We reached Ooty (also called Udhgamandalam), after driving through a spectacularly diverse and green forest, on a beautiful, cloudy day. A little stiff from the travelling, but elated with what we had seen and inhaled all the way uphill from Coimbatore. The first thing to do was, of course, to go for a walk and greedily gobble up all things mountainous. The path we took went away from the city, which we could see spread out below us. Soon, wild bushes and crystalline silence hemmed us in. Flowers decorated the hillside — small wild flowers, pretty in their blues and reds and pinks. Trees covered the hills in profusion. I could recognise some eucalypti and some conifers but there were lots more. Some of them were flowering; one variety had sprouted yellow flowers on their crowns, each treetop converted into a mustard field. And then there were birds. Yellow beaked and long-tailed and spotted and black crowned… that is, when we could see them. Usually they were present as an unseen twitter in the foliage.
Then a small, very small, light green bird flew across our path. Followed by a second, a third and more, till there were dozens sweeping past us — an avian storm — all of them singing and flitting from tree to tree, especially visiting pink flowers and greedily gobbling what these had to offer. Eat, sing and be merry. A promise of what a trip to Ooty could be, and a life philosophy to emulate. So this is my recommendation for Ooty. Besides visiting the tourist spots listed below, wander around the periphery of the town. You will get a heady cocktail of rolling hills, tea plantations, vegetable patches, trees with moss and lichen hugging them, and a thick undergrowth: all of them inhabiting a world of cloud, mist and sunshine. Drink it for the immediate high it gives and also for the hangover that lasts for days to come. Most hotels will arrange taxis (INR 1,800 for a full day approx), while autos are readily available all over the town. Most distances will cost anything between INR 100 and 250.
Tea is sold all over Ooty. It comes from various plantations, is sold in dust, leaf, organic and white varieties, and in many flavours — plain, masala, elaichi, jasmine…. The prices vary from INR 100 to 450 for 1/2 kg for all varieties except white tea, which has medicinal value and costs INR 350-500 for 50 gm. You will also get more products that come from the plantations spread throughout the Nilgiri Hills. Aromatic oils — camphor, eucalyptus, citronella and more — for INR 100-150 for 100 ml. And spices — cloves, nutmeg, pepper, mace, cardamom — costing INR 80-120 for 10 gm. For some reason that I could not fathom, homemade chocolates is a big industry here. They make a bewildering variety of chocolates: plain, bitter, milk, cashew, butterscotch, fruit-and-nut, which will cost INR 50-100 for 100 gm. All these products can be found in many shops on Ooty’s Commercial Road, and in shops at tourist spots like Ooty Lake, Botanical Garden and Dodda Betta, some of the popular attractions in Ooty.
State: Tamil Nadu
Location: The Queen of the Blue Mountains sits at the centre point of the Nilgiri Range, at a height of 7,440 ft.
Distance: 297 km SW of Bengaluru (By road: 7 hrs; By air: 1 hour +3 hrs by road; By rail: 8 hrs + 3hrs by road).
When to go: All year round. Summer is an obvious time to go, but it can be crowded. Ooty is delightful during and after the monsoon rains, and fun in winter too.
By Amit Mahajan
About the Author: He has worked as an engineer, researcher, reflexologist, writer and translator.