Ooty

Ooty Village scene
Post Office in the Hills

Ooty, short for Ootacamund (an anglicized name for Udhagamandalam), is a popular hill resort in the state of Tamil Nadu in Southern India.

The name Udhagamandalam is derived from the TODA word "othakal-mund" which means "house in mountains". Ooty stands at 7,347 feet above sea level in the Nilgiri mountain range. It was founded in the 19th century by the British, and served as the summer headquarters of the Madras Presidency.

Understand

Located in the mountainous range called the Nilgiris ("Blue Mountains"), it draws swarms of tourists every year. The weather is quite pleasant at a mean of 15-20°C around the year, dropping to lows of 0°C during winter. The landscape is marked by rolling hills covered with dense vegetation, smaller hills and plateaus covered with tea gardens, and eucalyptus trees. Many portions of the hills are preserved as natural reserve forests, and special permits will be needed to camp in noncamp sites. Ooty is not the destination in itself, as much as it is the focal point of attraction. Auto touring the surrounding country side is certainly a must do. Unfortunately, the hill town suffers from overcrowding and erosion of natural resources. Tourism has placed an enormous strain on the natural resources resulting in pollution, water shortage and roads.

The hilly region also houses smaller towns like Coonoor and Kotagiri. These smaller towns are a better choice to visit and spend time in, since they are off the beaten path, yet less than 1 hour away from Ooty. They enjoy the same natural climes and prices are a lot cheaper.

Get in

By plane

The Coimbatore airport is the closest to the hills at 3.5 hours by road. There are flights into Coimbatore from Singapore, Sharjah, Colombo and most parts of India including Mumbai (Indian Airlines, Jet and Indigo), Chennai (Spicejet, Air India, Indigo and Jet) and Bangalore. The Mysore airport is about 4 hours away from Ooty by road. The road trip is quite scenic from either airport.

By train

Heritage train at Ketty

The hills are connected to by a nightly train. The Nilgiri Express (Train No. 2671) leaves from Chennai at night, and reaches Mettupalayam (which Indian Rail spells Metupalaiyam), a small town at the foothills of the Nilgiris early the next morning. Most people prefer to travel the 51 km distance from Mettupalayam to Ooty by taxi or bus because those who have travelled by the mountain railway option knows how uncomfortable and slow it can be. Even worse is the fact that two third of the jouney doesn't go through scenic hills. The beautiful hills start only after Ketty or Lovedale. The 51 km distance can be covered in two hours by road whereas the toy train takes about six hours. That is why the locals avoid the mountain train like the plague.

The Mountain Railway

If you have lots and lots of patience, the train The Nilgiri Mountain Railway leaves Mettupalayam at 7.10 am pushed by a small steam powered historic locomotive that is a remnant of Swiss engineered trains imported in the late 1800s. The steam train is much smaller, and can only accommodate a portion of the passengers that disembark at Mettupalayam.You have to book separate ticket for this journey. Tickets can be booked through IRCTC(www.irctc.co.in) like any other rail ticket booking.

The steam train takes a very boring route and there are constant stops and repair sessions on the way. At some stations, the engine has to take on water. The train uses a rack and pinion system to haul itself up steep slopes, and also to prevent the train from sliding down when stopping. The train is pushed from behind. There are brakesmen at the rear of every carriage who will apply and release hand powered brakes individually for that carriage. The train often travels only at 5 - 10 Kmph, allowing some adventurous passengers to disembark from the train and walk along the train. This practice is not recommended and can be dangerous, besides there is a good chance that the train will speed up, and you will be unable to get back on board.

If you don't have a confirmed ticket of that toy train then you would not get the chance to board in it as railways issue limited say only 30 tickets on the spot at Mettupalayam starting at 5AM, and at 1PM at ooty for the full stretch journey from Mettupalayam to Ooty, and make sure that you have gained nearer position to the ticket window before it opens. When the ticket counter opens, pandemonium breaks open and only Hercules and Apollo gets a ticket. It is no use trying for a ticket at Mettuppalayam because of the heavy rush in the morning. But tickets are easier at Ketty and Lovedale stations up the hill. You can go there by bus.

By bus

There are buses and shared taxi vans that can be boarded from most parts of India to Ooty. If you don't want wake up early to take the train from Coimbatore, plenty of buses are also going to Ooty. The Coimbatore "new bus station" has frequent bus service to Ooty via Mettupalayam, and it takes around 3-1/2 hours to get there. However buses are not every comfortable and often crowded. The lack of air conditioning in the buses hurts till it reaches the hills. One can also avail taxi from the same "new bus stand". On the way back in morning, some busses make a 10-15 minute stop over at Mettupalayam for breakfast. From the "new bus station" it takes about 25minutes by (another) bus to reach the Coimbatore railway station. From Kozhikode (Calicut) there are two government buses daily, leaving 05.00 and 07.00, travel time is about 6 hours. Mysore is served few times a day, too. From Kannur there is a KSRTC Bus starting at 7:30AM everyday and a Tamil Nadu Bus at 10PM everyday reaching ooty at 4PM and 7AM next day respectively.

By car

The Nilgiris are in Tamil Nadu, but it is quite near the borders of neighboring states Karnataka and Kerala. The hills consequently can be reached from within Tamil Nadu by travelling up a heavily forested winding road, with many sharp hair-pin bends. The road trip from any state is quite scenic, although the Coimbatore-Mettupalayam-Coonoor-Ooty road (i.e. the Tamil Nadu route) is the most travelled and well maintained. All roads to the Nilgiri hills are toll roads, although the tolls are quite nominal.

One can also avail taxi from the Coimbatore "new bus stand", they agree to go for ₹2500/- (negotiable) when reserved and ₹600/- each on sharing basis, four people share an Omni (Maruti Van). In case a hotel has been per-booked, they often have contracts will taxis to provide pick-ups to and from Coimbatore for ₹2000/-.

Ooty is 284 km from Bangalore by road. The journey takes about 8 hours, depending on the condition of the road. One can take a shorter route for which a diversion has to be taken at Mudumalai wildlife sanctuary. This route will take you past the small towns of Masinagudi and Kalhatti. This route will curtail the distance to Ooty by about 50 km. Keep in mind that this road is closed at night as it passes through the jungle, so you may actually have to spend a few hours at the check post which is closed invariably at night. Only good drivers should take on this road as it is very narrow and steep.You'll find some eateries and a fuel station in the town of Masinagudi. There are some wonderful resorts around Masinagudi town where one can rent a cottage. These places are a good weekend getaway for rest and relaxation. There are eating places between Bangalore and Mysore, and within Mysore, but from Mysore to Ooty one should carry some food, as there are very few restaurants. Start early if you can so that the drive through Bandipur and Mudumalai forest can be done leisurely taking in the occasional animal sightings.

Distance from Ooty to various cities:

* Bangalore (297 km)
* Calicut (187 km)
* Coimbatore (89 km)
* Coonoor (17 km)
* Coorg (225 km)
* Kodaikanal (236 km)
* Kotagiri (28 km)
* Munnar (282 km)
* Mysore (126 km)

Get around

Taxis, tourist cabs, auto rickshaws are available in plenty. There are no standard rates except for tourist cabs. Rickshaws charge a minimum of ₹30. Town buses are available to all important places. Conducted sight seeing tours are arranged by private operators and the Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation (TTDC). There are around 3-4 different day trip routes/packages available. Bus day-trip cost around ₹125-₹150 and taxi day-trip cost around ₹900-₹1100. Even if you arranged the taxi through the hotel (even TTDC), please verify with the hotel and operator before the trip that there are no hidden costs. Taxi drivers will often demand high parking fees and lunch, which is already paid for. It is not uncommon for bus/taxi drivers to get commission from remote restaurants and shops. These places are overpriced, try avoiding such restaurants.

Both bus and taxi will take tourists to remote, high-priced restaurants for lunch. Try not to eat in such places because the food is cold, the place is not clean beyond the façade, and it is always overpriced (you will end up paying for taxi driver's lunch, too).

Also avoid driver's recommendation for sleeping arrangements. They will take you to the hotels for accommodation where they get 20% commission, which will be added in your room tariff without your knowledge.

See

Fernhills palace
The Government Botanical Garden

Do

Most travel agents / hotels conduct guided tour packages that will bundle you into a bus, and tick off the most important and hence crowded "tourist" spots in the area. Some hotels also arrange for private cars like Indica, TATA Sumo.

Buy

Ooty and Nilgiris are well known for a variety of local products like tea, eucalyptus oil, chocolates, spices and gourmet cheese. There are a lot of shops that deal these products, though you have to be careful that you get an authentic product.

Eat

Lunch is served on a plantain leaf in Ooty
Groundnut with spices in Ooty

There are various restaurants in Ooty, mostly offering South Indian food, but some offer North Indian food.

One can also obtain some Chinese/Indo-Chinese food from restaurants such as Wang's kitchen, Shinkows and Western food such as pizza and sandwiches from chains like Hot Breads. Try avoiding Shinkows since most of the items are overpriced and the staff there is rude. Do not miss trying Ooty's famous buns, varkis, cakes, and other baked goods, as well as fruit and nut chocolates. Try Modern Stores and Kingstar Bakery.

Drink

The Nilgiris is famous for Tea.

Sleep

There is no dearth of accommodations, with many hotels and inns that cater to every budget. Accommodations are no more expensive than most cities in India, and the popular Indian hotel chains have a presence here.

Go next

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Wednesday, February 10, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.