Ootacamund - Ooty

Ootacamund or Udhagamandalam, which stands 7,349 feet above sea level in the Nilgiris, is known as the Queen of southern hill resorts of India. Ooty, as it is popularly known, spreads over 36 square miles, and the temperature ranges from 25 degree celsius in summers, to near freezing in winters.

This famous hill station is at the junction of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka, three southern states of India. It was founded by the Britishers, in the early part of the 19th century, to serve as summer headquarters for the government of Madras. Before that time, the area was inhabited by Todas. These tribal people still inhabit the area, but only around 3000 remain.

Sightseeing

The two most popular attractions of Ooty, are the Ooty lake and the Botanical Gardens. The lake covers an area of one and a half square miles, with a railway running along one bank. The large graveyard of St. Thomas's church, built in 1870, overlooks the lake. It has the tallest memorial of Ooty, a huge pillar surmounted by a cross, over the grave of William Patrick Adam, the Governor of Madras Presidency, who died in Ooty in 1881. Paddle boats or rowing boats are available for boating enthusiasts.

The Botanical Gardens were established in 1848, by the Marquis of Tweeddale. The gardens lie on the lower slopes of Dodabetta peak, the highest point in Ooty. The gardens are formally laid out with lily ponds, and there are clipped bushes in the form of elephants, with raised trunks. Here, a thousand different species of plants including some thirty types of eucalyptus, are to be found. The Roman Catholic Cathedral, recently enlarged, can be seen on the road from Charing Cross to the Botanical Gardens.

Charing Cross is a road junction with markets around it. A short walk from Charing Cross is the Spencers departmental store, which still sells its own Planter's Special cigars, made of Indian tobacco.

Ootacmund Club is the most exclusive, and best preserved of all the former British clubs. The Ooty hunt, which still rides to hounds, in pursuit of jackals, is one of the main offerings of the club. A good game of golf can be had, at the Wenlock Downs, of the Ooty Gymkhana Golf Club.

Ooty races are the other major attraction. The Ootacmund Derby is the climax of the season, and attracts top Indian jockeys.

Around Ooty

Ooty is spread on a number of hills. Dodabetta, literally 'Big Mountain', is the highest peak in Tamil Nadu, and a motor road takes you to the top, from where you can see as far as Coonoor and Wellington. About three kilometres away, is the Kandal Cross, which has a full size crucifix secured on a huge boulder, and a fragment of the true cross. Kalhatti Falls, which drop some 131 feet down, are about 12 km from Ooty. About 26 km from Ooty is Avalanche, known after an avalanche in the area in 1823. This is one of the best spots for trout fishing, and rods can be hired here from the trout hatchery. A 7 km walk from Avalanche is the MacIvor's Bund. Ahead of this is Mukerti Peak, at an altitude of 8031 feet, which is also a part of Nilgiri Tahr Sanctuary, created in the most remote part of the mountains. Other areas of attraction around Ooty, are Mukerti Lake, Pykara Lake, Tiger Hill and Marlimun Lake. The famous Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary is just 67 kms from Ooty.

When to Visit

The best time to visit is April to September. April to June is the local tourist season, so it is somewhat crowded. A major tourist attraction is the flower show which takes place in the first week of May every year.

Access

Air: The nearest airport is at Coimbatore, which has daily flights to and from Madras, Bangalore, Cochin and Trivandrum.

Train: For a magnificent view of the hillside covered with forests, a train journey is recommended. The Nilgiri Express leaves Madras at night, reaching Coimbatore in the morning, and continues to the small town of Mettupalyam, at the foots of the mountains. From Mettupalyam, it connects to the Nilgiri Passenger which takes you to Ooty.

Road: There is a regular bus service from Bangalore (300 km), Mysore (170 km), Coimbatore (105 km), Calicut (187 km) and Cochin (281 km).

Local Transport

Ooty has taxis, three wheeler scooter rickshaws, local buses, and during the season, guided tours to take you around the city. Fixed prices for standard tourist sights are listed at Charing Cross taxi stand.

Accomodation

There are many hotels in the area, and the best should be booked in advance especially during the season. Good hotels include:

Hotel Savoy (Tel. +91- 423 - 2572, 2463, 3073, Fax: 3318) of the Taj Group

Fernhill Palace (Tel: +91- 423 - 2055, 3097, 3098), which was till recently the residence of the Maharaja of Mysore.

Tamil Nadu