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India: Tamil Nadu: Coonoor, Mahabalipuram, Ooty, Srirangam [Tiruchirapalli], Thanjavur, Yercaud
Ooty & Coonoor, Tamil Nadu, India: Gems of Southern India
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
These two adjoining hill stations have been a favourite right from the days of the Raj. Picturesque landscapes, manicured tea estates and pleasant weather had the ability to attract the sahibs. Today, these gems continue to attract people in big numbers, albeit the profiles of visitors have changed. They now include tourists from across India. The rolling hills also encourage folks from Bollywood and Tollywood for film shooting.
We drove to Ooty (officially called Udagamandalam) from Yercaud. It was a nice 5 hour drive. From Yercaud we used the National Highway 47 and turned right just before Avinashi. From there we reached Ooty via Anur, Mettupalayam, Wellington and Coonoor. The uphill drive from Mettupalayam was beautiful. The icing on the cake was the journey from Coonoor to Ooty. The valleys, the hills and the tea estates were truly refreshing.
We would be in Ooty for 3 nights. We were booked at Derby Green a Club Mahindra property. The hotel is ideally located on a hill slope very near to the Ooty bus station and overlooking the Ooty town and the race course. The property has beautiful gardens that were blooming with a variety of flowers. Ooty, as you may know, enjoys a weather thatís ideal for blooms all the year round.
In case you plan to stay at the property, make sure to avoid their units named China. These units are very oddly located with no view whatsoever. You face the backs of other units. Probably, that could be the reason for naming the units ChinaÖ reminds you of the wall! We were there for the first night. Only when we expressed our unpleasantness were we allotted other rooms. I have had the opportunity to stay at many of Club Mahindra properties but I found the rooms out here very small in comparison. However, the shortcoming is compensated by a great location and excellent service. I wonít mind going over there again.
When in Ooty, I strongly suggest taking a joy ride on the hill train that connects Ooty with Mettupalayam. Ideally, one must take the 1-hour ride from Ooty to Coonoor or vice-versa. The train has unreserved 2nd class compartments and also few reserved seats in 1st class. During season itís very hard to get reservations. But thereís a way out. Invariably travel agents out there have Ďconnectionsí and they make sure you get the tickets. Of course, thereís a fee. At the time of my visit the 1st class fare from Ooty to Coonoor was Rs 88. However, the cost to me was Rs 150. Well worth it. Itís a good idea to get your tickets as soon as you are in Ooty. Thatís exactly what we did.
We got our tickets for the next morning. The departure time was 12:15PM. Though we had a car at our disposal, we decided to hire a cab for the day. The idea was simple. The cab will drop us at Ooty station and pick us up at Coonoor at 1:15PM. After alighting we could explore Coonoor and then drive back to Ooty.
After a leisurely breakfast we reached Ooty railway station. Our train rolled out as scheduled. We were pulled by a diesel engine. Steam engine would have added to our fun. Anyway, that didnít take us away from enjoying the beautiful landscapes of Ooty, Coonoor and other towns in between.
Our cab was waiting for us at Coonoor. It would now take us to visit a tea estate, Dolphinís Nose, Lambís Rock and Sims Park. You see, when at a hill station itís quite customary to visit the various view-points. Of course, some of them are a sheer waste of time, but most of them are certainly worth the visit. Enjoying the journey is as important as visiting the destination.
Dolphinís Nose is an uphill 11-km drive from Coonoor station. On one side of the route are tea estates and on the other are valleys. This should rank amongst one of your most pleasant drives. On the way we made stops at a tea estate and photo-stops at Catherineís Waterfall view-point and Lambís Rock. You need to force yourself to picture the shapes of mountains to resemble dolphins and lambs!
Catherine Falls is a double-cascaded waterfall located in Kotagiri. The upper fall drops to the floor, and is the second highest in the Nilgiri mountains. The height of water falls is about 250 ft. Catherine Falls is named after the wife of M.D. Cockburn, believed to have introduced the coffee plantation to Kotagiri.
Very much in Coonoor town is Sims Park, a natural garden. A visit is very much recommended. Entry fee is Rs 20 per head. And you need to pay Rs 30 for use of a still camera. The Nilgiris has a unique tropical mountain climate helping Sims Park for growing flowers and trees. Temperature variation is less and the rainfall distribution is uniform in the locale, which results in a long flowering season. This park has more than 1000 species of 255 genera belonging to 85 families widely covering different group of plants.
We walked around the park for an hour so. It was 3PM. Since we missed lunch, it was a good idea to stuff ourselves with some afternoon snacks. We enjoyed our high-tea at Taj Retreat, one of the fine properties in the hills.
We drove back to Ooty. Our driver made it a point to take us through a route that showed most part of Wellington Ė predominantly an army training town. We reached our hotel at about 6PM. That was enough for the day.
Another scenic route to explore when in Ooty is to drive to Pykara about 30 kms away on the Mysore road. It was a self-driven trip which we did the next morning. You can also hire a local cab. Should cost you about Rs 950 for the 5-hour, 60-km trip.
The first stop was alongside a dense pine forest. A little trek will take you to the base of the hill on the shores of a lake. From thereon, make 2 stops what are known as mile 6 and mile 9 stops. These 2 locations were made famous by the film industry. Hundreds of feature films and commercials have been filmed here. That should tell you all about the beauty thatís around.
The next stop was at Pykara. You need to walk for about a kilometer to reach the Pykara waterfalls. You will love it. Before turning back, we visited the boat house at Pykara. Tourists can enjoy a boat ride on the backwaters, but they should be prepared to climb down (meaning climbing up for the return journey) about a hundred steps to reach the pier. I was OK with the view from the top!
It was 5PM when we returned to Ooty. There was still time on hand to visit the Ooty Lake. Though it was fag end of the summer season, the crowd was to the brim. Ooty lake is an artificial lake constructed by John Sullivan, in 1824. The water flowing down mountain streams in the Ooty valley was dammed to form the lake. It covers an area of about 65 acres. Had we time on hand, I would have surely visited Ootyís famous botanic gardens. That was not to be.
That night was our last night in Ooty. Tomorrow we would head home.
Before leaving Ooty, we drove uphill to explore Dodabetta, about 11 kms from Ooty town. At 2623 meters, the Dodabetta Peak is the highest point of the Nilgiris. A short walk from the parking lot, takes you to an observation tower and other points that offer excellent views. Unfortunately, with heavy fog and the mist around, we could see nothing except to feel the chilly winds.
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