Visit Coonoor for a pleasant change from the run-of-the-mill hill station holiday. Enjoy the peaceful bellflower-lined streets (preferably on foot). Around town are numerous viewing lookouts, which are best explored early in the mornings to avoid the rush of tourists. The weather patterns here are starkly different from neighbouring Ooty, with the rains arriving in November. Expectedly, the summer months, from April to September, are the best time of the year to visit.
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. The journey from Coonoor to Mettupalayam (41km) has delightful views; so try not to miss this glorious stretch. Book ahead to ensure a ride, though having a ticket is no guarantee of a great seat.
Meet keen morning walkers at Sim’s Park. This 1874 creation of one JD Smith started out as a pleasure resort and gradually developed into a botanical garden. If visiting in May, look out for the annual fruit and flower show.
Eight kilometres out of town, a forest-fringed road leads upto Lamb’s Rock, a favourite viewing point that buzzes with tourists. On weekends, the narrow road is packed with cars. From here, you can get a view of the sprawling Coimbatore plains, as well as a large jagged rock, at least a few hundred feet tall, buried deep in the forest.
Lady Canning’s Seat
Tucked between trees, this viewing point is ahead of Lamb’s Rock on the same road. Named after the wife of Lord Canning (one of the British viceroys), the spot commands a brilliant view of the tea estates and distant mountains. Off the main road, it is a short climb to the top.
When a sea of green mossy bushes is all you can see for miles, you know that a hot cup of tea is close by. To taste different varieties of tea in the Nilgiris, head to Highfield Tea Estate in Coonoor. Free samples are given at the end of a tour to all visitors. Though more formal tea tasting rooms have not permeated the region yet, Tranquilitea homestay in Coonoor organises a session for their guests with veteran tea planters taking you through the subtle nuances of different varieties.
Highfield Tea EstateThis 50-year-old factory off the Sim’s Park–Kotagiri Road is one of the few that allows visitors a short tour inside to see the tea-making process. You can also wander around the plantation to click photographs. The trip is definitely worth it, despite the heavy scent of tea that hangs on to you long after you have left. There is also an in-house store selling tea leaves and herbal oils.
Dolphin’s Nose This is another viewing point, which has a splendid panorama of the Catherine Falls in Kotagiri. It can, however, be noisy and crowded. Visit in the mornings to avoid the rush – but be prepared to be greeted by the previous day’s trash. Dolphin’s Nose is 10km from Coonoor town and stands at a height of 1000ft above sea level.
Doorg Fort The weathered 18th-century fort of Tipu Sultan, Droog (also known as Bakasura Malai) can be reached by a combination of road travel (13km) and a short trek. Though the fort itself is in ruins, the view of the valleys below makes it a picturesque trek. It’s a great spot for a picnic lunch – after all, one would need refuelling after the climb up to the spot.