Ooty at its best

LOVELY ENVIRONS

Ooty at its best
We hired a taxi from Mysuru to Ooty and drove through the undulating ghat roads carved into the Nilgiri Hills, flanked by thick forest vegetation consisting conifers, eucalyptus and pine. Nature had rolled out a carpet of verdant green and the fragrant flowers were blooming in all their luxuriance.

We reached Ooty in the late hours of a cool evening. Mercury had dipped to 22 degrees Celsius, and after freshening up and dinner at our hotel, we called it a day.

We were in the ‘Queen of Hill Stations’, also known as Ootacamund and Udhagamandalam. Blessed by nature with beautiful mountains, forests, lakes, waterfalls, and wildlife in abundance, Ooty is a paradise on earth for honeymooners, nature lovers, photographers and common tourists alike. It’s also known as ‘Blue Mountains’ owing to the indigo cover of the beautiful kurinji flowers that bloom on the slopes of the Nilgiris once every 12 years.

Ooty is located in the Western Ghats at a height of 2,240 m above mean sea level, in Nilgiris District, at the meeting point of two ghat ranges. It remained unknown for a long time, till the British discovered it in the early 1800s. They were not the first inhabitants of this land. A tribe called Todas had been living there, claiming that the mountains had been their home since time immemorial. But it was the British who constructed the first railway line in this region, and made it accessible to the outside world. They also made it the summer capital of Madras Presidency.

Painting a picture

Next morning, Ooty looked quite green after the previous night’s rain. The clouds that were concentrated as mists over the hills in the night were lifting their mantle over the blue hills, exposing lush greenery and colourful houses behind them.

We reached the Government Botanical Gardens, which was yet to open, at 7 am, relished masala tea outside the entrance, and bought our tickets. The chirping of birds filled the air. Sparrows, mynahs and crows hopped around in search of food. We saw a huge red heritage gate- building alongside the main way leading into the garden. It was built as a plant conservatory in 1859 AD and used as a sales counter for ornamental plants and seeds from 1912 AD. It was renovated in 1995 during the centenary flower festival.

The botanical garden itself had started as a small vegetable patch in the early 1840s for supplying fresh vegetables to the residents of Ooty. The Marquis of Tweeddale, the then Governor of Madras Presidency, converted it into a public garden, and the services of W G McIvor from the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew were enlisted in 1848 AD. He planted Ooty’s first mulberry tree and red-and-white camellias.

Spread over 22 hectares ascending the slopes on the hill at an elevation of about 2,400 m above mean sea level, the garden has a range of flowering shrubs, herbs, orchids, exotic and ornamental plants. It is divided into six sections — lower garden, new garden, Italian garden, conservatory, fountain terrace and nurseries. The first flower show was organised in 1895.

After a hearty breakfast consisting of idli, vada and steaming coffee at Hotel Durga (Ettines Road, near Charring Cross), we negotiated a taxi for a day’s tour of Ooty, Coonoor and its environs.

Clouds were hovering in the sky and rain was expected. The snaky roads presented surprises and the landscape changed at every turn as we neared Coonoor.

On the way, we stopped for a few minutes at the Ketti Valley viewpoint. Ketti is a village famous for having the highest railway station in the country at a height of 2,100 m. From a telescope we enjoyed views of the winding railway track. The song Chaiyya Chaiyya (Dil Se) was filmed here, on the Nilgiri Mountain Railway train, a UNESCO heritage facility. We also got a distant view of St Michael’s Church, in which the climax scenes of the famous Salman Khan, Madhuri Dixit-starrer Saajan (1991) were shot.

Rain continued to play hide-and-seek with us and the landscape transformed itself into a photographer’s delight by providing a dramatic canvas for an artist’s dream. Our driver took us to Singara Estate, the tea plantations in Coonoor owned by Mayur Madhvani, husband of Hindi film actor Mumtaz.

Before beverages

We could see the green sloping tea gardens spread across a vast expanse. A short distance away, we halted at a shopping outlet where we saw the original process of obtaining oil from eucalyptus leaves. We relished small samples of tea in many flavours like chocolate, cardamom, ginger and green tea, and made big purchases in this shop.

After an expensive but basic lunch at a small hotel, we continued our tour and reached St Catherine Waterfalls, with the stream flowing several hundred feet below. A few steps ahead, we climbed a high tower and watched the unique rock formation called Dolphin’s Nose through a telescope.

Next, we went to one of the largest rose gardens in India — the Government Rose Garden — spread across 10 acres. Soft pastel shades appeared in the skies and a rainbow made a guest appearance.

The rose garden is located in the lower slopes of the Elk Hill. This five-terraced garden has 27,000 rose plants of 4,000 varieties. Its landscape has major attractions like arches, umbrellas, fountains and view points.

We also visited the famous Ooty Lake, which is surrounded by groves of eucalyptus trees with a railway line running along one shore. It is an artificial lake constructed by John Sullivan in 1824. The song Dil Diwana from the film Maine Pyar Kiya (1989) — starring Salman Khan and Bhagyashree — was filmed here.

Vendors selling red apples, pomegranate, carrot, flowers and a host of other fruits and vegetables were doing brisk business near the gardens.

We spent the evening shopping in the nearby Tibetan Market. Colourful sweaters, mufflers and winter costumes were for sale. Then we came to Charring Cross, where we bought many spices, Nilgiri oil and homemade chocolates.

Our driver told us that there were many other interesting places to visit in the nearby hill ranges. He called the circuit ‘Filmi Chakkar’ because of the many famous films that were shot there. We saved these attractions for the next day and relaxed in the hotel’s balcony by looking at the hills as they turned dark.

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