Ooty – Queen of Hill Stations
The ‘Queen of Hill Stations’ has been dubbed so due to its location deep within the dense forests of the Nilgiri Hills. At first sight, Ooty appears to be a frenzied, crowded mess. But as the old adage of looking behind a book’s cover goes, the city redeems itself. The colonial roots of this town show through in the Madras Race Club track that sits as a centrepiece, the Ootacamund Club, the churches and old bungalows.
The presence of the jungle around you is felt, almost as a hinting spectre; and it takes barely a couple of kilometers to get into the wild un-tameness though. And spectacular it is!
Many luxurious resorts and farms have mushroomed in the hills surrounding Ooty offering stays that range from decadent to cramped to lush with nature. The aged colonial bungalows boast of ‘teleporting chimneys*’ which take you back to the era of sahibs drinking whiskey in bow-ties on horseback, while strutting to the admiration of exquisite mem-sahibs!
The Botanical Gardens, the Ooty Lake and Government Rose Garden which houses more than 20,000 varieties of rose are alluring for those who seek the manicured.
The real beauty of this place however, is unraveled when you step into the wilderness that surrounds and abounds.
The Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with its seven national parks and wildlife sanctuaries encompasses this place. There are approximately 8 major lakes which are accessible from Ooty; most are drivable, some hike-able. And wouldn’t you wanna visit lakes called Emerald and Avalanche?
Being a bustling tourist town, Ooty serves up every kind of taste. From the very South Indian thalis and Hyderabadi Biryanis to cafes, pizza, Indo-chinese to the dapper English breakfasts. This being the Niligiris, fresh produce is the norm of the day and a good coffee or tea is easy to come by.
The vividly bio-diverse hills of the Nilgiris contain hidden spices and mysterious aromatics; these are showcased in many-a-street-side stall along the way. ‘Nilgiri Oils’, as they are popularly referred to, range from the abundant Eucalyptus to the elusive Sandalwood and the aromatic Citronella.
The Ooty Golf Club is at 2000 meters above sea level is set on the naturally-made-for-golf Wenlock Downs. It is a pleasurable sight and a challenge with the sharply changing altitudes.
The Nilgiri Mountain Railway affectionately called the Toy-Train ride is an adorable journey where everything seems in proportion: From the dainty train-lane through the pine and eucalyptus trees to the slender tunnels to the misty little undulating hills; everything except yourself. This feels like you’ve stepped into a Lilliputian world of hobbits and pixies.
*UcL disclaimer: ‘teleporting chimneys’ is what we imagined in our elucidating dreams. They might exist but one might need to visit parallel realities. We didn’t find one in Ooty. If you do, be sure to tell us!
UcL Tip: The chocolates here are cheap and plentiful