Thursday, May 25, 2006

Ooty, Wellington, Coonoor

I had a 10 day break in between jobs. And what would I do with all the time. I spend 5 days with my parents and the other 5 days traveling.

I had not visited Ooty. People always told me about commercialization, crowded bazaars, dirty lake full of plastic covers, so every time there was time for travel, I opted for other places and left Ooty for a later.

I have never visited a tea estate, though I am a tea drinker.

So, during the 5 days that I had, I decided to go to Ooty. The plan was to stay outside Ooty so that we are away from the crowd. So, I chose a place in between Ooty and Coonor, called Wellington. Wellington is about 18 kms beyond Ooty, if you are driving from Bangalore. Also, it is about 8 kms ahead of Coonoor.

So, there is more to Nilgiris, than just Ooty. There is lots to explore at Coonor and Wellington.

Me and Aravind love to drive. The route is Bangalore – Mysore – Masinagudi ie Mudumalai Wild life sanctuary – Ooty – Wellington – Coonoor. It is about 290 kms and take 7 hrs to reach if you drive non – stop with minimal number of breaks.

We left in the morning at 7. When we plan long drives, we ensure that the car is well serviced, petrol tank is filled and air is filled. My zen performs better with Speed and Power petrol – it is meant to be that way is it not. Mileage is better.

The Bangalore – Mysore highway used to be nightmare. When I went to Kabini river lodge before 2 years we were cursing the government for all the gotalas and scams. Today, the road is nice and it is scenic too. My favorite, is still the East Coast Road.

We reached Kamat Upachar at 9.20 am. We had our fill and decided to zip it to Ooty. Check post outside the national park creates a new excitement.

After signing in at the National park entrance in a register, we roll down the windows and start driving. I love driving through the jungles – the greenery, the loneliness on the road, there are usually too few vehicles or they are so scattered that you may feel that you are the only one around. Also, the sighting of a peacock, a bison, langur or some deers fills me with so much joy. It is a great feeling to see these animals in their natural habitats, that in the confines of a zoo.

It was mid January, but, I found Mudumalai sanctuary very dry with full of dry leaves and zero green leaves. Nagarhole and Bandipur are a lot more greener. May be the season is a dry season, I don’t know.

We drive straight, enter Masinagudi town, and we know we are just getting close to Nilgiris hills.

My friends kept telling me that after Masinagudi there are about 27 hair pin bends. There was a bet, that a santro can do the hair pins better than the Zen. The drive on the curves was smooth, and in no time, we had completed the ghat section.

Ooty was just a few kilometers away. The road was good, mountaineous, and the smell of fresh air was captivating.

The friends were right. Ooty is dusty, noisy and was almost like a large crowded city. The entire mountain side is full of buildings, and there is hardly any greenery left. Lake view, mountain view, pond view, pine view, valley view – hotels with all possible names, all in one place. I am glad I avoided Ooty for the stay.

We drove ahead to Wellington. Wellington is about 18 kms beyond Ooty. It is a army cantonment , and the British army regiment has been here for a long time. We could see our Hotel Riga Residency from the main road, and we drove straight to the hotel.

For the record, after a extended break fast break, lunch break, and 2 tea breaks and break to locate a water fall from a water fall view point, and a few breaks to nature’s call, we reached Riga at 4 pm.

Riga has 2 types of rooms. The room that we stayed at was called deluxe room, had nice comfortable beds, nice bathroom, hot shower, tv with remote, but, without ac. We din’t need ac in any case. It was January and was cold. Heaters would have been better. The charge was Rs. 800 per day. It was a nice bargain. What was a let down was their restaurant, the menu options were limited, and no place was close by, to go and have a good meal. So, ended having the same mushroom fried rice and egg omelette every meal.

The view from the room was awesome. The Wellington railway station was right in front of my hotel room window. I could also see the small market area in Wellington. So, from my 3rd floor hotel room, the view of the market area with the childrens school, play ground, temple, mosque, church, the surrounding mountains with tea gardems, the railway station, etc was all very beautiful.

The Nilgiris toy train is a World Heritage site. It is a movable world heritage site along with the Dargeeling toy train. The main stops on the route are Mettupalayan – Ooty – Wellington – Coonor. It goes through tea estates and a lot of mountain valleys, tunnels and makes the Ooty trip memorable. Due to time constrains, we dint do the toy train trip. That is the problem, if you have your own transport. You , simply don’t want to try any thing else.

We had 2 days at Wellington. We wanted to visit Ooty on one day and on one day – we decided to go to Coonoor and a bit of Wellington.

Wellington is a army town, I am told that movie Roja, most of it was shot here. It is great to have a home in a place like this on the sides of the mountain slopes. There is so much mist all over the place, it is just dream like. Staying here would be one long honeymoon. The army maintains the town very well, it is called Zero garbage town, and as they have declared it, it is hard to find any garbage, papers or plastic any where. It is spotlessly clean.

We spend one day in Ooty. We went to Doddabedda, the highest point in South India in the western ghats / Nilagiri hills. We went to Jayalalitha Rose Garden. It was started during the centenary year of founding of Ooty. It has over 1000 varieties of roses and they are all beautiful. We visited another botanical garden, it have a nice green house with the most beautiful orchids and lilies.

For all those who thought that the Ooty lake was a gone case, there is some good news. Due to the efforts of localites and the government, the lake has been cleaned up and it is beautiful. Boating is a pleasure.

Interested in History of Ooty ? The collector of Coimbathore, Mr. Keys sent some English men to survey the area in 1812. They went upto the base of the hills, upto Kalhatti and returned. They did not discover the beautiful valley that lies ahead which has now become the modern hillstation.

In 1817, Collector of Coimbathore John Sullivan sent his team to explore the hills. They came back with news of the beautiful valley. Sullivan got a grant to construct roads and got the Coonoor – Mettupalayam road and the Kotagiri – Mettupalayam road constructed. A bungalow was also constructed. From then on, the place has been buzzing with activity and has become a refuge during the hot summers.

After the local Ooty trip, we had a sumptuous meal at Amaravathy restaurant. I prefer food when it is spicy, and whom to trust, other than the makers of Andhra cuisine.

Day two was also cool. We decided to drive through Wellington to get a hang of the place, and then proceed to Coonoor to see the tea estates. As I told you, I have never been to one.

Am repeating it again, Wellington is just beautiful. Picturesque and dream like. We proceeded to coonoor. As soon as we reached a intersection, young boys just ran towards our car. They were the local guides. Trip of tea estate for Rs. 30 –seemed a good bargain.

So, little boy hops into the car in the back seat.

He takes us straight to a local tea garden. He says movie Saajan was shot here – especially the song – Mera dil bhi kitna paagal hai. Yes, I remember that one. He also gives us dope that the estate of about 500 acres belongs to Madhur Madhwani – who is the husband of actress Mumtaz ( the one who does Jai Jai Shiv Shankar, along with Rajesh Khanna ), who is now the mother in law of Fardeen Khan. Interesting !

The urchin goes on to explain about the various parts of the tea tree, and tells us which part is used for chocolate tea, masala tea, green tea. Peco, Orange peco etc, all are different types of teas. He speaks like an expert. Then says – sir, I will take photo. Both of you, please stand together. And, then we both pose for the photo, with tea estates, rolling behind us.

He then takes us to the tea shop at the tea factory. We love teas. So, we bought 3 months stock of tea for us and all the other tea drinkers in the family.

After this we got back to our hotel and relaxed. TV is provided in most hotel rooms and hence I settled down to watch ‘Starsky and Hutch’ on Star Movies. I also watched the Nilgiri toy train chugh in and out of the Wellington station two times. I took as many photos as I wanted.

The trip was complete. Visited places in and around Ooty, stayed away from the crowd and enjoyed different types of teas.

The next morning we left Wellington and drove towards Bangalore, starting 10 am. The road was so good, we drove non stop and reached Bangalore at 4.30 pm. That was pretty good timing for distance of about 290 kms.

Getting there :

Road : Bangalore ( 290 kms ), Mysore ( 155 Kms ) Chennai ( 535 Kms ), Coimbathore ( 100 Kms )

Rail : Ooty is connected to Mettupalayam by the toy train. It takes about 1 hr to reach Ooty from Mettupalayam.

Airport : Coimbathore is the closest airport – 100 kms

Best Time : Throughout the year. In winter it can get really cold, you will all the wollens that you have.

Trip Duration : 3 days

Getting around : You can hire a local auto or taxi to visit the places in and around Ooty

Accomodation : There are a lot of hotels – the fancy ones and the budget acco types. Like I did, avoid Ooty as it is like staying in Chennai or Bangalore in any case with all the traffic noise and the pollution.

Contact numbers : Hotel Velan ritz : 0423 – 2230484, Hotel Wellington Riga : 0423 – 2234405.

There are some beautiful high end hotels like the Taj Savoy and the Sterling Resort etc, which I avoid, but, I am sure they are nice.