Nilgiris – Why the Queen of Hills should be on your itinerary
Ooty and the Blue Mountains were always on my annual list of holidays ever since I was two years old . Dad being an old Lawrencian would never look at any other hill station besides Ooty (it took me 17 years to visit Kodaikanal) and when I was probably 4 – 5 years old , he even wanted to settle down here . I still remember a quaint wooden house with a colourful garden blooming with roses, dahlias and gladioli where we stayed briefly . My last family holiday to Ooty was almost 20 years ago when I was finishing school .
I had hoped to join my folks last month as my father headed to his alma mater, Lawrence School at Lovedale for the 50th anniversary of his batch, but I had to cancel my plans. However I had recently visited the Nilgiris and realized that I had rediscovered the hill station all over again. I now understand why my father is rather passionate about it .There is more to Ooty Tourism than just a few scenic views.
1. The Biodiversity . Much has been written about the Nilgiri biosphere , so I am not going to get into a naturalist mode. Just that the forests, the mountains, the lakes , dams and some of the hidden spots in these regions are reasons enough to get here . I am not just referring to Mudhumalai or Singara or Masinagudi here. While some of the reserve forests may need permissions to enter, you can just drive down the path or just walk around them. I have seen some pristine shola forests recently and I have told myself that I must make an annual visit every year, just to discover a new stretch of forest and hidden paths .
2. The birds – There are so many endemic birds out here and sometimes, just a walk in the Botanical garden in Ooty or the Sims park in Coonoor is enough to sight them . Sometimes the birds will just be sitting on the pathway and or a rock near you .I almost sighted close to 75 species of birds and I was not even birding seriously . Some of them were the nilgiri flycatcher, the fan tail, the chestnut headed bee eater, Tickells blue flycatcher, the Eurasian black bird among several others..
3.The wildlife – So,you are not into birds , but the wildlife may definitely tempt. I got lost while trying to get to Long wood shola and entered through one of the forest paths which eventually was closed to public. Barring a few private houses, we were driving through a dense shola forest and then we started walking ramdomly. My driver shuddered on a seeing a snake glide into the shrubbery , while I was trying to get a better look at it. A little while later, a local walked by , telling me to be careful, as they had spotted a family of tigers here with cubs. In another instance, I was birding in this dense private forest that belonged to a friend beyond Mettupalayam, when we heard such loud grunts of sloth bears that I actually shuddered . The gaurs are everywhere and locals say that these usual shy creatures have become a bit aggressive of late. Elephants in Masinagudi are of course a regular sighting and if you are lucky, there is the Nilgiri tahr.
4. The flowers – So, you are not into birds or the beasts. But you just cannot ignore the flowers here . Almost everywhere you see them bloom . the colours are so vivid that you can just get lost into them..There are so many parks and gardens here that you can easily get lost here.
5. The quaint hill stations – Forget Ooty , just go beyond it and see some quaint hill station. Some of the popular ones are Kotagiri and Coonoor,but there are many quaint ones that lure you as well
6.The mountain railway. – As a kid, the toy train was a great favourite of mine and even today, I would love to explore Nilgiris by rail . It might be a full day affair , but its well worth the slow and long journey . I was in Lovedale station , where I saw the locals painting the board – the pride they took in their little station is a strong contrast to the way we treat our own stations in the city .
7.The culture – Colonialism is almost everywhere – in the clubs, churches, bungalows, homestays, plantations, railways, the schools – the British have left their legacy behind .Its ok to have a bit of a colonial hangover here. Just look at this beautiful pipe organ in an old church in Coonoor – it still plays by the way
8.The Tribal culture – Nilgiris is home to several tribes, including the Todas . The Toda mund for instance in the Ooty Botanical garden is a must visit to understand their lifestyle, beliefs and even to buy a few of their famous embroidered shawls. The weather in Ooty can get rather cold sometimes, even though its usually very pleasant, so looking cool in these shawls may just help you make a fashion statement as well.
9.The little chai stops on the mountain roads – There is tea everywhere . Yes, its sad that forests have given way to tea plantations , but some of these plantations are centuries old and are handed down by the British . there was coffee here as well at one time , but now its usually tea plantations that have carpeted the slopes of the hills ..Sometimes you see meadows as well and wish you could just roll on them . So, if you are tired and need to refresh yourself, just stop and drink a hot cup of tea and buy some eucalyptus oil for your aching limbs
10. Home made chocolates – Now, this is something that I will never leave Ooty without ..who wouldnt ?