubble of calm to be nestled within. With a cluster of 9 spacious rooms, each with stunning views, a Victorian mantelpiece, period furniture, spacious bathrooms and a bed so soft, you won’t want to move out.

Menu is impressive with an assortment of cuisines to choose from. Of course, the chefs showcase the flavours of South India with equal flair. Food is hearty and flavorful enough to lull you into food coma.
Click here for my post on Sherlock.
For further inquiries and bookings visit their site: http://www.littlearth.in/sherlock

Where To Eat:
Nahar Sidewalk Cafe: Attentive service, vintage decor and fresh pizzas doled out from their wood-fired oven are the hallmarks of this quaint cafe on the Commercial Street.

Shinkow’s Chinese Restaurant: This one’s an institution in itself that has been dishing out lip-smacking Chinese fare. Dim lighting, scurrying waiters and chequered table-cloths are perfect appetizers to the much anticipated main course that’s super quick to arrive. We loved the nutty Chicken in Almonds, Chilly Beef, Soft Fried Noodles With Prawns and Young Chow Fried Rice.

Hotel Junior Kuppanna: Work up an appetite for an authentic South Indian experience, specially the Chettinad style. Food is super fresh and is served on banana leaves. Chicken Chukka, Mutton Pallipalayam, Vanjiram Fish Tawa Fry along with crisp Parottas are something you must try. The fiery dishes might give you hot flashes, but the food is so flavourful, I’m sure, you won’t mind the post-meal fireworks.

Hyderabad Biryani House: HBH in the local lingo, known for their Biryanis and Kebabs. The place is tad over-rated compared to their food. But then, it’s the only restaurant that caters to your Biryani cravings. They have their branch in Coonoor too, stone’s throw from the railway station.

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