We wanted to venture out into frigid climates to escape the tropical heat of the plains. so we hit the road and drove up the Western Ghats towards Ooty. The hill station's winter temperature was so unlike other parts of south India. Freezing temperatures of -2 degree Celsius in December, and the occasional frost, made us actually hanker for tropical heat.
Winter's a good time to go as the popular summer hill resort town is less crowded. A drive up the mountains between October to December will acquaint you with less crowded places, picturesque landscapes, and the pristine biodiversity of the Ghats.
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The drive up to the peak was 36 hairpin-bends away from the foothill town of Mettupalayam, which is a Coimbatore rural suburb. The journey was idyllic enough to elevate our mood almost immediately. As we drove up, the burning warmth of heat from the foothills steadily shifted to a refreshing, cool breeze somewhere between the 10th and 36th hairpin bend. Further up the hills, the tantalising scent from the eucalyptus, pines, and tall cypress permeated our senses and soul. All through the uphill drive we encountered forest monkeys boldly lurking around tourist cars for food. "There have been times when visitors have encountered bison, wild boar, and elephants," said a shopkeeper who sold us snacks when we stopped in-between for a break. "In rare cases, tigers have also been spotted. But as long as you do not explore the woods alone, you have nothing to worry about". His parting words felt reassuring enough to continue on our journey.
After the scenic drive on the final hairpin bend, we reached the Dodebetta road. Five kilometers ahead of Ooty, the Dodebetta peak is the highest in the Nilgiris. The view of the surrounding hills from 8,650 feet above was an evocative visual panorama of nature's very best. We could see all hues of green gleaming from the diverse vegetation here. Thick sheets of floating winter fog blurred the dense jungle canopy, though.
Next, we headed to the telescope house, built at the centre of the visitors' open arena, to get some of the best views of the hill landscapes. We could see the mountains, jungles, and the forest's biodiversity clearly through the telescope.
Later, we walked down to sit by the gardens to immerse ourselves some more in the chilly winter winds. The mist's gentle caress refreshed us and the breeze energised us enough to head back on the road and continue our trip.
From Dodebetta peak en route to the core city is the Ooty Tea Factory and Tea Museum. We walked up the elevated floors of the museum and acquainted ourselves with the knowledge of different kinds of teas, history of tea plantation in India, and the emergence of the Nilgiris as a plantation hill for the East India Company.In the tea factory, we were introduced to the unique Cut, Twist, Curl (CTC) machine process that made Nilgiris tea leaves some of the finest.
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The next agenda on the road trip was to see the core city. We knew we had arrived when the local Charring Cross junction stood tall between the six crossroads. Designed by the British empire to replicate London's famous six crossway junction, the intersection takes tourists around all the famous destinations of Ooty. A short walk from the junction is the 200 year old government botanical garden, home to over 1,000 exotic and indigenous plants.
The red rose garden, the flower bed of pink, purple and white asters, the small orange pansies, bright pink zinnias shrub, double-hued pink dahlias and the assorted colours of other flowering plants, were laid out like a carpet, a bright contrast to the green of the lawns, plants, and trees.The Boat House, Catherine Waterfalls, Tibetan Shopping Market and the famous Ooty Wax Museum are a few other places we explored on the trip.
Heading back, we realised that time takes a backseat, and even pauses, while you are on this side of the Western Ghats. The vacation in the Ooty hills helped us to not just unwind but also rediscover ourselves.
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Ooty is about 84 km from Coimbatore city airport. The drive on NH948 and NH181 en route Metuppalayam takes about 2 hours, 35 minutes by car. You can also get to the hills from Metuppalayam foothills via the picturesque Nigilri Mountain Railway or the Ooty Toy Train as it's popularly know. This heritage railway journey is a commute of 4 hours and 30 minutes, via Conoor.
Self-driving car services are better than travel and tour services. Zoom Cars, Royal Picks, and Comfortcarz are a few services that are located near the Coimbatore airport.
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