The narrow Muthorai Road leads out of Ooty to the villages of Palada, Ithalar and Emerald, all surrounded by acres of cabbage and carrot, and further to an area called Red Hills. Take this road out of the clamour of Ooty to put the magic back into jaded Nilgiri holidays. For, here you’ll be transported back to the time of the British, with the landscape giving you enough evidence as to why the mandarins of Team Britannica so loved the Blue Mountains. It is here in Red Hills that the lakes are abundant, forests are magnificent and vast, the foliage dense, and the air crisp and pure. Lush, eye-soothing greenery covers whole areas right into the horizon. Small rivulets in the hills and the valleys shimmer like silver strings in the sunlight as they cascade down the slopes; the trees are bent low, heavy with their bounty of mouth-watering fruits; and a million flowers bloom in such fantastic hues all around that they make the heart cry out in sheer ecstasy.
Somewhere in the long distance, atop a hillock with an ambling road going up the slope, a house with a slanting, tiled roof spews wisps of white smoke from a chimney that joins the cotton-soft clouds, stitching fleeting patterns of art. Wild rabbits prance around in joyous celebration and multi-coloured birds streak across the cobalt sky leaving behind vivid trails. A great change from the clamour of Ooty, the wildness of Mudumalai and laidback Coonoor. Best of all, Red Hills offers a permanent guarantee of natural beauty, since no further development is possible under the law in the ecologically fragile area of the sensitive Upper Bhavani Sanctuary nearby. Ringed by an almost never-ending array of mountains clothed in olive green finery, Red Hills, so named by the British in remembrance of a similar area in England, is where tranquility meets calm to produce a sense that is soothing and soul-enriching.
Eight lakes form the finest beauty spots on the face of Red Hills. You can take a tour of these, all within a 25 km radius of Red Hills. A gentle walk along their shores, with myriad birdsong as accompaniment, is a great afternoon spent. You can also fish for carp and trout in the lakes while you relax and take in the scenery. But the best thing to do in Red Hills is to just take a long, unhurried amble amidst the wilderness through the pencil-thin pathways that go all around the valleys with the mountain air caressing your face and the greenery inviting you to embrace it with the passion of a lovelorn beloved.
The area is dotted by eight lakes, aquamarine in colour and distilled in purity — Emerald, Avalanche, Upper Bhavani (40 km), Parson’s Valley Lake (12 km), Porthimund (15 km) and Western Catchments 1, 2 and 3 (40 km). From atop the lofty perches around Red Hills, they appear as impossibly odd-shaped mirrors reflecting the clouds. The occasional glint of the sun is magnified on their surface, as the waters break into fine ripples. The area receives heavy rainfall every year — 100 inches in just three months between June and August — that fills up the lakes. The light green shrubs of tea gardens roll into the slopes that reach out for the sky. Towards evening, the winds blowing from across the peaks and through the trees make you long for the warmth of a cosy fireplace.
About 13 km from Emerald (7 km from Red Hill Nature Resort by the metalled road to Ooty) is the village of Avalanche where live one of the oldest tribes of the Nilgiris, the Todas. Primarily cattle breeders, they would barter ghee and butter for grains in the olden days. And while visiting them, if you happen to see an elderly man placing his foot ritualistically on the head of a woman, don’t be appalled. That is how Toda elders bless their young. Avalanche also has a trout hatchery, over a hundred years old. And the hydroelectric power stations at Emerald and Avalanche built in the 1950s to visit. The open grasslands and jade forests of Parson’s Valley Lake (take the metalled road to the Parson’s Valley Powerhouse) have an allure all their own. Cut off from the clamour of daily existence, you are bound to experience a rare freshness of spirit there.
State: Tamil Nadu
Location: The Red Hills area, 27 km from Ooty, is in an ecologically fragile zone of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve where no more development is allowed.
Distance: 324 km SW of Bengaluru; journey time: by road 8 hours
When to go: The resort is normally closed for the monsoon between June and August. But if you insist that you are the type who loves the rain, then you can head there after calling up the place. It is open through the rest of the year. Summers are wonderfully pleasant and winters cold.
By Sunaad Raghuram
About the author: Sunaad Raghuram’s claim to fame is a bandit’s biography, a national bestseller, titled Veerappan: The Untold Story.