Walking the Blue Mountains

The Nilgiris, also known as the Blue Mountains, constitute India’s oldest mountain ranges and are located at the junction of the Western and Eastern Ghats, 2,500-2,600m above sea level. They stretch slightly into Kerala and Karnataka and are best suited for novice trekkers. These treks can be done all year round. Three hugely popular hill stations, Ooty, Kotagiri and Coonoor, created by the British, offer ideal bases for interesting treks into the mountains where dense shola forests blend perfectly with tea estates, orange groves, coffee plantations, rolling meadows, bubbling brooks, tumbling waterfalls and crystal clear lakes. The mountains are home to tribes such as the Todas, Kurumbhas and Irulas, each with colourful socio-cultural histories.

 

The Nilgiris (Photo by RejiK)

 

The British considered the Nilgiris to be the Scotland of the East, built bungalows and rest houses on their estates and plantations and connected them through a network of winding mountain roads and even a railway. Half-a-dozen residential schools dot the area, which also boasts of a golf course and the Officers Training School in Wellington, a few kilometres out of Ooty.

 

 

OOTY-MUKURTHI LAKE TREK

 

TIME: 3-4 days
IDEAL SEASON: Jun to Feb
LOCATION: West south-west of Ooty

 

DAY ONE

 

OOTY-PORTHIMUND

TIME 6-8 HOURS

LEVEL MODERATE

 

The town of Ooty is bisected by the state highway. So to begin the trek, you have to head towards the highway and then follow it westwards. After 3 km, look for a sign on the left that says Parson’s Peak. Turn onto the dirt track winding upwards and west. Soon you’ll be trekking across the upper reaches of the Nilgiris and meadows. After 8 km, you’ll be on top of Parson’s Peak overlooking the grassy knoll of Parson’s Valley. The mountain slopes gently towards the west. If you want to avoid the long slog, you could even take a bus from Ooty to the base of Parson’s Peak and walk onwards from here.

 

From the peak, you’ll be able to spot the tiny hamlet of Porthimund, with its red-tiled houses nestling in the mountains. But to get there, you have to first descend into the valley. Right after the summer rains in April-May, it’s a spectacular sight to behold, for wild flowers of various hues carpet the valley as far as the eye can see. It takes about 3-4 hrs to get to Porthimund, where you can take a tea/ coffee break. Camp overnight here, but carry your own provisions.

 

Porthimund lake (Photo by Ak56)

 

GETTING THERE AND OUT

 

From Porthimund to Ooty Get picked up by a pre-arranged taxi (1 hr/ Rs 1,100) from Ooty. Bus service unreliable. Porthimund to Pykara Lake. Arrange taxi pick-up (1 hr/ Rs 1,100). No bus service Pykara to Ooty by taxi is 1 hr 20 mins/ Rs 650. Pykara to Mudumalai, on the direct route via Talakunda (40 km), is 2 hrs by Sumo (Rs 1,300). No shared jeeps and buses available on this route. Mudumulai to Ooty is 11/2 hrs by jeep (Rs 500-600). Buses for Ooty available from Masinagudi, 5 km from Theppakadu in Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary.

 

 

DAY TWO

 

PORTHIMUND-MUKURTHI LAKE

TIME 2 HOURS

LEVEL EASY

 

From Porthimund, head 5 km west towards the Mukurthi Lake and dam. The walk takes you through eucalyptus plantations, coffee estates and a few small hamlets. It’s a superb experience walking through this area and breathing the crisp mountain air. Although the lake is on the fringe of the Mukurthi National Park and one is tempted to explore the jungles, getting permissions for entry is near impossible. This is because the wildlife authorities want to preserve the pristine environment, quite like the Silent Valley National Park. But don’t fret, there’s plenty of pleasure to be had by the lake. Hire a boat or go fishing. You can camp overnight on the premises of the dilapidated Electricity Department Bungalow, but with permission from the Superintendent Engineer, Generation Circle, Kunda (Tel: +91-423-2509225). Or stay at the Nilgiris Wildlife and Environment Association Bungalow (Tel: +91-423- 2447167 for bookings). Both accommodations are on the south side of the lake.

 

Niltahrs at Mukurthi National Park (Photo by Rajesh dxb)

 

 

DAY 3

 

MUKURTHI LAKE-PORTHIMUND AND BEYOND

TIME 2 HOURS

LEVEL EASY

 

Return the same way to Porthimund, from where you can either get a taxi or bus back to Ooty or drive north-west to Pykara Falls and the Pykara Lake. At the Falls, a stream tumbles down a cascading tract of rocks, which is located in a bowl-shaped utterly green valley. Pykara Lake is located prettily amidst shola forest and there is a snack bar run by Tamil Nadu Tourism. You can have lunch at one of the lakeside eateries and then catch a bus or taxi back. Or drive another 20 km north over undulating terrain to the Mudumalai National Park.

 

The park is home to the tiger, bison, elephant, wild boar and other fauna (the endangered Nilgiri tahr lives in the upper reaches of the hills). There is an elephant safari every hour or so from the elephant camp at Theppakadu on the outskirts of the park. You can stay overnight at the Theppakadu Log Hut and and Theppakadu Sylvan Lodge (for bookings contact Deputy Director, Mudumalai Tiger Reserve, Mt Stewart Hill, Ooty; Tel: +91-423-2444098, 2445971) and catch a bus or mini van, which ply regularly to Ooty.

 

 

OOTY-RED HILLS TREK

 

TIME: 4-5 days
IDEAL SEASON: Oct to May
LOCATION: South of Ooty

 

DAY ONE

 

OOTY-EMERALD

DISTANCE 12 KM TIME 4 HOURS

LEVEL EASY

 

Pack provisions, tents and water and head south-west from Ooty on the narrow Muthorai Road, and walk over meadows and hillocks parallel to the road towards Red Hills. After 8 km, you’ll pass the villages of Muthorai and Pallada, and a little later, Ithalar. From here you’ll have to trek across wide meadows keeping south till you reach the town of Emerald with its lovely lake. This is in fact the ‘Lake District’ with a total of eight lakes spread out in the valleys. Pitch your tent anywhere along the shore of the lake.

 

 

DAY TWO

 

EMERALD-AVALANCHE

DISTANCE 12 KM TIME 4 HOURS

LEVEL EASY

 

Avalanche Lake (Photo by Sandeep Somasekharan)

 

Head south for 12 km until you come across the Avalanche Dam and the Avalanche Village (named after a massive landslide in 1823). The village, home to the Toda tribe, is surrounded by forests of silver oak, pine, cypress and rhododendrons. There are also magnolias and orchids and a trout stream. Find a suitable spot and camp overnight.

 

 

DAYS THREE TO FIVE

 

Retrace your way back to Ooty via Parson’s Valley, or head to Red Hills. Head northwards along the lake on the Red Hills Road for 7 km, to the Red Hills Nature Resort, where you can stay overnight. The next day, hike 14 km to Parson’s Valley, and on the fifth day walk back to Ooty.

 

 

DAY HIKES AROUND KOTAGIRI

 

KOTAGIRI-KODANAD

 

DISTANCE 20 KM TIME 6-8 HOURS

LEVEL MODERATE

 

Kotagiri, at a height of 1,982m plus, is the heart of the tea-growing area, east of Ooty. From Kotagiri head north-east of the town on the vast stretches of meadow parallel to the road to reach Kodanad, 20 km away. The place offers picture-postcard views of tea estates and the Moyar River winding its way in the valley below. If you wish to stay the night, there is the Kodanad Forest Rest House (for bookings contact DFO Nilgiris North Division, Tel: +91-423- 2443968, Mob: +91-98840-62414). Or retrace your way to Kotagiri or Ooty.

 

 

KOTAGIRI-ST CATHERINE FALLS

 

DISTANCE 8 KM TIME 2-3 HOURS

LEVEL EASY

 

Musically called Geddhehaada Halla, meaning ‘foothill valley river’ in the vernacular, this magnificent 250-foot double-cascaded waterfall is the second highest in the district. From Kotagiri, you’ll need to take the Mettupalayam Road branching off at Aravenu and walk 8 km till the falls. Either return to Kotagiri or Ooty.

 

 

KOTAGIRI-LONGWOOD SHOLA

 

DISTANCE 3 KM TIME 1 HOUR

 

Between August and September and then again in early December, the birder and wildlife enthusiast alike can head to Kotagiri. Just 3 km from here is the beautiful 20-hectare Longwood Shola Forest, a lush, wild tract that will definitely please nature lovers. Take written permission from the DFO, Nilgiris North Division, Mt Stuart Hill, Ooty, before taking the road to Milidhane, which branches a short while later to Longwood.

 

Longwood Shola Forest (Photo by indiawaterportal.org)

 

Explore the sholas with a guide or the forest guard who will check your papers at the entrance. Longwood also has a Forest Rest House (for bookings contact DFO; see facing page). Also contact the Nilgiris Wildlife and Environment Association for more information (Tel: +91-423-2447167).

 

GETTING THERE AND OUT

 

From Ooty to Kotagiri, it’s 36 km/ 11/2 hrs by taxi (Rs 500) or 2 hrs by bus (Rs 8). Buses run every 45 mins from the Ooty Bus Stand. Kotagiri to Kodanad: Get picked up at Kodanad by pre-arranged taxi (16 km/ 1/2 hr/ Rs 500) from Kotagiri. Kotagiri to St Catherine Falls via Kattapettu is 20 km/ 1 hr by jeep (Rs 400) St Catherine Falls to Ooty is 56 km/ 21/2 hrs by jeep (Rs 800-1,000)

 

 

COONOOR-LAW’S FALLS-THE DROOG TREK

 

TIME: 4-5 days

IDEAL SEASON: Oct to May

LOCATION: South of Ooty Nilgiris

 

Like in Ooty, the state road cuts through the middle of Coonoor. Head south-east on this state road to Lamb’s Rock 9 km away. The rock, on a precipice, overlooks the Coimbatore plains. Past this is Lady Canning’s Seat, named after the Viceroy’s wife. Keep to the road and after 3 km you’ll spot Dolphin’s Nose, a greyish black rock remotely resembling a dolphin’s snout and overlooking the valley. Take a break and retrace your steps. Five kilometres before Coonoor, you’ll spot a detour to Mettupalaiyam Road, due south-east.

 

Coonoor landscape (Photo by Motographer)

 

Law’s Falls are located at the junction of the Coonoor and Katteri streams, about 20 mins from Mettupalayam Road. From here head east to The Droog, a ruined 16th century fort believed to have been used by Tipu Sultan. There are a number of springs holding promise of healing properties, the most famous being Maan Sunai (Deer Spring). You can see the state highway in the north. Trek down 2 km and take a bus to Coonoor as there are no hotels or guest houses close by.

 

GETTING THERE AND OUT

 

From Ooty to Coonoor, it’s about 17 km/ 45 mins by taxi (Rs 350) or 1 hr 10 mins by bus (Rs 7). Take the same route back. Keep a day for sightseeing in Ooty

 

 

 

By Allen Mendonca

 

About the author: Allen Mendonca is a Bangalore based write, columnist, actor and musician. He served in senior positions in a number of national dailies before deciding to travel to wherever his dreams take him.