Monday, August 18, 2008

My Ooty Trip

Ooty is an ideal place to spend some quality vacation time. It is in the heart of the Nilgiri Ranges where the western and the Eastern Ghats meet.

I have visited Ooty three times. First visit was, I remember in 2002, then second one in 2008 and then again in 2011.

Ooty from Doddabetta peak
 
The second trip I took in month of August and the third one in December.

The blog below is a summary of my trips to this wonderful place.

The plan for second trip was originted by friend Rakesh. As Aug 15 was on friday so being a long weekend, it was a good opportunity to travel to some nearby place. Rakesh had proposed for Ooty and even had booked two cottages at Hotel Lake View, but I was not very sure because of weather conditions. The weather forecast was that it will be rain throughout the entire weekend so I was thinking that it may be a waste going there.

The third trip that I took was with family and in-laws. This time, we booked a taxi (Qualis) and stayed at Hotel Preethi Classic Towers.

On Aug 14th evening it was heavy rain at Bangalore, so again I was in double mind. The problem was that hotel money was paid in advance and if we don't go, it will not be refunded. So I thought on 15th morning, if weather is all right, we will go.

15th morning weather was fine, though it was cloudy but not raining. We had planned of going by Maruti Esteem of Rakesh, but on 14th evening during heavy rain, the water got into the engine and car stopped. Finally it had to tow away to workshop.

So we started by Alto.

We took the route, Bangalore- Bidadi- Mandya- Mysore- Nanjangud- Gundlupet- Bandipur-Mudumalai- Theppakadu- Gudalur- Ooty. By this route the distance from Bangalore is about 300 KMs.

From Theppakadu, there are two routes to go to Ooty, one route goes via Masinagudi and another through Gudalur. The masinagudi route is towards the left side at Theppakadu and it is about 36 KMs to Ooty. But now Police has made it one-way. Vehicles can go through it, but can not come from Ooty. This is said to be very steep. I had thought that I will take Gudalur route while going and Masinagudi route while coming back. But as Masinagudi route was not allowed for return journey, we took Gudalur route for both going and coming.

My suggestion is that if you are driving on your own, take the Gudalur route.

Gudalur route is towards right side at Theppakadu and it is 67 KMs to Ooty. But the road is less steep and better.

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British "discovered" the Ooty in 1835. It was John Sullivan, who has this credit. He purchased the land from local Toda Tribe people for Rs. 1.

The locals called it Udhagamandalam, but Britishers were not able to pronounce it properly, so started calling it Ootacmund, which became Ooty later.

Today Ooty sprawls over an area of 36 sq km with a number of tall buildings cluttering its hill slopes. It is situated at an altitude of 2,240 meters above sea level.

The Local Toda tribal people are a small pastoral community. Prior to the late eighteenth century, the Toda coexisted locally with other communities, including the Badaga, Kota, and Kurumba, in a loose caste-like community organization in which the Toda were the top ranking. The Toda population has hovered in the range 700 to 900 during the last century. Although an insignificant fraction of the large population of India, the Toda have attracted a good amount of attention because of their ethnological aberrancy and their unlikeness to their neighbours in appearance, manners, and customs.

The origin of the Todas is not very clear. They are one of the original tribes inhabiting the highest regions of the Nilgiris mountain range and have remained secluded for a very long time.

Around 1823, the Collector of Coimbatore, John Sullivan established a town at this place. He was instrumental in constructing the Ooty lake by diverting small streams towards it. The original intention was to construct an irrigation tank but finally the lake was dredged out in the years 1823-1825. The lake has an irregular L shape and stretches for more than 2 km in length.

It is really very enjoyable to do boating in this serene stretch and admire the beauty of the picturesque surrounding. Both rowing boat and paddle boat are available for all those, who love boating. I did not went for boating as I have some fear of water, but during my third trip, I was forced by my family. We took a row boat, assisted by a person rowing it. It was about 30 minutes in lake and was quite good in the serene and picturesque surroundings. Tamilnadu tourism department has done a commandable job and developed the surrounding area as a nice picnic spot. Very nice place, if you are with kids.

There is a small “Mini Toy Train” also here which runs about 1 KM parallel to the lake. It is a fun.

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Our journey from Bangalore to Ooty, was quite eventful. From Bangalore to Mysore, there was no problem and we drove at good speed at around 80-100. I reached a peak speed of 110 KMph. But I will suggest that please drive your vehicle at speed, which you feel you comfortable with. Do not try to be in race with other passing vehicles. Also always drive in your lane. Whenever you need to change the lane, please do it carefully by looking through all mirrors and by giving proper indications.

From Mysore onwards road is not that great, but ok. We took breakfast at Maddur and lunch at Gundlupet, after crossing Mysore.

The road from Gundlupet to Bandipur is not very good, so speed comes down. We entered Bandipur forest and had a very "good experience".

One elephant (Male, Tusker) was on mid of the road, testing his strength with a truck. Both sides of the road traffic was stopped. After some time, he left the truck and came towards a Esteem Car, which was ahead of me. Suddenly one Ford car sped away from next to him and so he got irritated. He chased that car a few meters and then came back. The Esteem car, which was ahead of me also tried to run away, but could not as the tusker was in the way. He remain there standing for a few minutes and then started coming towards my car. The Esteem car drove away fast and I also thought to give accelerator, but as soon as my car moved the tusker came hurriedly towards me and I had to apply brakes. He came in front of my car, put his trunk on car bonnet and was standing for a few minutes, looking us. We all were sitting with full silence, all the glasses up and holding our breath. Then he left us and went towards another car behind me. We thanked God and sped away immediately.

Later again, I saw many elephants including Tuskers on the road side but nobody took any interest in us and we drove passed silently.

After Bandipur, Tamilnadu starts. There the forest is known as Mudumalai. At border police post, they stopped us and asked questions like, from where we are coming and where we are going etc. and then let us go. The same thing happened at Gudalur also.

I saw the Policemen there, asking for some money 50-100 Rs. from each vehicle, going towards Ooty.

In Mudumalai forest, at one place we saw a herd of spotted Deer (in Hindi known as Cheetal) crossing the road. We stopped the Car and took a few snaps. Then we started again. A few hundered meters away a forest checkpost was there. The guard stopped us there and showed his displeasure that why did we stopped? It is dangerous.

I agreed, he was right. I paid my apologies and drove further.

At many places in the forest there are boards cautioning the people…

"Life is precious,
Do not put it in danger,
Do not stop the vehicle"

But still people stop. This is wrong as this poses a great danger. Jungle has its own rules and we have to abide by it. It is home of Tuskers and Bisons and above all the might Tigers. we should respect them.

One important lesson I got here. First thing DO NOT STOP IN JUNGLE, second thing if ELEPHANT etc ARE SIGHTED, DON'T DO ANYTHING TO IRRITATE THEM, LIKE HAUNKING, FLASHING LIGHTS etc. You just go your way and let them go their way. We are crossing their homeland.

After crossing Mudumalai, we reached Theppakadu. From here, we took the (right hand side) Gudalur route towards Ooty. It is 67 KM from here. It is full hill road with sharp bends, curves etc. As we gained height, the weather became more and more humid and soon, we were in clouds. It was full mist, and was difficult to see even 10 meters. I drove very carefully with headlight and blinkers on with continuously haunking now and then.

If you travel in non-rainy season, the visibility will be good. Like our third trip in December, there was no rain and hence route was clear and no cluds on the roads to greet us!!

We started from Bangalore at around 8:30 AM and reached Ooty at around 5 PM in evening. Even when we traveled by Taxi, we started at around 7:45 AM and reached Ooty around 4 PM.

So safely we can assume that it will take not less than 7 Hours to reach from Bangalore to Ooty.

If someone wants to take the train route, then he should alight at Coimbatore. From here a bus/taxi to Ooty can be taken. Otherwise take the road to Mettupalayam and then Toy Train to Ooty.

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We took our cottage at Hotel Lakeview and after taking some rest started for Ooty walk. Then we took dinner at Nahar Hotel. This is a bit costly. A nearby restaurant, Hotel Preethi Palace is better, both in food as well as price.

In our third trip we stayed at Hotel Preethi Classic Towers. A bit costly but better equipped.

It was very cold in the night. I was not carrying any woolen clothes. I got one jacket from Rakesh, without which, it would have been difficult to survive there.

Next day we took the Nilgiri passenger train to Coonoor.

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Coonoor is located in an area of 13.2 sq on the way between Coimbatore and UdhagaMandalam. It is second largest hill station in the Nigiris. It stands on a lower ridge of the plateau at an altitude of 1858 mts. (6100 ft.). The distance is about 19 KMs and the train takes about 75 minutes to cover it. By Road you can reach there in about 30-45 minutes.

The British took up, around 1880, the stupendous task of connecting Mettupalayam to Ooty by rail. A Swiss engineer, M. Riggenback and Major Morant of Kotagiri road fame prepared an estimate of 1,32,000 pounds plan for laying the rack railway and floated a company called The Rigi Railway & Co Ltd. Since capital was not forthcoming, Mr. Richard Wolley of Coonoor came forward to advance money on the condition that the contract would be entrusted to Mr. Wolley by the Government of Madras.

The agreement between the two was signed in 1886, and the company called The Nilgri Railway & Company came into being with a capital of Rs 25 lakhs. The work on the line was started in August 1891 by Lord Wenlock, Governor or Madras, but the company was liquidated in 1894. Later, a new company was formed in 1894, and the work was completed in 1899.

It is a wonderful experience to travel in this rail. There were total four coaches. Two were unreserved and two were reserved. It was heavy rush on the weekend but luckily I had booked the tickets in advance.

Coonoor is famous for its verdant environs and for a variety of wildflowers and birds. It provides a perfect setting for activities like trekking and hiking. It is also famous for its tea plantations and festivals.

We hired a taxi there to visit different places. He took us to Singara Tea Estate and then to "Lamb's Rock", "Sleeping lady" and "Dolphin Nose" view points. But by now it had become quite cloudy and things were not visible properly.

In my last trip, the weather was good and we got good view of these magnificent places. We also went to Highfield Tea Estate. There we saw how CTC (Crushing, Tearing and Curling) Tea is prepared through leaves.

Dolphin's Nose viewpoint is 10 km from Coonoor. It has panoramic view of the vast expanse of the Nilgiri Hills and Catherine Falls.

We relaxed there for some time, enjoying the nature’s beauty and relaxing while sipping tea.

Then we proceeded towards Lamb’s rock.

Lamb's Rock gives the fantastic view of landscape and the tea and coffee plantations. From here we can observe the faint view of Sleeping Lady. It was imagined by Lady Canning. It is a distant mountain with peaks resembling the head, hair and breast of a sleeping Lady.

We went till far end and then to the canopy. It was a wonderful experience to be there.

"Lady Canning Top" is near Lamb's Rock. But we did not went there. Our guide told us that view is not great from there.

It is good to hire a guide at Coonoor. We hired Kingsley. He is a nice fellow and helped us explore Coonoor. He can be contacted at +91-96555-61461

Highfield Tea Estate, Coonoor
Then we took lunch at Coonoor and proceeded to Sim's Park, a small well maintained botanical garden that has several varieties of plants. It is ideal place for picnic. Spread in an area of 12 hectare, the park has a collection of over 1,000 plant species, including magnolia, pines, tree ferns, and camellia. The botanical garden is partly developed in the Japanese style and derived its name from J. D. Sim, the secretary of the Madras Club in 1874. J D Sim had also established a Grass Tennis Court, which is at the end of park.

We took 4:30 PM train from Coonoor and reached Ooty at around 5:45 PM.

In the evening, we walked across the market, which was buzzing with so many tourists. Then we took dinner at Hotel Preethi Palace.

We could not go to Ooty Botanical Garden during our second trip, but that wish, I completed in my third trip.

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Covering an extensive area of 55 acres, the Botanical Gardens in Ooty was laid way back in the year 1847 by the Marquis of Tweedale on the lower slopes of the Dodabetta Park. It is very well maintained. The Horticulture Department of the Government of Tamil Nadu has been entrusted with the responsibility of looking after this garden. I had also visited this place during my first trip to Ooty in 2001.


Botanical Garden, Ooty

As you enter the garden, you can see one Toda model Hut and ladies selling Toda Shawls there. Though a bit costly, I purchased two shawls to help them.

Ooty botanical garden is an excellent place to hang around, doing nothing in peaceful and green environment.

There is one fossil trunk at the end of the park, said to be many million years of age. Not sure how its standing till now!!!

Rose Garden, which is nearby, as also worth visiting, but during winter as then it will be full of beautiful flowers.

On Sunday, 17th early morning after taking breakfast at Nahar Hotel, we started for Kotagiri.

Ooty Lake

The area just below Coonoor and the slopes of the Nilgiri hills has been the traditional home of the "Kota" tribes. The name ‘Kota-giri’ itself means ‘mountain of the Kotas’. While the Todas are the traditional agriculturists of the Nilgiris, the Kotas are the traditional artisans and are experts in the art of pottery and terracotta baking. The ‘Kota’ tribe is known for their reclusiveness and their reluctance to meet or mix with any outsider. They currently number just around a 1000 members, and are fast declining.

Two civil servants of the Madras Government, J.C. Whish and N.W. Kindersley, made a journey to the hills in 1819. They went through pass in the hills (now the DENAD village of Kil Kotagiri), and as reported back to their superiors, had “discovered a tableland possessing a European climate”. They called the tableland ‘Kotercherry’.

Soon after, the Collector of Coimbatore, John Sullivan, himself journeyed into the hills and built himself a home in Kotagiri. He was the first European resident of the Nilgiri hills. On his suggestion, the Madras Government opened a ‘Sanatorium’ in Ooty and started the practice of moving the whole government to the hills during summer. With the town becoming their personal health resort, several Englishmen followed and settled here. The environment could have been to them reminiscent of the valleys and dales of old England which they had left behind for service to the King/Queen.

Kotagiri and Catherine falls from Dolphine Nose
Nevertheless, Kotagiri remained the first choice for homesick Englishmen wanting to settle in the hills. The area was of a pleasant climate of neither extreme unlike Ooty or Coonoor, which were colder. The climate was for them, ‘like home’. The plateau also had more of a warm wind than rain through the year. John Sullivan was followed by others including numerous elite like the Marquis of Dalhousie, and by the 1830s, there were some twenty bungalows built around here. They had the best of worlds, living in Madras during the winter and shifting to Kotagiri during summers.

Kotagiri was neglected only when the new ghat road was built from Mettupalayam at the foothills to Coonoor. Until then the only way to get to Ooty was the horse trail that led through Kotagiri. This trail was built in 1821 by Evan McPherson and was the only way up till around 1870, when a proper road was built.

Kotagiri today, is one of the smaller towns in the Nilgiri hills and remains relatively unknown to outsiders. Kotagiri however has many firsts to its name. It has the distinction of being the first area in the Nilgiris to be discovered and settled by the English Government, and was the first choice for several Madras Government servants to use as a summer retreat before it sank into anonymity, and before the other two towns of Ooty and Coonoor took over in terms of popularity.

It is about 27 KMs from Ooty. There are numerous tea factories producing the famous Nilgiri tea. The view from road is very beautiful and serene. We stopped at many places in between to view the beautiful valley and tea estates. Then we started back towards Ooty. On the way, we visited Doddabetta.

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Doddabetta or the "Big Mountain" is highest peak in Nilgiris. It is 2623 meters and is about 7 KMs from Ooty town. One can enjoy very good view from there. It is the mountain, where the Western Ghat ranges and the Eastern Ghat ranges meet.

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There is a wax Museaum in Ooty on Coonoor Road. I got opportunity to visit it in my third trip. It’s a small one, housed in an old bungalow, which once belonged to a british lady.

It is quite good and a must visit, particularly if you are with kids.

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From Doddabetta we started at around 1:30 PM on our return journey to Bangalore. It started raining in between, but we continued.

There is Pykara lake about 24 KMs from Ooty on way to Gudalur (and Mysore, Bangalore). A few KMs further is boating facilities. I had a glimpse of it during my second trip. In the third trip, we stopped there and went down to the lake. Water was not much, but very beautiful surroundings. We have to walk about a KM and then a descend of about 100 steps takes us to the lake.

A bit dangerous to enter into the waters, as steep stones and some falls. Though warning signs are there, but enthusiastic people, overrule those.

We reached Gudalur at about 4:15 PM, took half an hour rest there and then entered into forest ranges of Mudumalai and then Bandipur. We spotted elephants, Langoor Monkeys, Wild Boar and Mangoose. But nothing unusual happened and we drove passed peacefully.

We reached Mysore at around 6:30 PM and took some rest after crossing the Mysore.

Then we started again and took dinner at Hotel Indraprastha near Chennapatana.

From Srirangapattanam till Bangalore it was raining heavily, but we continued, finally reaching Bangalore at around mid-night.

Journey was very satisfying and full of pleasure. But I was badly tired, so immediately went to sleep.

In total we drove 710 KMs.

I feel if you want to enjoy Ooty, in full relaxed manner, you should have three full days. Day 1 Coonoor, Day 2 Kotagiri and Day 3 Ooty will be an ideal choice.

I have some tips to drivers, who want to go for hills.

1. Before start, please check your vehicle is in general good condition. Brakes, Lights and horns should be perfect.
2. Do extensive use of horns, particulary at every curve and turn.
3. Do not try to overtake any vehicle, if you are not able to see atleast 100 meters of road from your place.
4. Always drive in your lane.
5. Do not overtake at turns.
6. Incase of poor visibility, if you want to drive, then drive with headlights and blinkers on, otherwise stop at some suitable place, away from turns and curves with lights on. Suitable place means, it should be off from main road.
7. If you need to stop the vehicle at slope then use hand breaks and then start by accelerating and slowly putting down the brakes.

Drive safely and enjoy the treasure on this planet.

27 comments:

  1. Hi Alok,

    Nice to see your blog. I read your vivid description of all of your trips. It’s cool, thrilling, knowledgeable and inspiring. I wish I could also visit to these places. I’m impressed to see your knowledge of our ancient history. It’s good that you are sharing this with us which will be beneficial for everybody. Hats Off to you. Keep it up.

    Devesh Yadav
    d.yadav@tosem.com.my
    +60 17 709 2938

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