PRETTY AS PICTURE
The Nilgiris, which literally means ‘blue mountains’, are a range of at least 24 mountain peaks running through Tamil Nadu and bordering Karnataka and Kerala. The picturesque hill station of Ooty, short for Ootacamund and now officially Udhagamandalam, lies amid four peaks — Doddabetta, Snowdon, Elk Hill, and Club Hill. As you chug through the spectacular landscape in the toy train, the wonderfully uplifting smell of eucalyptus fills up the senses.
The pretty resort town of Ooty was founded by the British Collector of Coimbatore, John Sullivan, around 1820 to enable the sahibs to escape the searing heat of the plains. Sullivan's legacy is one of the most popular hill stations in India today, drawing everyone from families to honeymooners to wildlife enthusiasts. Ooty's rolling green hills, extensive gardens, lake and waterfalls make it a perfect setting for some invigorating R&R.
Situated 7,500 feet above sea level, the weather in Ooty is perennially pleasant. Eucalyptus trees and tea and coffee plantations abound, filling the air with a mild heady spicy fragrance. While tea and coffee are the town’s chief produce, essential oils of eucalyptus, lemon grass, geranium, clove, and camphor extracted from local plants are also highly valued.
Sullivan created Ooty Lake between 1823 and 1825, and introduced plants like potato and barley and the concept of horticulture in Ooty. The town gradually developed as the summer capital of the Madras Presidency of the British. However, the original inhabitants of Ooty are the Todas, a tribal community famous for handicrafts like shawls with their trademark red, black, and white embroidery.
The main attractions in and around Ooty are the Ooty Botanical Gardens, the Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary, tea and coffee plantations, Ooty Lake, the magnificent Doddabetta (highest peak of the Nilgiris at 8,652 feet), and miles and miles of conifer, eucalyptus, pine, and wattle forest.
- Area: 36 sq km (Ooty town)
- Altitude: 7,500 ft
- State: Tamil Nadu
- Distance from nearby towns/ cities: Coonoor (18 km), Mysore (155 km), Coimbatore (98 km), Bangalore (290 km), Kodaikanal (236 km)
- Take away: Tea, coffee, honey, spices; essential and aromatic oils such as eucalyptus (mainly), lemon grass, geranium, clove, camphor; Toda shawls, silver artefacts
#1. According to some historians, Tipu Sultan in an attempt to defend his border, constructed a cave like hideout in the Nilgiri district. Later, in order to defend Srirangapattinam, the then capital of Mysore, he surrendered parts of the Nilgiris to the East India Company. The location of his cave remains unknown and many believe it was destroyed.
#2. Mukurthi, 36 km from Ooty, is considered to be a sacred place by the Todas, one of the indigenous communities of the Nilgiris. According to their belief, it is here from where the souls of the dead move on to the next world. The flora and fauna of this place is also of particular interest to scientists as they bear a striking resemblance to those found in the Himalayan region.
#3. The fragrance of Eucalyptus (Blue Gum) is an unmistakable part of Ooty’s identity. However this aroma is not indigenous to the hill town. Eucalyptus trees were introduced in 1843 by Captain F. Cotton of Madras Engineers. The seeds for these exotic trees came from Tasmania, Australia in order to overcome the firewood shortage. Today Eucalyptus oil production is an important part of Ooty's economy.
#4. Ooty is home to one of the most spectacular human made creations, the Thread Garden. It is a famous tourist spot exhibiting embroidered natural models of plants and flowers. It took 50 lady artists almost 12 years and 6 crore meters of embroidery threads to create these astonishing pieces without using needles. They used the technique hand-wound embroidery to achieve this feat.
#5. The Nilgiri Tahr was thought to be almost extinct in the surroundings of Ooty. However a massive effort by Wildlife Institute of India and some spirited wildlife enthusiasts made it possible for the Nilgiri Tahr to make a famed return to the Glenmorgan Mountain after disappearing for more than two decades. These mountain goats are one of the many endangered species in the Nilgiris.
#6. Ooty is known to be the birthplace of the much-loved game of snooker. The first official set of rules for this game was drafted in 1882 at the Ooty Club. The name 'snooker' was given to the game by Colonel Sir Neville Chamberlain from a comment he made about a player who missed a shot. He called him "a real snooker", referring to his lack of experience. British Billiards champion John Roberts decided to introduce Snooker to England after having met Chamberlain during his visit to India in 1885.
#7. Ooty has been an education hub for years. The syllabus of the Indian educational system was first framed in Breeks Memorial School, Ooty by Lord Macaulay. Ooty's Nilgiri Library boasts of a collection of more than 30,000 books. Its motto, ‘Abeunt Studia in Mores', the literal translation of which is ‘Studies Pass into Habits' , became the unwritten motto of Ooty as it evolved into a preferred destination for education.
#8. Ooty is fondly known as the Switzerland of South India for its lush green meadows and mountains. However, it also has a real life connection to the beautiful country. The original steam engines that were used by the renowned Nilgiri Mountain Railways were made in Switzerland and manufactured by the Swiss Locomotive and Machine Works of Winterthur. These engines served the mountain rail till early 2000s when they were replaced with diesel engines.
#9. He was the person who laid the social and economic foundations of the region. It was Sullivan who revolutionised agricultural practice in these mountains by freely distributing seeds of a large assortment of cereals, fruits and vegetables. He brought in European varieties of wheat and barley, which the Badagas (native community of Ooty) still call ‘Sullivan Ganji’.
#10. Horse racing started in Ooty more than a century ago. Races are conducted in the summer season, from April to June. The main event of the racing season is ‘The Nilgiri Gold Cup Race’, a traditional and popular race. To commemorate 125 years of racing, a special race named ‘The Post Centenary Silver Jubilee Cup’ was organized in 2011.
#11. Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary, nestled on the north eastern slopes of the Nilgiris, is the first wildlife sanctuary in South India. Established in 1940, it is located close to Bandipur National Park, Waynad Sanctuary and the Sigur and Singara reserve forests. It also falls under the proposed Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. The sanctuary is a birdwatcher’s delight & also serves as a gateway to migratory elephants.
#12. The Avalanche Lake located 28 kilometers from Ooty town is a popular tourist hotspot known for its serene locale and Trout fishing. The lake’s unique name has a history of its own. It got the name Avalanche after the place saw a huge landslide (also called avalanche) in the early 1800s. The lake is enveloped by a dense forest abundant in Magnolia, Orchid, Rhododendron and a wide variety of avifauna. It arranges 8 guided tours in a day & offers a choice of engaging a solo tour at a higher price.
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10°C - 25°C
5°C - 21°C
BEST TIME TO VISIT
The months of February to May and September to November are the most pleasant months to be in Ooty.