I had been to several hill stations across India, while many of these provide genuine respite in the summer, and some of such hill stations are fake (e.g. Matheran in Maharashtra). I loved backpacking through Gangtok, and I loved backpacking in Kerala and Karnataka too.
Okay, a little quiz before we get started. We all know how Mumbai became Bombay and Bengaluru became Bangalore. So, what do you think is real name of the town of Ooty?
Think, think. Okay, if you still scratching your hairless head(!), here it is – Udhagamandalam; yes say it again, aloud, if you can I will sponsor your trip. How in the name of God, the name changed to short and sweet Ooty?
The original word was first transformed to Ootacamund, by guess who? And then ultimately shortened to Ooty, by guess who?
Yes, you guessed it right, by the Angrezs (Britishers)
How to reach Ooty
Ooty by Air
Fly in from the Coimbatore airport which is approximately at a distance of 3-3.5 hours from Ooty. The Coimbatore airport is surprisingly well connected to nearby international destinations such as Singapore and Colombo and to other domestic airports in India such as Bangalore and Mumbai.
Ooty by Train
You must have already heard of the famous Ooty toy train. For those, who haven’t, Ooty has a railway station; it’s a narrow gauge, toy train (there is one in Shimla and Darjeeling too) which runs between Mettupalayam and Ooty, a total distance of 55 km. Further, Mettupalayam is well connected to Chennai by train. Note, that while it is exciting to sit in a toy train, it could easily wear off as the speed of the train is dead slow taking about 6 hours for the journey (remember the old Dev Anand song when he would climb up and down the running train at will). The other factor to note is that only a small stretch of the journey is scenic – between Ketty and Ooty. So, plan accordingly.
The Ooty toy train starts at 7.10 in the morning from Mettupalayam railway station. Only limited tickets (around 30-35) of the Ooty toy train are issued and can only be bought at the two stations. The ticket window at the station opens at 5 AM in Mettupalayam and 1 PM in Ooty. In the tourist season there is always a long queue to get the tickets and often quite challenging to get one. If you are really looking to buy a ticket be sure to be there at the station much before time.
The trick is to buy the tickets at a midway station where the crowd is far less. I recommend you go to Lovedale or Ketty station by road and get the ticket, it also makes sense as this is the only scenic section of the journey.
Fun fact: Do you there is a regular gauge train at Flam, Norway? It runs from the sea level to snow line.
Ooty by Car
Distance between Bangalore and Ooty is around 300 km, making the hill station an obvious choice to flee the scorching heat of the Bangalore city.
Distance between Conoor and Ooty is mere 20 km and perhaps you can crunch the itinerary to include the two hill stations.
Distance between Mysore and Ooty is 130 km which makes the hills station a popular destination for Infoscions (Infosys guy – as Infosys has a training center in Mysore).
Ooty by Bus
You’ll find plenty of buses in the Bangalore Ooty circuit and as well as Mysore Ooty route. The best option would be to book a KSRTC, or a non-ac sleeper by one of the private operators.
Travel – around the Ooty town
There are numerous options to get around the city – auto rickshaw, city bus and taxi. Negotiate well if you are getting into an auto as they tend to quote nonsensically high price.
What to see in Ooty?
1. Doddabetta Peak
Located in Nilgiri Hills Doddabetta Peak (which literally means big mountain) is the highest peak with a height touching 2,637 meters. The peak is surrounded by protected forest making the whole area very picturesque. From the top you get amazing 360-degree views of the valley. Also, at the top you will find a telescope house with two telescopes available at a minimal fee.
If you have a car, to get here from Ooty take the Kotagiri Road, the peak is at about a distance of 10 km. Alternatively, you can take the government bus from the Ooty bus stand to reach here. The ticket costs a whopping 15 rupees! From the bus stop you need to walk a distance of about 2.5-3 km to reach the top, the walk however is very pleasant and highly enjoyable.
2. Pykara lake and falls
The little village of Pykara offers two attractions – the lake and the falls. The waterfalls are on the river Pykara. There is also an option of boating in the lake but I think at a price of around 400 rupees it is bit too steep. Apart from the lake and the falls the place offer fantastic views of grassy meadows (called shola).
It is best to visit the place in the monsoon when there is greenery all around.
3. Fern Hills Palace
Fern Hills Palace is an erstwhile palace of the maharaja of Mysore, now transformed into a heritage hotel. The palace was constructed in the 18th century and the design of the Fern Hills Palace is inspired by Swiss architecture.
4. Ooty Botanical Gardens
Conveniently located within the little town of Ooty and spread over 20 acres is the quite well maintained Botanical Garden. The park is operated under the Horticulture division of the Tamilnadu Government.
You’ll certainly be mesmerized by hundreds of varieties of flowers and it is recommended to walk around the south-east part of the circumference of the park (with respect to the entrance). The best time to visit Ooty Botanical Garden is during the flower show which takes place in the month of May.
5. Ooty Rose Gardens
There are about 20,000 different varieties of rose plants cultivated in the garden making it one of the largest such garden in India. I recommend you to climb up the observation deck to get a bird’s eye view of the entire park.
I strictly recommended you to visit only when the roses are in bloom, otherwise it is just an empty park. Recommended season – Best: May. Okay: Jun. July.
6. Ooty Lake
The wonderful Ooty Lake is spread over 65 acres is located near the town center and close to the TN government bus stand area. However, it is a bit of a walk (about 2 km) from the bus stand to reach the entrance of the lake if you are interested in boating. Thread Garden is located bang opposite to the entrance, but it is highly recommended that you save your money and spent it on buying decent homemade chocolates!
7. Ooty Emerald Lake
If you are looking for pristine, untouched environment which is unscathed from the relentless development then Emerald Lake is your top choice to go. But do understand the irony, by visiting the place you are actually making a detrimental effect on its ecology.
Emerald lake is a beautiful lake nestled amidst the beautiful green hills of Nilgiri range. It is located at a distance of about 25 km from Ooty in the area known as Silent Valley. The lake is surrounded by tea gardens growing on the slopes of the nearby hills. The picturesque landscape makes Emerald Lake area an ideal picnic spot.
Emeral Lake Ooty is also highly recommended for witnessing sunrise and sunset. Unfortunately, the access to the lake is restricted by the forest department but with little negotiation with the forest guard you can have a chance to get in. Nevertheless, the views are as amazing from a distance as from the lake.
If you are looking for accommodation in the area, Redhills resort is your only option. With the help of the hotel you can also indulge yourself in activities like bird watching, cycling and trekking.
Where to stay in Ooty?
Being one of the most visited tourist place in South India, Ooty has no dearth of accommodation. Irrespective of what your style is, backpacker, budget, value for money or luxury, Ooty offers something to fit everyone’s pocket.
Recomended Hotels/ Guesthouse in Ooty
That’s it folks, I hope you found this guide useful to plan your trip to Ooty. If you have any questions or suggestions, please let me know in the comments.
The Abode – 1200 INR for two guests for one night – 8.3 rating in booking.com
Zostel Ooty Opens – 1700 INR for two guests for one night – 8.6 rating in booking.com
Irinjalakuda House – 2000 INR for two guests for one night – 8.8 rating in booking.com
Paradise Perfect – 2000 INR for two guests for one night – 9.1 rating in booking.com
Leopard Rock Wilderness Resort – 4000 INR for two guests for one night – 9.0 rating in booking.com
Resort Vinca West Downs Heritage Resort – 4000 INR for two guests for one night – 8.5 rating in booking.com