Although Ooty (Udhagamandalam) has a repertoire of travel cliches, which ensure a typical hill station experience, it cannot be missed. This place is a delight for shutterbugs. Tea plantation-clad hills, strewn with bright Lego-like houses, interspersed with lush patches of fern and eucalyptus, the hills immediately put you in a good mood after leaving behind the heat of the plains.
In this excerpt from Lonely Planet’s India’s Best Escapes South India we recommend the top sights and experiences for visitors.
The Nilgiri Mountain Railway (Toy Train )
The Unesco-listed World Heritage Site is worth every jostle once you have squirmed your way into a comfortable position along with all the other tourists. Started in 1908, the train still runs partially on steam locomotive engines (on the Coonoor–Mettupalayam stretch), and chugs its way from Ooty to Mettupalayam in 3½ hours. It twists and turns over 250 bridges, through 16 tunnels and deep gorges, across forests and tea plantations. Book ahead to ensure a ride, though having a ticket is no guarantee of a great seat.
Tea Factory & Museum
A commendable educational effort which caters to a variety of travellers – one cannot really brag about the museum or the presentation of the loud speaker-enabled guide – but the limited information on tea brewing is enough for mass consumption. There is a channelled walk through the factory that ends in a small sampling of tea. There is also a counter to buy spices and chocolates, as well as, of course, varieties of Nilgiri tea.
The peaceful 9km stretch of fern and eucalyptus-lined bumpy road off Ooty, ends in a bevy of tourists making a beeline for the lone telescope, some worn out children’s swings and snack food joints. The reasonably well-kept Doddabetta Peak itself offers a great view of the Hecuba, Kattadadu and the Kulkudi summits. A short stop is enough to stay away from a chartered holiday experience.
Established in 1847, the Botanical Gardens of Ooty are less appreciated for the horticultural experience and more for a pleasing backdrop for photo enthusiasts. One cannot help join the photo-frenzy with temptingly beautiful varieties of flowers and the large cacti in the glasshouse. Its vast expanse is even dotted with a lone bench or two, to absorb all the cheer around. The wilting plants at the sales counter are a rather sad contrast to the lush gardens outside.
This is a single stop for a full day of entertainment if you have an appetite for boating, horse riding and carousels. Especially recommended if you are travelling with children, for whom the cotton candy stands, fruit vendors, food court, mini train can be engaging. Given the number of tourists that visit the Boat House, it has been well maintained.