I remember back in my school days, my friends used to make fun of me for going to Kerala every year on my summer vacations and not visiting the nearby ‘Queen of hill stations’ - Ootacamund or Ooty which is about 120km from Wayanad. Almost all my friends living in the North have paid a visit to Ooty, which is in the Nilgiris district of Tamil Nadu. Despite my yearly visits to Kerala, I never got a chance to appreciate the enchanting beauty of the Blue Mountains until last September.
It so happened that I was in Kerala for a short vacation with family and was watching the movie Roja, for possibly the hundredth time, but this time I paid close attention to the background and scenery and resolved that during my next trip down South, Ooty had to be part of my itinerary. I even succeeded in roping in. I roped in my parents for a day trip since it is just about two and a half hour drive from Wayanad. We hired a taxi, made sure to pack a camera and left for our little adventure.
Ooty, situated at an altitude of 2,240 mt above sea level is deep within the Nilgiri hills and is covered in eucalyptus, pine trees and coffee and tea plantations. It is believed by some that Ooty stands out as a unique specimen because it had never been part of a kingdom or empire.
Ooty by road
The road to Ooty was a breathtaking mountain road with jungles on either side of the single lane. We made our first stop around 29km from Wayanad at Meenmutty falls - one of the biggest in the region. We had to hike up a winding 2km path through the forest to get there. This winding route was a tad dangerous and tiring, so we went halfway to a point from where we could see the waterfall clearly, took some nice photos and then headed back.
Lofty mountains, dense forests, sprawling grasslands and miles and miles of tea gardens greet passengers on most routes. Since this road trip to Ooty was a sudden plan and it was just September, we weren’t carrying much by way of warm clothes. To our discomfort, the nip in the air became more and more severe with every passing kilometre. On reaching Ooty, we made a halt at a small tea stall as we were feeling cold and hungry.
What not to miss
After filling up our stomachs with warm food, we headed to the 9th Mile (shooting spot), one of the most charming places in this most popular hill station. It was barely nine miles from the city. Once you reach there, you can enjoy a trek up all the way. Undoubtedly, the view from the top is a sheer delight. This place is popularly known as the "Shooting Medu". It is a beautiful picnic spot and locals and tourists flock to this place to unwind and relax. Just make sure you carry a scarf or muffler as it get windy and misty. We were told that there was a 6th Mile as well but since it was just similar to the 9th Mile, we gave it a skip.
The botanical garden in Ooty is quite famous and most Indians have heard or read about it. It's one of the best of its kind in India and is a great tourist destination. The 22-acre garden was laid out in 1847 and is maintained by the Government of Tamil Nadu. A flower show and an exhibition of rare plant species is held every May. The garden has around a thousand species (both exotic and indigenous) of plants, shrubs, ferns, trees, and herbal and bonsai plants. It also has on display a 20-million-year-old fossilized tree.
We were already starving by the time we finished with two tourist spots but since we were short of time and it was getting darker and colder, we just grabbed some small eats like corn (bhutta) and some chips and headed to the next destination - the picturesque Ooty Lake. The lake was formed by damming the mountain streams flowing down Ooty valley. The lake covers an area of 65 acres and is constructed in an L shape. Set among groves of Eucalyptus trees, it is a great place for boating. As we started on the boat ride, the skies opened up and it started pouring, making the ride extra special.
Next was Doddabetta Peak, where many movies like Roja, Dil Se and Saajan have been shot. At an altitude of 2,623 meters in height, this peak is the highest in the Nilgiri and the view simply out of the world. It was much more beautiful than what I had seen in movies or imagined it to be. The Chamundi Hills of Mysore can be viewed from its peak. The area surrounding Doddabetta is mostly forested. There is an observatory at the top with two telescopes available, offering a panoramic view of the whole district.
We had time enough to visit one last location before we finished with our little tour and so we landed at the Thread Garden. The Garden showcases some of the most exquisite collection of artificial flowers and plants, all hand made by using just thread. Antony Joseph is the mastermind behind this unique creation. Approximately six crore metres of embroidery thread have been employed in the creation of this one-of-a-kind attraction in the world. We were assured that not a single piece of machinery had been used in the production of these magnificent thread flowers. The workmanship was amazing and it was interesting to see how steel and copper wires were used as stems alongside kaleidoscopic coloured threads to create these 'flowers'.
I was impressed enough that I visited the souvenir shop to pick a small thread plant as a worthy memento of this memorable trip. Though we were tired and sore thanks to all the walking, at the end of this mini-vacation we were content with how our vacation had shaped up.
By air: The nearest airport is Coimbatore International Airport.
By rail: Udhagamandalam is Ooty’s railway station.
By road: Ooty is well connected by good roads. It is 535km from Chennai, 80km from Coimbatore, 18km from Coonoor, 155km from Mysore, 187km from Calicut, 290km from Bangalore.
Best season: October - June
Places of interest: Madumalai Wildlife Sanctuary (67km from Ooty), Avalanche (28km from Ooty), Coonnoor (17km from Ooty)
Things to do: Hang Gliding in Kalahatty, 20 km from Ooty
Must carry items: Woollens, scarves, mufflers, comfortable shoes, shorts or capris and shades.