Saturday, July 23, 2016

Trip to Ooty - the Queen of Hill Stations

Trip to Ooty - the Queen of Hill Stations
This is continuation from my last travel post on Mysore. I had narrated you in the very first post of this series, about the breathtaking bus journey from Mysore (renamed as 'Mysuru' on November 1, 2014) to Ooty through Bandipur and Madumalai National Parks. The onion dosa had successfully filled up the morning void in my tummy and we resumed our journey towards Ooty. Throughout our bus journey so far, I kept noting the elegance of Karnataka roads but the real beauty was yet to be unveiled until we entered the Bandipur Forest area! As the Karnataka state border ended, Madumalai Wildlife Sanctuary and National Park of Tamil Nadu welcomed us. It was the first wildlife sanctuary to be established in south India and a part of Nilgiri biosphere reserve, being located on the northwestern side of the Nilgiri Hills in Nilgiris district. Finally we were charmed by the hue of Blue Mountains and fragrance of eucalyptus as our bus neared Ooty, the honeymooners’ paradise, the home of flavored tea, delicious homemade chocolates and of course myriad Indian spices.

After reaching the tourist heart of the Blue Mountains, Ooty (Udhagamandalam), our first sightseeing destination was Ooty Lake. This artificial L-shaped lake spans for a length of approx 2 kilometers and with its boathouse it serves as the honey-full beehive attracting hundreds of swarms of tourists throughout the year. Though the Ooty Lake was constructed in 1824 for serving the purpose of an irrigation tank but presently this lake is one of the most polluted lake in the state of Tamil Nadu, used only as a sightseeing spot for Ooty tourism. Like most of the lakes on hill stations you have the liberty to enjoy boat ride on Ooty Lake while enjoying the green mountain scenery encircling the lake. Personally I didn’t find it so calm and serene as expressed in many travel websites. There were too many tourist boats in reality which might be due to my tour schedule in the pick season. So, I preferred to sit by the dock side and enjoy the tourist rush for boating from a pleasant distance.
Trip to Ooty - the Queen of Hill Stations
Like most of the lakes on hill stations you have the liberty to enjoy boat ride on Ooty Lake while enjoying the green mountain scenery encircling the lake.
Either you can opt for rowing boats or paddle-boats of different seating capacities as per your group size (starting from two-seater). While rest of my co-travelers looked for means to get the essence of boating on much hyped Ooty Lake, I walked out of the boathouse and explored other fun-adventure activities around the lake area, like toy-train, off-road cycling, pony ride etc. Later, I purchased a ticket for ‘grass o ride’ (riding a 4-wheeled desert bike on grassy irregular ground) and finally ended up buying half kg of dark homemade chocolates, sandalwood incense sticks and alcohol-free perfume before finally leaving the lakeside for lunch. Don’t think me a loser dude. As a matter of fact, I had kept my boating zeal postponed till Kodaikanal, partly due to the unforgiving overhead sun and, rest due to my allergy to over-congestion of tourists occupying the Ooty Lake.

Doddabetta, lying at a height of around 2,637 meters is the highest point in Nilgiris district, second highest peak in Nilgiri Hills, and it was our second sightseeing destination in Ooty. Doddabetta is roughly 10 kilometers away from the town of Ooty and our bus could only reach up to a certain point beyond which big vehicles weren’t allowed. We got a twisty jeep ride for last few kilometers up to the top of Doddabetta peak. Road was under-maintained and vehicle rush was high in that last 3 kilometers of the steep climb. If you've got the juice you might consider hiking till the summit. Once you reach Doddabetta you’ll once again be in a high tourist density neighborhood. There were plenty of parked vehicles and food stalls over the top, making the place identical to any sunrise/sunset point of typical Indian hill station.
Trip to Ooty - the Queen of Hill Stations
It is said that in a clear weather one can spot the flat highlands of Mysore or the far away plains of Coimbatore from the top of Doddabetta!
There was a telescope house on the top of Doddabetta to facilitate the viewing of the valley and far away settlements lying below. The greenish blue Nilgiri range and the picturesque valley nested among hills are sure treat to one's eyes and telescope would probably have enhanced the details, but standing in a long queue was never my mug of beer. I utilized the full 21x telephoto range of my camera to satisfy my naked eyes. It’s said that in a clear weather (which is indeed very rare) one can spot the flat highlands of Mysore or the far away plains of Coimbatore from the top of Doddabetta, but needless to say I wasn’t so lucky!

There’s a point at one edge which has earned the reputation of being suicide point (or lovers’ point), i.e. an abrupt steep end of the cliff from where one can jump down to the valley lying thousand feet below. Somehow, I found no romanticism in Doddabetta’s over-hyped lovers’ point. While returning back I spotted a circle of crowd centered around an artist who was sketching live faces for 180 bucks only! After descending down the Doddabetta peak we visited the Ooty Botanical Garden. We were lucky as the entire garden was smiling at us with flowers of all colors because it happened that we arrived there on perfect time of the year. It was 14th May and the Ooty Flower Show 2013 was going to be held from 17th May! To showcase the rich heritage of flora and to grasp the international trends of floriculture, the Department of Horticulture and Plantation Crop, Govt of Tamil Nadu celebrates the annual flower show, usually in the month of May at Ooty Botanical Garden, to attract no less than 1,50,000 tourists from different corners of the globe to the Blue Mountains.
Trip to Ooty - the Queen of Hill Stations
I found no romanticism in Doddabetta’s over-hyped lovers’ point.
Lying at an altitude of 2,250 meters, Botanical Garden of Ooty is the third largest botanical garden in India. Yes, Ooty Botanical Garden was our post lunch sightseeing destination at Ooty. This terraced garden covers a handsome area of 22 hectares occupying the lower slopes of Doddabetta peak and boasts of beautiful undulating lawns and myriad species of plants, shrubs, ferns, bonsai plants, medicinal plants and tall trees introduced from various countries. Places of interest in the Ooty Botanical Garden include- Indian Map, Italian Garden, Glass House, Corser Vatory, Fern House, Top Garden and Fossil Tree Trunk. The Fossil tree trunk lying in the central location of the botanical garden is estimated through carbon dating to be a 20 million years old rock!

Trees carried by rivers and deposited in inland lakes were metamorphosed with replacement of the woody matter by silica to produce fossil tree trunks. You can see more of such amazing treasures of nature in National Fossil Park, Tiruvakkarai, South Arcot district of Tamil Nadu. The flower show of 2013, 117thflower show of Ooty was more spectacular than ever as 66 new varieties of flower seedlings, including special species like Acroclinum, Angelonia etc were also to be introduced. I was in a heaven of photographic opportunities but- Man proposes, God disposes. I had forgetfully left my camera behind in the bus! I had to take few consolation shots with my mobile camera (I was using a Nokia Lumia 520).
Trip to Ooty - the Queen of Hill Stations
Lying at an altitude of 2,250 m, Botanical Garden of Ooty is the third largest botanical garden in India!
After enjoying the magnificent floral beauty of Ooty Botanical Garden we were left on our own to explore Ooty. But it was almost six in the evening. The Wax Museum where I had planned to visit was also closed for that day. After freshening up in the hotel I walked back to the same place near the botanical garden and entered the Ooty stadium, where a Tamil cultural program was going on in full vibe, probably as a part of tourism festival by the Govt of Tamil Nadu. Everything around the stage was written in Tamil, so, I could not decode those banners. It was too noisy to communicate with a local guy who would otherwise have equally struggled badly to decipher my queries.

I chose the front row to enjoy whatever was going on on-stage. I didn’t understand a single word they sang or danced on but what I collected was- air of merry making, smiles and happy human expressions which are fixed like northern star throughout this world. I spent more than an hour watching, listening, clicking and fast-food-tasting in the stadium ground. Unfortunately, I ended up with the worst quality chicken Biryani that I ever tasted! Other snacks were decent though.

The clock showed 8:30 PM but I wasn’t yet ready to stroll back to my hotel. Suddenly I remembered of the Nilgiri Mountain Railway and locked my current target- Ooty railway station. It was around 4 km from there but who cared. After reaching the railway station the board read ‘Udhagamandalam Station’. It was totally quiet and desolate as expected but least I expected was a sleeping coach in the platform. I read the board narrating the history of Nilgiri Mountain Railway before leaving the station half heartedly.
Trip to Ooty - the Queen of Hill Stations
Can you spot the meandering rail tracks of the Nilgiri Mountain Railway down the valley?
Nilgiri Railway Company constructed the railway from 1886 to 1899 between Mattupalaiyam and Coonoor using ‘Alternate biting teeth’ technology in the ‘Rack and pinion’ arrangement between the rails. The railway has the steepest gradient of 1:12 in Indian Railways! In 1903 the railway was purchased by the Govt and the construction between Coonoor and Ooty was completed by 1908. It is a meter-gauge track and rises 6,159 feet from Mettupalaiyam to Ooty, that is 7,228 feet above the sea level. UNESCO conferred World Heritage status to the Nilgiri Mountain Railway in 2005! This the same railway on which the jovial dance sequence of the Bollywood song ‘Chaiyya Chaiyya’ of movie ‘Dil Se’ was shot. Surely someday I’ll be traveling that railway route and blog about my wandering orgasm.

Next morning we resumed our day long bus ride for Kodaikanal. On the way we halted at Coonoor to visit the Sim’s Park. Sim’s Park is a terraced natural garden that lies at an altitude of 1,780 meters and famous for colorful flower beds, lawns and rockeries. As you move down the park you can see rare economic trees like Rudraksh, ferns, Camellia etc and further down, you’ll see the Island garden surrounded by stream and pond. On the other side lies a rose garden containing more than 200 varieties of roses. Sim’s Park has resulted by the introduction of many rare species belonging to Eucalyptus, Acacia, Pinus, Camellia, Cinnamomum etc in the Nilgiris, thereby increasing the plant wealth as well as the industrial wealth of the district.
Trip to Ooty - the Queen of Hill Stations
Sim’s Park is a terraced natural garden at Coonoor that lies at an altitude of 1,780 m and famous for its colorful flower beds, lawns and rockeries.
Sim’s Park of Coonoor takes legitimate pride in having secured more than 1,000 species of 255 genres belonging to 85 families widely covering almost all the different group of the plant kingdom. Remember, exploring any terraced garden can be quite tiring. So, do not rush inside. After all, slow but steady wins the race; right? Like Ooty Botanical Garden, Sim’s Park also charges separate fees for entry and camera ticket. Soon, we resumed our bus journey to the beautiful lake town cum hill station- Kodaikanal, about which I’ll narrate in my next travel post. Friends, do check back for Kodaikanal.