I don’t think I have ever come across a single place with so many names! Most popularly known as Ooty, this quiet South Indian hill station is also known as Ootacamund, Ottakalmandu, Whotakaymund, Udhagai and Udhagamandalam, its official name (for NOW). Ooty is the capital of the Nilgiris, or the Blue Mountains, and has been christened as the Queen of Hill Stations for its outstanding beauty. Founded in 1819 by John Sullivan, the then collector of Coimbatore, Ooty is a blend of British colonial architecture and a natural beauty unique to Southern India.
What is so British colonial about it?
The Government House (Raj Bhavan), The Ooty Club, Adam’s Fountain and several other structures are so quintessentially British colonial in their architecture that one half expects women in corset gowns and bonnets to be walking around them! The Stone House, John Sullivan’s residence, still stands too and has been converted into the Government Arts College of Ooty. There are also several churches and summer palaces that lend Ooty a man made grandeur of brick and stone. Additionally, the terraced Botanical gardens, rose gardens and even the railway coaches take the visitor to another space in time with their age old charm.
What about natural beauty?
Ooty is filled to the brim with natural scenic beauty. John Sullivan was so captivated by it, that, in a letter to his friend, he said that Ooty is to Southern India what Switzerland is to Europe, a beauty that has to be seen to be believed. Ooty is peppered with lakes, waterfalls, tea and coffee plantations and several mountain peaks that give breathtaking panoramic views of the landscape. Some such places to visit are: the Government Botanical Garden, Centenary Rose Park, Doddabetta Point, Honey and Bee Museum, Avalanche Valley, Ooty Lake, Pykara River and waterfalls, Kalhatty Falls and so on. Being a popular destination amongst Indian hill stations, information about these spots is easily available on the internet.
What your average net guide won’t tell you about Ooty!
You can get all the information on where to go and how to get there on the net so far as Ooty is concerned. But it is the little nuances that set one tourist spot apart from the other and, unfortunately, this kind of know how seldom makes it to the net. So here is some insider information on what you should look out for when visiting the Queen of Hill Stations.
Yes, one of Ooty’s domestic industries is home-made chocolates and I can tell you, they are DELICIOUS! These come in varieties – plain, dark, with nuts, rice crispies, dry fruits and so on. Large chunks of these are packed in transparent plastic bags which usually don’t have any labeling but can be purchased at most shops, hotels and restaurants in Ooty.
Shawls and other Woolens!
The local tribes of Ooty make lovely hand woven shawls and other knitted garments which can be purchased at ridiculously low prices. These woolens are naturally dyed and so have very specific tribal colours and designs, setting them apart from what is available anywhere else in the world.
English Fruits and Vegetables!
The British influence doesn’t end at architecture in Ooty. One is amazed at the quality and variety of English fruits and vegetables that are grown in Ooty. Try out the strawberries, avocados, red radish, broccoli, lettuce and artichokes. Needless to say, most of the restaurants and hotels serve food made from home grown organic produce so it’s not just the air that is healthy in Ooty!
Ooty has one of the friendliest and approachable local populace one can come across. Walking through the winding roads with cottages on either side, don’t be surprised (or alarmed) if a smiling local invites you in for some coffee or tea. If you need help with getting about, just ask. Even if the person does not understand your language, they will take you to someone who does and will be able to guide you. Another fact, Ooty has one of the lowest crime rates in India, so tourists need not fear being cheated or harmed in anyway.
Although Ooty was founded nearly 200 years ago, that too by the British, it still retains most of its ethnic tribes. These are the Todas, Badagas, Irulas, Kothars and Kurumbas. You can tell these tribes apart from settlers by the way they dress in natural dyed woolen clothes and have facial features that are not quite like everyone else. I would suggest that you get a local guide and visit the small ‘munds’ or villages located around Ooty. The members of these tribes are extremely friendly and this would give you a great opportunity to see their culture and traditions up close and personal!
Visit Ooty in the month of May. The weather is great all year round but this is the month when Ooty is at its festive best. You will be able to attend the famous Flower show, Rose Show and Dog show. Also, try out the horse riding options available at the clubs as well as through private operators in the town. Going through misty tea and coffee plantations on horseback is a must have experience!