We reached Ooty (also called Udhagamandalam), after driving through a spectacularly diverse and green forest, on a beautiful, cloudy day. We were a little stiff from the travelling, but elated with what we had seen and inhaled all the way uphill from Coimbatore. The first thing to do was, of course, to go for a walk. The path we took went away from the city, which we could see spread out below us. Soon, wild bushes and crystalline silence hemmed us in. Flowers decorated the hillside – small wild flowers, pretty in their blues and reds and pinks. Trees covered the hills in profusion. I could recognize some eucalypti and some conifers but there were lots more. Some of them were flowering; one variety had sprouted yellow flowers on their crowns, each treetop converted into a mustard field. And then there were birds. Yellow-beaked and long-tailed and spotted and black crowned… that is, when we could see them. Usually they were present as an unseen twitter in the foliage.

Then a small, very small, light green bird flew across our path. Followed by a second, a third and more, till there were dozens sweeping past us – an avian storm– all of them singing and flitting from tree to tree, especially visiting pink flowers and greedily gobbling what these had to offer.

Things to See & Do

So this is my recommendation for Ooty. Besides visiting the tourist spots listed below, wander around the periphery of the town. You will get a heady cocktail of rolling hills, tea plantations, vegetable patches, trees with moss and lichen hugging them, and a thick undergrowth: all of them inhabiting a world of cloud, mist and sunshine. Most hotels will arrange taxis (approximately 1,500–1,800 for a full day), while autos are readily available all over the town. Most distances will cost anything between 50 and 1,000.

Courtesy Taj Hotels, Resorts & Palaces
The picturesque Ooty Lake attracts several holidaymakers
The picturesque Ooty Lake attracts several holidaymakers

Ooty Lake

This hill town’s most famous and lively tourist spot, Ooty Lake is a pleasing 2.5-km-long body of water, hedged by beautiful trees on the far side. John Sullivan, who was the Collector of Coimbatore and is also regarded as Ooty’s founder, constructed it in 1824. The tourist infrastructure occupies a small patch on the northern bank. There’s a large neat area at the entrance with flower-, snack- and toy-sellers. Boating is the prime attraction. Two-seater pedal boats cost 100 for a 30-minute ride, and eight-seater motorboats cost 500 for 20 minutes. Next to the boathouse is a set of three game shows called Freaky Jungle, Horror House and Mirror Maze. There’s also a very cute mini-train ride on offer. The train runs 1km along the tree-lined bank of the lake and returns to the boathouse area. An auto ride from Charing Cross costs 150. Entry 10 Timings 9.00am–6.00pm Photography 40 Videography 100. Make sure to ask for lifejackets.

Botanical Garden

The Botanical Garden is also a popular tourist haunt, and offers a variety of trees, shrubs and flowers. People come here to lounge on the lawns and walk among the shady trees and plants. One of the oldest botanical gardens in the country, it began life in the 1840s as a vegetable garden to supply veggies to Ooty’s residents. Trees and plants from all over the world were brought here over the years. An auto ride from Charing Cross costs 50–80. Entry Adults 30; Children 15 Timings 7.00am–6.30pm Photography  40 Videography 75.

The Churches of Ooty

A British hill station would be incomplete without its churches. St Stephen’s Church is the oldest here. This Protestant church was built in 1829, one of the few remaining examples of Ooty’s Anglican architecture. There is an interesting old cemetery adjoining the church. Union Church and Holy Trinity Church, Gothic and Tudor in appearance, with magnificent stained glass windows, intricately carved pews, plaques detailing the British battalions that attended the services there, and tranquil cemeteries, are worth a visit. St Thomas Church commands a compelling view of Ooty Lake. It can also be seen while boating on the lake.

Prashant Panjiar
The picture-perfect Nilgiris tempts visitors with scenic landscapes
The picture-perfect Nilgiris tempts visitors with scenic landscapes

Wenlock downs and the ninth mile Wenlock Downs is Ooty’s most famous picnic spot, and deservedly so. Located 17km from Ooty on the way to Pykara Falls, it is a vast stretch of pretty green grassy knolls. People simply walk around drinking in the beauty and the mist. Pony rides are also on offer. On the way to Wenlock Downs lies the Ninth Mile, another lovely picnic spot worth visiting. A short but steep walk through a cluster of pine trees down from the main road takes you there. There is a small lake below.

Saibal Das
A ride on the toy train promises views of the countryside
A ride on the toy train promises views of the countryside

Toy Train

The Mettupalaiyam Udhagamandalam Passenger on the narrow gauge promises a beautiful, picturesque ride and a wonderful experience. The train leaves Mettupalaiyam at 7.10am and runs via Hillgrove, Coonoor, Wellington, Aravankadu, Ketty and Lovedale to reach Ooty at noon; and starts from Ooty at 2.00pm on the return journey and reaches Mettupalaiyam at 6.35pm.

Dodda Betta

If panoramic views speak to your soul and if you want a clear picture of the mutual geography of these pretty Nilgiri beauty spots – Ooty, Coonoor, Ketty, Aval anche… – you shouldn’t leave without visiting Dodda Betta. At 8,696ft, it is the highest peak in the area, located at the juncture of the Western and Eastern Ghats. On a clear day you can also see the plains of Coimbatore and the Mysore plateau. A telescope in a high-up viewing chamber facilitates the views. Location 8km from the town centre Entry 10 Timings 8.30am–5.30pm

Courtesy: Taj Hotels
Taj's Savoy Hotel
Taj's Savoy Hotel

Where to Stay

Ooty offers a variety of stay options, but during peak season it’s best to make reservations well in time. Taj’s Savoy Hotel (Tel: 0423-2225500; Tariff: 10,200–19,400, with two meals), on Sylk’s Road in the northwest of the town, is located in one of the oldest buildings in Ooty and has been a hotel continuously since 1841 under different names. The hotel is set among landscaped gardens and offers well-maintained, stylish rooms and game rooms, billiards and a gym. Fernhills Royale Palace (Tel: 2443910; Tariff: 9,000–28,000, with two meals) is part of a large property south-west of town and is owned by the Wodeyars of Mysore. The hotel has a mini golf course and offers horse riding and indoor games. Hotel Gem Park (Tel: 2441761-62; Tariff: 7,000–16,000) on Sheddon Road is well equipped with a restaurant, spa, health club and even a temperature-controlled swimming pool. More importantly for some, it offers beautiful valley views.

There are three hotels clustered together off Havelock Road in the northern part of the town. The Monarch (Tel: 2444408/ 18; Tariff: 3,500–6,800) has luxuriously furnished rooms and offers brilliant views of Ooty and its environs. There’s a disco, swimming pool, gym and a multi-cuisine restaurant. The King’s Cliff (Tel: 2452888-89; Tariff: 4,100–7,750) is more than 130 years old. The Willow Hill (Tel: 2444037/ 758; Tariff: 1,700–5,200), right next to King’s Cliff, has a great location looming over the town.

Amongst the downtown hotels, Hotel Nahar Nilgiris (Tel: 2442173, 2443685; Tariff: 2,750–4,750) is located in the heart of the town in the Charing Cross area. It has a restaurant and a coffee shop, and offers many packages. Also in Charing Cross is TTDC’s Hotel Tamil Nadu (Tel: 2444371; Tariff: 1,900–3,200). Ooty Gate (Tel: 2441623; Tariff: 1,300–3,500) is on Coonoor Road, near Charing Cross. Reflections Guest House (Tel: 2443834, 2445800; Tariff: 1,200) is walkable from Ooty Station and bang on the northern shore of Ooty Lake. Hotel Lakeview (Tel: 2443580-82; Tariff: 1,900–2,650) is another property that has good views of the lake, from beyond the western shore.

Where to Eat

Ooty does not have many standalone restaurants, but many hotels have restaurants meant for walk-ins. Earl’s Secret in King’s Cliff is on the top of the list and offers delicious food. Tiffanys in The Willow Hill is good for the views and the food. They serve Indian and Continental.

In the centre of the town, Hotel Nahar Nilgiri’s Sidewalk Café offers salads, soups, pizzas and pastas. You can try their popular potatao potato soup and Chettinad pizza just for their names.

Shinkows, opposite the Nilgiri Library, is quite a famous repository of good non-vegetarian Chinese dishes. Kurinji on Commercial Road serves up scrumptuous south Indian fast food – crisp dosas, spicy vadas and steaming sambar. Do try the Nilgiri speciality, the varki from West Coast Bakery on Commercial Road. The varki is a cross between a chakli and a biscuit, crisp, flaky and melt-in-the-mouth delicious. All over town, tea stalls sell good cardamom and masala chai. Ooty Gate’s Glass Restaurant serves multi-cuisine fare. Other multicuisine options are Sterling Fernhill’s The Fern Restaurant, Hotel Lakeview’s Supper Club, and the restaurant at Hotel Blue Hills.

A hearty Punjabi thali can be had in Dhabba Express on Coonoor Road, a shed paved with terracotta and hung with hurricane lanterns. Place To Bee serves superb pizzas. It is a mini bee museum. Willy’s Coffee Pub is a great place for coffee and sandwiches. They have a small library too. Taj Savoy’s restaurant dishes up amazing Continental, Indian and pan-Asian fare.