Ooty, short for Ootacamund and officially Udhagamandalam, is a popular hill resort in the state of Tamil Nadu in Southern India. The name Udhagamandalam is derived from the Toda word "othakal-mund" which means "house in mountains". Ooty stands at 2,240 m (7,347 feet) above sea level in the Nilgiri mountain range. It was founded in the 19th century by the British, and served as the summer headquarters of the Madras Presidency. Ooty is in the Niligiris District which was one of the first places in India to get rid of plastic carry bags, so if you are heading there, remember to carry your own reusable bags, not plastic.
In the Nilgiris ("Blue Mountains"), it draws swarms of tourists every year. The weather is quite pleasant at a mean of 15-20°C around the year, dropping to lows of 0°C during winter. The landscape is marked by rolling hills covered with dense vegetation, smaller hills and plateaus covered with tea gardens, and eucalyptus trees. Many portions of the hills are preserved as natural reserve forests, and special permits will be needed to camp in noncamp sites. Ooty is not the destination in itself, as much as it is the focal point of attraction. Auto touring the surrounding country side is certainly a must do. Unfortunately, the hill town suffers from overcrowding and erosion of natural resources. Tourism has placed an enormous strain on the natural resources resulting in pollution, water shortage and roads.
The hilly region also houses smaller towns like Coonoor and Kotagiri. These smaller towns are a better choice to visit and spend time in, since they are off the beaten path, yet less than an hour away from Ooty. They enjoy the same natural climes and prices are a lot cheaper.
The Coimbatore airport (CJB IATA) is the closest to the hills at 3½ hours by road. There are flights into Coimbatore from Singapore, Sharjah, Colombo, Mumbai (Air India and Indigo), Chennai (Spicejet, Air India and Indigo) and Bangalore. The Mysore airport (MYQ IATA) is about four hours away from Ooty by road. The drive from either airport is scenic.
The hills are connected to by a nightly train, the Nilgiri Express (Train No. 2671), which departs from Chennai at night and reaches Mettupalayam (which Indian Rail spells Metupalaiyam), a small town at the foothills of the Nilgiris early the next morning.
The 51 km from Mettupalayam to Ooty is covered by taxi or bus; the mountain railway is uncomfortable and slow and two thirds of the journey doesn't go through scenic hills. The beautiful hills start only after Ketty or Lovedale. The 51 km can be covered in two hours by road whereas the toy train takes about six hours.
The Mountain Railway
The 1 Nilgiri Mountain Railway. train leaves Mettupalayam at 7:10AM, pushed by a small, steam-powered historic locomotive, one of the Swiss-engineered trains imported in the late 1800s. The steam train is much smaller, and can only accommodate a portion of the passengers that disembark at Mettupalayam. This journey requires a separate ticket, available at IRCTC.
The steam train's route is boring and there are constant stops and repair sessions en route. At some stations, the engine has to take on water. The train uses a rack and pinion system to ascend steep slopes, and also to prevent the train from sliding down when stopping. The train is pushed from behind. There are brakesmen at the rear of every carriage who apply and release each carriage's hand-powered brakes. The train often travels at 5-10 km/h, allowing adventurous passengers to disembark and walk alongside the train. This practice can be dangerous and the train may speed up, preventing reboarding.
Without a confirmed ticket, it is difficult to board the train, as only about 30 tickets are issued at Mettupalayam starting at 5AM, and at 1PM at Ooty for the entire journey from Mettupalayam to Ooty. Be near the ticket window before it opens, because there can be an unexpected crowd at opening. It is difficult to obtain a ticket at Mettuppalayam because of the morning crowd. Purchasing tickets is easier at the uphill Ketty and Lovedale stations, which are accessible by bus.
- 2 Udagamandalam railway station.
Buses and shared taxi vans can be boarded from elsewhere in India to Ooty. Alternative to the early train from Coimbatore, many buses also go to Ooty. The Coimbatore "new bus station" has frequent buses to Ooty via Mettupalayam, and it takes around 3½ hours to get there. However buses are uncomfortable and often crowded. The lack of air conditioning in the buses is problematic till they ascend the hills. Taxis leave from the same "new bus stand".
On the return journey in the morning, some buses make a 10-15-minute stop at Mettupalayam for breakfast. From the "new bus station" it takes about 25 minutes by (another) bus to reach the Coimbatore railway station. From Kozhikode, there are two government buses daily, leaving 5AM and 7AM, the journey lasts six hours. Mysore is served few times a day, too. From Kannur there is a daily KSRTC bus departs at 7:30AM and a daily Tamil Nadu bus departs at 10PM, reaching Ooty at 4PM and 7AM the next day, respectively.
The Nilgiris are in Tamil Nadu, but near the borders Karnataka and Kerala. The hills consequently can be reached from within Tamil Nadu by travelling up a heavily forested winding road, with many hair-pin bends. The road trip from any state is scenic, although the Coimbatore-Mettupalayam-Coonoor-Ooty road (i.e. the Tamil Nadu route) is the most travelled and best-maintained. All roads to the Nilgiri hills have nominal tolls.
Taxis at the Coimbatore "new bus stand" charge ₹2500 (negotiable) when reserved and ₹600 each when shared, four people share an Omni (Maruti van). In case a hotel has been per-booked, they often provide taxis to and from Coimbatore for ₹2000.
Ooty is 284 km from Bangalore by road. The journey takes about eight hours, depending on the road's condition. There is a shorter route with a diversion at Mudumalai wildlife sanctuary, which passes the towns of Masinagudi and Kalhatti. This route curtails the distance to Ooty by about 50 km. This road is closed at night as it passes through the jungle, requiring a few hours spent at the check post which is closed at night. This road as it is narrow and steep. There are eateries and a fuel station in the town of Masinagudi. Resorts near Masinagudi town let cottages. These offer relaxing weekend getaways. There are restaurants between Bangalore and Mysore, and within Mysore, but from Mysore to Ooty there are few restaurants, so it is advisable to stock up on groceries in advance. Start early for a more leisurely drive through Bandipur and Mudumalai forest, taking in occasional animal sightings.
Distance from Ooty to various cities:
* Bangalore (297 km) * Kozhikode (187 km) * Coimbatore (89 km) * Coonoor (17 km) * Madikeri (225 km) * Kodaikanal (236 km) * Kotagiri (28 km) * Munnar (282 km) * Mysore (126 km)
Taxis, tourist cabs, auto rickshaws are available in plenty. There are no standard rates except for tourist cabs. Rickshaws charge a minimum of ₹30. Town buses are available to all important places. Conducted sight seeing tours are arranged by private operators and the Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation (TTDC). There are around 3-4 different day trip routes/packages available. Bus day-trip cost ₹125-150 and taxi day-trip cost ₹900-1100. Even if you arranged the taxi through the hotel (even TTDC), verify with the hotel and operator before the trip that there are no hidden costs. Taxi drivers will often demand high parking fees and lunch, which is already paid for. It is not uncommon for bus/taxi drivers to get commission from remote restaurants and shops. These places are overpriced, try avoiding such restaurants.
Bus and taxi will take tourists to remote, high-priced restaurants for lunch. Try not to eat in such places because the food is cold, the place is not clean beyond the façade, and it is always overpriced (you will end up paying for taxi driver's lunch, too).
Also avoid driver's recommendation for sleeping arrangements. They (few of them) will take you to the hotels for accommodation where they get 20% commission, which will be added in your room tariff without your knowledge.
- Annamalai Temple (about 20 km from Ooty). This place has grown as a famous temple of Lord Muruga, and is known as 7th Hill house of the lord. The view from the temple is great. There is an observatory at the top of hill for the public to enjoy the magnificent panoramic view.
- Boating at Pykara. It's an awesome experience. Though the rate of boating is little bit high (minimum is ₹400) but still it is worthy. Fresh air, good feeling and good view.
- 1 Doddabetta Peak. The Dodabetta Peak stands at an altitude of 2,623 m. It is the highest point in the district, making it possibly the best vantage point around Ooty. It is 10 km from Ooty so you can simply grab your camera and head straight to the peak, and click amazing pictures of the valley below. Many say that on a clear day, which is honestly not that often, one can see far off areas, even the plains of Coimbatore and the flat highlands of Mysore. You can get there by catching a bus from ooty bus stand which will charge you ₹10, but will have to walk about 3 km. from the stop where the bus will drop you. You will enjoy the way up the peak, if you love walking.
- Dolphin's Nose. The Dolphin's Nose View point is 10 km from Coonoor Central. You can enjoy the views of the roads and tea farms.
- Echo Rock. Some call it the "Lamb's Rock", as it naturally took the shape of a lamb. Go through a very small forest and then you can see the rock.
- 2 Falls at Pykara (Pykara Waterfalls). This is an interesting place near the Pykara village. Bathing is not advisable here as there is a danger of drowning when there is water. However, there is not always water in the waterfalls, so check current conditions before you go.
- 3 Fern Hills Palace. Be sure to visit this palace-turned-hotel of the Mysore Maharaja. Extremely beautiful place and quite affordable tea-snacks and slightly expensive buffet dinner. The palace and its estate are beautiful and are open to guests. The locals often will call it Mysore Palace to avoid confusion with the Fern Hill Hotel.
- Hidden Valley.
- Historical dam with power station at Pykara.
- 4 Ooty Botanical Gardens. If you are on a sightseeing tour to Ooty, you might want to visit the Government Botanical gardens, which were laid out in 1847. The picturesque gardens that are maintained by the Horticulture department of the state, cover an area of about 22 ha. The gardens have well over 650 species of plants and trees, including a fossil of a tree, which is believed to be more than 20 million years old. The garden is very popular with nature lovers and those who long to walk among greenery and see rare ferns and shrubs up close. If you are in Ooty in the month of May, then you can also be a part of the summer festival, which is held here annually. The festival holds flower shows and various cultural programs showcasing the talent of the locals and the renowned artists.
- 5 Ooty Rose gardens. It is an amazing and very large area garden. You can enjoy varieties of roses there. The roses bloom only for 2-3 months a year (not sure when), so going there off-season is not very interesting. If interested can buy the seeds and plants also.
- Pine forest. It's a natural beauty. After the end of the forest a lake is there. Be careful while walking as the path has slope. Down the slope lies the waters of Kamaraj-sagar Dam.
- Shooting Point. One very nice place is that. Don't miss it. The view is very pleasant.
- 6 Sims Park, Coonoor. Similar to Ooty Botanical Garden, very rare plants and trees are present. The park is famous for the fruit show it hosts annually during summer festivals.
- The Tea Factory. Several tree gardens and factories are there. On the way you will get lots of them. They will approach you with free tea taste and offer some tea packets to buy. But be cautious if you don't have much knowledge about tea, better not to buy from them as the packet tea has not the same taste as they gave you to taste. The spices' quality is not so good.
- Wax World (Wax Museum). It is a private investment not supported by the government. Don't expect much like other foreign wax museums which are helped by tourism authorities for advertisements and promotions. But for sight seeing its good. More attractive is the very old house, where the museum is set up. Candles are available. But it is suffering from a lack of funds for expansion so they request tourists to visit and to get financial help from them, which is the only form of support.
- 7 Adam's Fountain.
- 8 Stone House.
Churches of Ooty
Most travel agents and hotels conduct guided tour packages that will bundle you into a bus, and tick off the most important and hence crowded "tourist" spots in the area. Some hotels also arrange for private cars like Indica, TATA Sumo.
- Travel on the railway. The charming Nilgiri Mountain Railway (NMR), blue and cream with wooden coaches and large windows, is widely regarded as a marvel of engineering.
- Go for long walks and hikes.
- Visit a tea plantation and if possible a tea factory.
- Travel the countryside in a 4x4.
- Catch a round of golf at the Gymkhana Golf course (membership or introduction required)
- Visit the local Army cantonment - the Madras Regimental Center and the DSSC (Defense Services Staff College).
- Visit terrace farmed cabbage fields around Ooty.
- Visit the Mudumalai forest sanctuary (1-2 days minimum).
- Visit the Needle industries which is around 6km from maintown Ooty in Ketti.
- Visit 9th mile and also the 6th mile where lot of movies are shot.
- Visit the Municipal Market and shop for fresh local fruits.
- Horse back riding. It's popular here. In one hour you can go around the lake or longer rides you can visit countryside around Ooty. Some knowledge of horses would be good as the guides are local men who don't speak too much English, teaching is minimal. On top of the price you have to pay for guide. US$4/hour.
- Explore the nearby Avalanche and Emerald Lakes, for day picnics, treks, and walkthroughs of the surrounding villages. You can also hike through the nearby tribal hamlet of Mullimunth of the Toda people. The 3 km trek takes 5 hours and passes through wooded areas and streams along the settlements.
Ooty and Nilgiris are well known for a variety of local products like tea, eucalyptus oil, chocolates, spices and gourmet cheese. There are a lot of shops that deal these products, though you have to be careful that you get an authentic product.
- Green Shop. It is an extension of the Keystone Foundation that has been working in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve over the last 15 years (since 1995) with indigenous communities on eco-development initiatives. and makes available their handicrafts and products like bee honey, bee wax and other hand-crafted artifacts. They also stock excellent gourmet cheeses like Gouda, Colby, Monterey Jack, Cheddar, Haloumi and Herb Cream Cheeses made by Acres Wild Cheesemaking Farmstay in Coonoor. They also have a bee museum that is certainly worth a visit as they show documentaries on wild bees and honey collection.
- Taj Bakers, Main Bazaar, Ooty. Visit Taj Bakers for traditional Ooty Biscuit called (Varkey) and other bakery items like home made chocolates, and cakes..
- King's Star. Ooty is famous for its chocolates, and the best place to have them is at King's Star. They have around 4 outlets in Ooty and are the first chocolate makers in Ooty. (The shops are run by the 3rd generation of the family.
There are various restaurants in Ooty, mostly offering South Indian food, but some offer North Indian food.
- 1 Hotel Sri Velmurugan, Walsham Road, Green fields (On the road connecting Alankar Theatre (in Ettines road) and the Commercial Road), ☏ , , firstname.lastname@example.org. 6AM to 11PM. Traditional South Indian restaurant.
- Earl's Secret, Kings Cliff.
- Bismillah Hotel, Near Juma Masjidh, Upper Bazar. Delicious meat and fish dishes of Calicut taste.
- (C-Store), Willow bund road, ☏ . 3pm onwards. Serves vegetarian delicacies, including maggi.
The Nilgiris are famous for tea.
- Hotel Blue hills, Commercial Road. Best non-veg hotel in Ooty. Serving biriyani and other dishes for more than a decade.
- Krishan Prabhas. lower bazaar, near bus stand, ooty
There is no dearth of accommodations, with many hotels and inns that cater to every budget. Accommodations are no more expensive than most cities in India, and the popular Indian hotel chains have a presence here.
- Hotel Darshan, ☏ , , , email@example.com. 34 rooms facing the lake, restaurant, room service, 24 hrs hot & cold water, in-house laundry, carpeted rooms, cable TV, parking, camp fire, doctor on call, travel desk, group accommodation available for small and large groups. ₹900 and up.
- Hotel Maneck, Main Bazaar, ☏ . Very central hotel near horse race track with good economical restaurant on basement. Hotel and restaurant are under Jain management. The rooms start from ₹1200
- Hotel Sinclair, Gorishola Rd, ☏ , fax: , firstname.lastname@example.org. Great view of Ooty and surrounding hills. 5 minutes drive to go to the town market and restaurants. The hotel has its own restaurant and a bar. ₹2,000-10,000.
- Railway Retirement Room (inside the railway station). ₹150.
- Reflections Guest House. A short walk along the main road - turn right coming out of the train station, or left coming out of the bus stop (which is opposite the train station). It is tidy and with good views of the lake and hills. ₹550/night for upstairs room (Sep 2010). Location is very good - short walk to train station and bus stop, short walk to boat house, Thread Gardens and other tourist attractions. The food in the restaurant is good value for its price and nicely cooked. The owners are helpful and professional, and the common spaces make it a very friendly place to stay.
- Sunshine Inn, ☏ , . Three-star property with 70 rooms. Includes a restaurant, room service, in-house laundry, and travel desk, and car parking is available inside the hotel premises. Season tariff starts from ₹1800 + tax.
- Sherlock Hotel. A colonial villa several kilometers away from the town with breathtaking views of the surrounding hills and warm and friendly service. Rooms have cozy fireplaces. The restaurant alone is worth a visit serving outstanding continental food and also murgh boti masala and mint paranthas. Several short walking trails start nearby. A trip to Ooty is worth it just for a stay at this hotel. ₹1875-3000 depending on size and view.
- Sullivan court, Near Rose Garden. 5-star luxury hotel. Most famous hotel, best rooms, part of ITC Hotels India.
- 1 United-21 Paradise Ooty (United-21 Ooty), Woodbrook, ☏ . United-21 Paradise is hill resort in Ooty by Panoramic Group which offers budget cottages.
- Ajantha Lodge, Lower Bazar, Juma Masjidh Street, (near Railway Station), ☏ . Mr. Sadiq Basha runs this lodge in a cute period building of 1912. 400.
- 2 Treebo Whispering Meadows, 264, Off Gymkhana Golf link road, Fingerpost, ☏ , email@example.com. Check-in: noon, check-out: 11AM. Treebo Whispering Meadows, a heritage property off Gymkhana Golf Link Road. Starting from 1999.
- Funstay, ☏ . Cottages, Resorts and Tents, attached washrooms, party space, Room services, Food service, car parking, In house laundry and Hot running water. These homestays in Ooty are just 3 to 4 km away from Ooty bus stop and railway station. Starts from 1550 to 6500 per person per night.
- 3 Glyngarth Resort (2/213, Hullathy Village, The Nilgiris), ☏ , , , firstname.lastname@example.org. Pool views with massive bay windows from floor to ceiling.
- Bandipur National Park
- Nagarhole National Park
- Kodanad Viewpoint in Kotagiri
- Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary