The colour green — there’s something about it that instantly soothes the city-worn soul, and causes it to wax lyrical about love and beauty and peace. This drive takes you from the sky rises of Bengaluru to the verdant forests of Bandipur, where you can spend hours romanticising the glories of nature. Then you head to the cool confines of Ooty and Coonoor, where the only intoxication on offer is that of garden-fresh tea. After, drive down to windy Palakkad and then Kochi, to get a taste of the art and culture of the south, before visiting beautiful Munnar, where the tea-bush laden vistas greet you like an old friend and help you come to terms with the fact that the journey is almost over.
Distance: 217 km
Time: 5 hours
Traffic in Bengaluru is chaotic, but the roads in and around the city are in excellent condition. Leave the city latest by 7.00 am on the Bengaluru-Mysore Expressway (SH17). Continue down the road for around 50 km before stopping for an authentic South-Indian breakfast at Kamath Lokaruchi.
Once you have had your fill of delicious vadai, idli and dosas, continue on the SH17 to Mysore, about 73 km down the road. In 1973, the princely state of Mysore was renamed Karnataka. The city of Mysore is known for its royal heritage, owing to the presence of the Wodeyar dynasty — rulers of the kingdom of Mysore and contributors to its cultural growth. Apart from the glittering palaces, this city is also famous for the sandalwood, incense and silk produced here.
Mysore offers terrific ‘set’ dosas (fluffy, soft pancakes made of beaten rice, served in sets of three), masala dosas, uppittu (or upma), rava idli and rasam. But the most outstanding feature of the city is the web of bakeries set up by Mysore’s Vaishnavite community, the Iyengars. Those with a sweet tooth should not miss out on the delicious Mysore Pak.
Take a quick tour of the city and enjoy a hearty meal at one of its eateries before taking the NH212 southwards to Gundlupet. From here the Bandipur National Park is a mere 20 km away on the NH67.
Along the Mysore-Ooty Highway, lies some of India’s best elephant country. Administered separately, the Bandipur National Park (Karnataka) and the Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary (Tamil Nadu) are parts of a single spectacular ecological continuum that also includes Nagarhole (in Karnataka) and Wayanad (in Kerala). Bandipur and Mudumalai are located on the lower reaches of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, which is part of the Western Ghats biodiversity hotspot. In 1931, Bandipur was established as a hunting reserve by the Maharaja of Mysore. The reserve was expanded (874 sq km) in 1973 to become the Bandipur National Park and Tiger Reserve. The climate here is moderate and the park can be visited in any season, although wildlife sightings are fewer in summer.
The Mysore-Ooty Road via Gundlupet, which cuts through the park, accesses the entry point to Bandipur NP where its headquarters and range office (Tel: 08229-236043-44) are located. Park Entry Indians Rs. 300; Foreigners Rs. 1,100 Timings 6.30-9.00am & 3.30-5.30pm
Things to See & Do
A jungle safari here will help you spot many common species (deer, gaur, elephant and langur) at close range. Rides into the parks on specially laid-out dirt roads known as game roads usually pass close to grazing areas, salt licks and water holes and offer excellent views of wildlife. The Forest Department offers hour-long mini-bus safaris inside the park. At Bandipur, private jeep safaris are now only permitted by two operators, Windflower Tusker Trails and Jungle Lodges. Trekking has been discontinued.
Short jungle rides (20 mins) on elephant back are also available at the national park in the morning and evening.
The Moyar Gorge or ‘Mysore Ditch’ can only be reached by jeep safari/ trekking, but on the Mudumalai side, even bus safaris (upon request) can take you to see the gorge. At Mudumalai, a watch tower offers a superb view of the gorge and the Moyar Falls.
Distance: 80 km
Time: 2.5 hours
Spend the night in Bandipur, and wake up early the next morning for a jungle safari. After lunch, take the NH67 to Gudalur and then continue up the winding road to Ooty.
South India’s most famous hill station was a realm of tribal people and shoal forests till the British annexed the Nilgiris in 1799. Over the years, Ooty —hardly ever called by its original name, Udhagamandalam — took its place as a Nilgiris tea-plantation hot spot, and served as the summer headquarters of the sahibs who ruled from Madras.
In Ooty, you can pay a visit to a Toda mund, a tribal settlement, which can be quite large with as many as 50 families living in it, or small with just a handful of families, like the one near Tamizhagam, the Tamil Nadu chief minister’s official guesthouse. The Todas are one of the original inhabitants of the Nilgiris, along with the Badagas, the Kotas and the Kurubas. They used to live in the highest parts of the Nilgiris, and their ancestry still remains shrouded in mystery; interesting conjectures include theories of descent from the Greeks and the lost tribes of Israel. The Toda language belongs to the Dravidian family. They used to, at one time, live in unusual dwellings made of bamboo and cane, with tiny openings that they would crawl through. The munds still retain bamboo and cane shrines or temples, which are quite fascinating.
Things to See & Do
Walks and rides around the hills are probably the best way to enjoy a holiday here. Wildlife enthusiasts can consider a visit to the Bee Museum where the Nilgiri Natural History Society is based.
Ooty Lake is this hill town’s famous tourist spot. The lake itself is hedged by beautiful trees on the far side. Vendors sell flowers, snacks and toys at the entrance. Boating is the prime attraction. Next to the boathouse there are carnival games and a mini-train ride on offer.
The Botanical Garden, built in the 1840s, is also a popular haunt of the tourist, and has a variety of trees, shrubs and flowers from all over the world.
The Rose Garden is a small terrace atop a hill off Etiennes Road. The season to be here is April, when there are more than a thousand varieties in bloom.
Built in 1829, the Protestant St Stephen’s Church is the oldest church here. An interesting old cemetery adjoins it. Union Church and Holy Trinity Church, Gothic and Tudor in appearance, with stained-glass windows, intricately carved pews, inscribed plaques and calm cemeteries, are worth a visit. St Thomas Church commands a lovely view of the lake, and the Kandal Church houses what is said to be a relic of the cross on which Christ was crucified.
Wenlock Downs, a famous picnic spot, is a vast stretch of green grassy knolls. Pony rides are on offer here. On the way to Wenlock Downs lies the Ninth Mile, another picnic spot.
The Mettupalaiyam-Ooty Passenger (Nilgiri Toy Train) on the narrow gauge promises a scenic hilly ride and a wonderful experience.
At 8,696 ft, Dodda Betta is the highest peak in the area. On a clear day you can also see the plains of Coimbatore and the Mysore plateau. There is a telescope in the viewing chamber.
Distance: 19 km
Time: 1 hour
Spend two nights in Ooty. Then set off on the NH67 and follow road signs to Wellington and Coonoor, a gorgeous drive with the Coimbatore plains spreading out below like a scale model, the slopes stretching out as far as the eye can see on both sides, and the clouds drifting down and away in what seems to be a game they are playing with the earth down below. This is one of the loveliest stretches in the entire drive.
Mist-wrapped Coonoor, with the emerald of its tea bushes offset by blood-red poinsettia, purple morning glory and golden sunflowers, is stunning in season. This is quintessential tea country — you will find tea being sold everywhere.
Things to See & Do
Located in Upper Coonoor, Sim’s Park is the town’s most famous tourist attraction. Laid out in 1874, it runs down a hillside with a small lake at the bottom, with winding footpaths. There is a marvellous collection of trees— from as far as Mexico, Australia and the West Indies.
A pristine road through hills and tea estates takes you to Lamb’s Rock, about 8 km out of town. Savour views of the Coimbatore plains, plantations and of the winding Coimbatore-Ooty Road. You also get to see the Catherine Falls and Dolphin’s Nose rock on another hill.
A huge rock, named Dolphin’ Nose, about 10 km from Coonoor, resembles not much else but a dolphin’s nose. From here you can also spot Catherine Falls. Law’s Falls is yet another scenic drive and a popular picnic spot, 7 km from Coonoor.
A pretty, traffic-less path from Sim’s Park leads to the High Field Tea Estate with gorgeous views of the hills, the sprawling tea plantation and a golf course in the valley. You can also visit the factory where a guide explains the process of tea production.
Walking can be the essence of a holiday in Coonoor. There are several options of crowd-free hill roads. The Kotagiri Road from Sim’s Park has minimal traffic, and tea plantations and old bungalows for company. After about 2 km a lane veers left, which will take you to High Field Tea Estate, and back to Sim’s Park. A walk from Bandi Shola Bus Stop to Ralliah Dam is very rewarding too.
Wellington, the army township to one side of Coonoor has a hugely popular golf course where film crews descend to shoot song sequences.
Bandipur National Park
Where to Stay and Eat
The Forest Department has nine cottages here and four dormitories. The cottages have basic amenities and are comfortable (a few luxury suites are also on offer). Common dining facility is available here and vegetarian food is served. Bookings have to be made at least 2-3 weeks in advance. Contact the office of the Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife), Bengaluru or book online here.
Windflower Tusker Trails has tastefully done cottages. The staff is attentive and the buffet meals are excellent.
Bandipur Safari Lodge, run by Karnataka Tourism’s Jungle Lodges has well-furnished rooms.
Where to Stay and Eat
Taj’s Savoy Hotel is set among gardens and has stylish lodging, games’ rooms and a gym.
Hotel Gem Park on Sheddon Road is well equipped with a health club and a pool.
A lovely experience can be had at the colonial bungalow called the King’s Cliff on Havelock Road. It is a charming 130-year-old property with tasteful decor and wonderful food. The Willow Hill, also on Havelock Road has a good location over-looking the town. Hotel Nahar Nilgiris is located in the Charing Cross area and has a restaurant as well as a coffee shop.
Also in Charing Cross, TTDC’s Hotel Tamil Nadu is always a dependable option. Reflections Guest House is on the northern shore of Ooty Lake. Hotel Lakeview also has good views of the lake. Earl’s Secret in King’s Cliff is recommended for Continental dishes. Tiffanys in The Willow Hill is good for the views and the food. In the centre of the town, Nagar Hotel’s Sidewalk Cafe offers salads, pizzas as well as pastas. Shinkows has good Chinese fare.
Where to Stay & Eat
Neemrana’s Wallwood Garden on Kotagiri Road is a delightful, small heritage planter’s bungalow. Excellent hospitality and food.
Taj’s The Gateway Hotel is located in a heritage building in Upper Coonoor.
Hotel Blue Hills is on Mount Road. Acres Wild is a farm run by filmmaker Mansoor Khan. Tenerife, a plantation cottage run by Tranquilitea, is also recommended.
The restaurant at The Gateway Hotel is a beautiful place to sit in. Quality Restaurant in Bedford is affordable. The restaurant in Velan Hotel is multicuisine and Mahalaxmi Bhojnalaya nearby serves thalis and snacks.