Thursday, April 17, 2008

In the Nilgiris: Ooty, Coonoor, Wellington and everywhere between them!


At Coimbatore airportMy tourist spirits sank as I saw perhaps the first (and hence the oldest!) ATR Turbo Prop of Air Deccan whose age was in complete contrast to the spanking new Hyderabad International Airport from where it was getting ready to fly to Coimbatore. However some good photo ops in the plane and greenery of Coimbatore city cheered me up as we landed at surprisingly small and comfortingly cozy Coimbatore airport.
My plan was to take the Nilgiri Passenger to Ooty from Mettupalayam, a small town at the foothills of Nilgiris and a hub for public and goods transport to the hill towns. This train, popularly known as Toy Train covers a distance of 46 km in 5 hours uphill and in 3.5 hours on return journey. So I took a bus to Mettupalayam in the night itself, stayed there in a lodge (you can find plenty of accomodation there at very economic prices) so that I could take the train in the morning.

Mettupalayam Railway StationBuses ply from Coimbatore to Mettupalayam every half an hour from Mettupalayam bus stand which is very near to Coimbatore's main bus stand,Gandhipuram. Mettupalayam is a small town which is at the foothills of Nilgiris at the doorstep of Coonoor and Ooty. It can be reached from Chennai via Coimbatore by Nilgiri Express which reaches here at 6.30 am. Just in time for you to get the toy train to Ooty which departs at 7.10 am.

Under normal circumstances, I would have got the tickets but since this was a long weekend, there were no tickets available. Normally, the Mettupalayam railway station booking office opens at 5.30 am(!) and you should be there early to book your tickets, but if you are travelling in peak tourist seasons, keep in mind that you need to get your tickets reserved (yes, reserved for a passenger train!) atleast a day in advance.

I thought quickly (which means that after getting a non-commital answer from station master about ticket availability and a very early breakfast of idli-vada in station canteen, I sat for about half an hour!) and decided to take a bus to Ooty and then board the return train towards Mettupalayam. For the entire 1 hour journey till Coonoor I hanged precariously near the gate so that I could get a better view of the mountains and valleys. If you have been to an IMAX theater (where entire view in front of your eyes covered with screen) you would understand how it feels when all you can see is lush green forest covered slope of a hill, unmarred by any tree or telephone wires!

Coonoor is a beautiful town with major tourist attractions and perhaps the largest Coonoor Townmarket among its neighboring villages and towns like Wellington, Arwankad, Kattaji etc. Nilgiri district is famous for tea. You must have heard of Nilgiri tea, which is prominent alongside Darjeeling tea and Assam tea. Coonoor is the headquarter of United Planters Association of South India and has one of the seven tea auction houses in India! The slopes of Nilgiri around Coonoor and neighboring towns are covered with tea gardens which often surround their owner tea factories.

Coonoor is just 19 km from Ooty but due to very bad (and at places dangerously narrow!) road the journey takes about 1.5 hrs. However once I reaced Ooty, all the potholes in the road were forgiven! Sitting undisturbed and unhurried on Udhagamandalam (Ooty) railway station, with Mark Tully's 'The Heart Of India' in hand I thanked God for being so kind to me as to give me such a beautiful experience!

A view from trainAfter waiting about 2 hrs,the journey in Nilgiri Passenger seemed a bit of an anticlimax. 10 people were crammed in a space sufficient for 6 and I had much better views of the scenery from the bus (actually, I was hardly able to shoot anything!). However this journey turned out to be surprisingly memorable when one of my co-passengers turned out to be a guy I had met during SSB Bhopal, 9 years ago. He recognized me when TC called out my name (I was the only one to be called, everyone else had got their tickets checked!) and I surprised even myself with instantaneously recognizing him!

I got down at Wellington, a typical military town; crisp, clean and smart. For those who don't know, Wellington houses Army Staff College. My brother was undergoing a course there and I was visiting him. His home happened to be in a location that will make a good hotel proud! Panoramic view of entire Wellington surrounded by hills on all sides covered by endearing silence.

The TeaAround 5 km from Coonoor lies 'Lamb's Rock' on the way to 'Dolphin's nose' which is another 5 km. The road to both these extremely popular view points is extremely bad and narrow but provides amazing views. On one side you will see clouds floating in the valley and on the other you can savor the greenery of the tea gardens. On a clear day, which is VERY rare due to mist and clouds hanging around, you can see as far as Mettupalayam. At Dolphin's nose we tasted different types of tea and my pick is 'Chocolate Tea' which actually tastes like hot chocolate and has a special method for preparation. An absolute recommendation. And the famous 'Orange Pekoe' which sells for as much as 600 rs/kg!
Brooklands Tea Factory
I love the smell of tea and though I am not an avid tea conneissour, I love its rich aroma. So while our tea factory guide at Brooklands Tea Factory was showing and explaining various steps involved in the process of making packaged tea from leaves, I was trying to assimilate that wonderful smell for my memories!

Kotagiri is 20 km from Coonoor and believe it or not, I went there just because the road is good and I had a two-wheeler! Facing the gust of wind, you can feel the chill in the air if you pass under shadow of tree even for a few meters. I know I was driving a little too fast and on this road where you can turn about 270 degree without seeing the straight road, this was not wise but no doubt exciting!

There are many more places to visit in Coonoor and Ooty. But if you are a nature lover you will find beauty at every step of the Nilgiris.

Here are the photos:

10 comments:

msr said...

Nicely written. I was able to enjoy the greenery and beauty of Nilgiris vicariously.

Prashant said...

Hey Abhishek, good work hope you have enjoyed a lot.

Vaibhav said...

Cool man ! You rocked the party.

Abhishek said...

Thanks MSR and Prashant. Yeah I enjoyed a real lot!
Chaudhary saab...you seem to be in party mood already :)

Neha said...

Very vivid description...v nicely written...I have been to Connor and Ooty too and seen that tea factory...the weather, greenery and beauty is absolutely amazing :))

Abhishek said...

Thanks Neha. I tried to describe everything and also have some information for people planning a trip to Ooty. :)

Anonymous said...

is there any online ticket booking facility

faizal said...

hay thaks brother you posed a fantastic photos abt my home town.. thsi is the real heaven for mee...

faizal said...

its nice to see all the photos abt my home town.... bt u missed out some other places like glenmorgan,kalhatti,its all liek real heaven and fantastic places of nilgiris thank uuu........

faizal said...

hay thaks brother you posed a fantastic photos abt my home town.. thsi is the real heaven for mee...