Ooty, short for Ootacamund (an anglicized name for 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 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 (Madras is now Chennai).
Located in the mountainous range called the Nilgiris ("Blue Mountains"), it draws swarms of tourists every year. The weather is quite pleasant at a mean of 15-20 C year round, 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 eaucalyptus 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 bad 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 1 hour away from Ooty. They enjoy the same natural climes and prices are a lot cheaper.
Get in By plane - The Coimbatore airport is the closest to the hills at 3-1/2 hours by road. There are flights into Coimbatore from most parts of India including Mumbai (Air Deccan, Indian Airlines,Jet and Go Air), Chennai ( Air Deccan, Paramount, Indian Airlines and Jet) and Bangalore. The Mysore airport is about 5 odd hours away from Ooty by road (but Mysore airport is currently closed and only expected to open for light aircraft), and lies to the North of Ooty. The road trip is quite scenic from either airport. By train The hills are connected to Chennai by a nightly train. The Nilgiri Express (Train No. 6271) leaves from Chennai at night, and reaches Mettupalayam, a small town at the foothills of the Nilgiris early the next morning.
The train, a standard diesel powered locomotive continues from Mettupalayam as a small coal powered historic locomotive that is a remnant of Swiss engineered trains imported in the late 1800s. The coal train is much smaller, and can only accommodate a portion of the passengers that disembark at Mettupalayam. A through ticket from Chennai to Ooty will ensure a place in the smaller train, although many prefer the faster route of taking a cab or a bus from Mettupalayam. The coal train takes a very scenic route, and the pace of travel will let you take in the beautiful scenery at leisure (the journey takes about 5-1/2 hours compared to 2 hours by road).
The train uses a rachet and pinion system to haul itself up steep slopes, and also to prevent the train from sliding down when stopping. The train is often pushed from behind as well as pulled from the front by two separate coal engines. There are brakesmen at the rear of every carriage who will apply and release hand powered brakes individually for that carriage. The train often travels only at 5 - 10 Kmph, allowing some adventerous passengers to disembark from the train and walk along the train. This practice is not recommended and can be dangerous, besides there is a good chance that the train will speed up, and you will be unable to get back on board.
Mettupalayam can prove to be a bottle-neck during the peak season of April-June with cabs charging exorbitant rates. The train is often quite regular in this part of the country, and is by far the most comfortable way to get here. There are other trains from Chennai to Coimbatore. The journey can be continued from Coimbatore by road, a 3-1/2 hour journey. By car The Nilgiris are in Tamil Nadu, but it is quite near the borders of neighboring states Karnataka and Kerala. The hills consequently can be reached from within Tamil Nadu by travelling up a heavily forested winding road, with many sharp hair-pin beds. The road trip from any state is quite scenic, although the Coimbatore-Mettupalayam-Coonoor-Ooty road (i.e. the Tamil Nadu route) is the most travelled and well maintained. All roads to the Nilgiri hills are toll roads, although the tolls are quite nominal. There are buses and shared taxi vans that can be boarded from most parts of India to Ooty.
Ooty is 284 km from Bangalore by road. The journey takes about 8 hours, depending on the condition of the road. There are eating places between Bangalore and Mysore, and within Mysore, but from Mysore to Ooty one should carry some food, as there are very few restaurants. Get around Taxis, tourist cabs, auto rickshaws are available in plenty. There are no standard rates except tourist cabs. Town buses are also available to all important places.
Conducted sight seeing tours are arranged by the private operators and the Government Tourism Development Corporation. see 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 hectares. 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.
Doddabetta peak The Dodabetta Peak stands at an altitude of 2,623 meters. It is the highest point in the district, making it possibly the best vantage point around Ooty. It is merely 10kms from Ooty so you can simply grab your camera and head straight to the peak, and click amazing pictures of he 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. Ooty Rose gardens Sims Park (Coonoor) The Tea Factory Do Most travel agents / 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.
Enjoy the weather. Travel in the Railway. The charming Nilgiri Hill Railway, 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 country side 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). Sample the local bakeries (Kingstar bakery near Charing Cross in Ooty sells sinfully delicious chocolate and pistachio fudges). Visit the Needle industries which is around 6 km from maintown Ooty in Ketti.
Eat - There are various restaurants in Ooty, mostly offering South Indian food, but some offer North Indian food. One can also obtain some Chinese/Indo-Chinese food from restaurants such as Wang's kitchen and Western food such as pizza and sandwiches from chains like Hot Breads. Do not miss trying Ooty's famous buns, varkis, cakes, and other baked