Monday, February 18, 2013

Happy-go-lucky Ooty; Nilgiri Omnibus Part 8

Ooty/Udhagamandalam/Ootacamund/Udhagai are the names of the same one place Ooty.

Around Ooty
Today when I checked that nobody has made any detailed post on Ooty town on Ghumakkar so I am writing one.
Finally Omnibus has arrived at Ooty.
I say finally because for the time being this is my last post on Nilgiris. In future I may find another intoxicating road in the Blue Mountains and then you would again be invited for another ride in the Omnibus.
However let’s arrive in Ooty on the famous scenic Nilgiri Railway train. After train chugs off Lovedale station, Ooty area begins and you can feel that a town is about to come. At the left side a road goes along the tracks visits villages. Just before Ooty station arrives, suddenly vista opens up at both sides; you can see the famous Ooty lake at you left side and almost whole Ooty spread up on the mountains at our right side. Ooty is a small town. First time I visited here in 1983, in 29 years town grew just a bit; thanks to the controlled and prohibited new construction in Nilgiris and this is amazing in India where rules and regulations are seldom followed and illegal colonies spring up everywhere and later to be regularized by politicians for votes.
Ooty is a happy-go-lucky place. Everybody falls in love with Ooty. Unfortunately people come here and mind their fixed point tour. After they take a conducted tour on a sightseeing bus, they return back next day.

Towards Coonnor
Well whatever… we get down at the Ooty Station and come out. Instantly one is captivated by the views of this place. Nobody ever walks out of station at once, first everybody gazes at the surrounding mountains and the whole town from the valley we are in. Highest peak of Nilgiri’s is Doddabetta and that too (Observatory on the top) is visible from railway station.
Lodging and boarding in Ooty is quite affordable unless you arrive here at weekends then it could be a struggle to find a room in your budget. Of-course still you can find a room but you must know where.
Finally We come out of station and walk along the racecourse. If you don’t mind fish smell then you can take a first left side street otherwise keep walking and take 3rd or 4th Side Street and then at the bazaar road make a right. First two streets have some scattered fish shops. Now we are in Jewelry bazaar. Most jewelers are Jain people so there are several Jain Temples here. A newly constructed grand temple will come in our way at right side, you cannot miss it. There are more Jain temples behind Hotel Manik, and a Jain Bhojanalaya is here serving Jain food at very low prices. On this road is a Rajasthan Tea house, you can have a cup of Gujarat Style masala tea and also you can buy Hindi Newspaper Rajasthan Patrika here. Only this segment of Ooty is a Hindi speaking enclave.

Near Doddabetta
This colorful bazaar comes to the end but busy area of Ooty begins. Here are many restaurants serving non-vegetarian food or Biryani Restaurants. Also there are a couple of South Indian Vegetarian restaurants. At our right is Ooty’s famous Sri Mari Amman temple. It is a grand temple and inside it is equally great. I visited Ooty many times and never entered in this temple but last time when I visited Ooty, I was married. My wife makes it her business to visit any and all temples that she see. So she went in and reported that this was some temple. I believed her because in 4 weeks she visited more than 400 temples so if this must be some temple so I too entered and then I only regretted for not visiting this temple before.

Road towards Kotagiri
It is fun to walk in Ooty bazaars. Just in front of the temple is the large walled bazaar where locals do their shopping. This is Ooty Municipal Market.

Ooty Municipal Market
This crowded and colorful bazaars is arranged in section, different section for flower market, and then different section for provisions stores, and different section for vegetables and then meat etc. etc. I do my shopping here in this bazaar and I mostly purchase Nilgiri’s famous aromatic oils (eucalyptus, lemon-grass and wintergreen oil etc.) Prices are about 20% lower here. After you come out of this Municipal Market you enter in a bit fashionable and touristic area of Ooty till Charring Cross square. Book stores, brand named shoe and garment stores are found in this bazaar. Distances are not great here because it is a quite small town.

Ooty Suburbs
Affordable and quality hotels can be found in between Market Road and Hospital Road or area in the back of Liberty Theater. Most people end up searching for the hotels between Charring Cross and Rose Garden. Bargains can be found in that area too but not in the weekends and holidays.
A couple of Rajasthani bhojnalayas are here in Ooty market and prices for unlimited meals are near 100 rupee per person. I feel that pricey and there are many other decent restaurants. People must note that alcohol and liquor is most expensive in Tamilnadu.

Way to Doddabetta
Best place in Ooty is Botanical Garden. It is built on the 250 meter high slopes of a mountain. The Gardens have around a thousand species, both exotic and indigenous, of plants, shrubs, ferns,trees, herbal and bonsai plants. In the centre of the Gardens lie a fossilized tree trunk estimated to be 20 million years old.

Train entering in Ooty
The Gardens consist of several lawns with flowering plants, ponds with lilies, beds of flowers and ferns laid out in an Italian style, several plots of flowering plants, a variety of medicinal plants. I love to be here and it is the first place I visit when I am in Ooty. Sometimes I come here everyday. Entrance fee is 15 rupee and it valid for the whole day.

Near Lovedale
The highest peak of Nilgiris is Doddabetta. It is 9 kilometers from Charring Cross square. I used to walk there but now road has become too crowed due to heavy tourist influx. Many years ago it used to be a serene place but now it is a bazaar full of filth and horse poop. Views are great from the peak; you can see whole Ooty including trains and buses in Ooty.
If you want the best views and feelings of Nilgiris then you can get to Doddabetta junction on the way towards Kotagiri. From there you can walk for 3-4 kilometers towards Kotagiri and you will have a complete and total taste of Nilgiris. In the first segment in this walk you will see the views of Ooty, and then you will see the views of Kotagiri side.
Near your third Kilometer, when you pass the ridge, you will see views of Connoor and also endless mountain ranges of South India including Kodaikanal etc. You would be simple flabbergasted to see the views; I suggest you to pack up your lunch to have this walk because you would love to spend a lot of time here. After 3 kilometers comes a village; there you can have tea and snacks. You pay a little money for tea and snacks but views from the road at this village are free. You can catch the returning bus to Ooty.
However I bet my life that you will love to walk further so after three kilometers if you walk further towards Kotagiri, road makes a several kilometers descent in the forested mountain to the valley. Views are superb. Especially on this stretch of road you may see foreigners walking and taking pictures. From the village where you had tea and snacks, you need to walk just half kilometers to watch the lush green valleys and several villages there.
When you walk to Botonical Garden from Charring Cross, there is a Tibetan Market selling woolens just before the gate. There people sell the bouquets of Helichrysum (straw flowers – paper daisies) these are yellow flowers and feel like made of stiff papers.
These last a long times or rather several months in the bouquet. These grow all over in Nilgiris, if you go out in country side you can take as many you wish.
Most people bother only visiting the crowded points in the Ooty vicinity. They entirely miss the taste of Nilgiris. Some people spend another night and take the train to Coonnor and then back because Ooty visit is incomplete without the train ride unless you arrived here on the train. I have already written a post about that train ride and also a walk along the train tracks from Lovedale to Ketti stations. This segment is the most beautiful and it passes over the famously scenic Ketti Valley.
Lovedale to Ketty walk

Restaurants and Hotels in Charring Cross area are overly priced but in the main market area everything is at par with the economy. Since my vacations are long and I spend several days at one place so I am always inclined towards quality budget accommodation and restaurants. I always stay in Seethalakshmi Lodge in Greenfields Ooty.
Greenfields is just a five minutes walk from Charring Cross and from main market. It is a basic lodge with rooms opening in the balcony and ultra clean. Hot water is available on demand. Manager switches on the water heater from his office on demand. Greenfields is a small street accessible from Market as well from Rose Garden Area.

Near Doddabetta
Ooty has a very pretty lake but it is not much popular. It is behind the railway station and one can enjoy boat rides. It is a huge lake stretched to about 5-6 kilometers. Farthest end of the lake is at Thalaikundah. Thalaikundah is the place where I begin my walk to Masinagudi. I have some posts about that walk.
Ooty has a great Rose garden. Ooty has a unique tropical mountain climate, hence the garden has the ideal climatic conditions for growing of roses. Temperature variation is less and the rainfall distribution is uniform in the locale, which results in a long flowering season.
Initially, when the gardens were developed, 1,919 varieties of roses with 17,256 rose plants were planted. Today this garden has more than 20,000 varieties of roses. It is one of the largest collection of roses in India.
Some time ago at Jayalalitha’s previous regime, this rose garden was named “Jayalalitha Rose Garden” now it is again called as Government Rose Garden. In that era Ooty Botanical garden as well Madhumalai Wildlife century were also renamed as Jayalalitha Botanical Garden and Jayalalitha Wildlife century.

Ooty’s Mariamman temple
On my each visit to Ooty, I always watched at-least one movie in Assembly Room Talkies on the way to Botanical Gardens. There is always some recent English movie running here.
Ooty indeed is a happy-go-lucky place.
Happy it is and go-lucky it is – because it is still maintaining its ancient charms. It is still pollution free.

Temple procession

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