Ooty is a place for pleasant walks, boating on the lake, and general relaxation. The air is very bracing, and, after the heat of the plains, you may need to take it easy the first day or two. There are some lovely walks in the area, and fine views over the Nilgiris, the surrounding hill stations and Ooty town itself. Owing to the spread-out nature of the viewpoints, you’ll need some sort of plan. The suggested walking routes cover the main points of interest, but there are several other mini-treks available. In town, get around on foot, by cycle (hire bicycles in the market) or by auto-rickshaw (Rs1031 for short trips). The focal point of the small town is Commercial Street, with its tourist office, banks, and many shops.
Walk One (on foot, full-day)
Botanical Gardens-St Stephen’s Church-Ooty Club-Lake-Golf Course-Wenlock Downs
From either bus or rail station on the east edge of the lake, it’s a winding 2-km (1 I/4-mile) walk north-west (via the racecourse, up Commercial St) to the Botanical Gardens. Created by the Marquis of Tweedale in 1847, these are 51 acres of terraced gardens and extensive lawns housing 650 varieties of plants. There’s a big Flower Show here each May, and visitors can buy flowers and seedlings from the Curator’s office. Just below the mini-lake, check out the intriguing 20 million-year-old fossil tree. Ascending through gardens of ornamental plants, orchids, ferns, conifers and rockplants keep an eye out for the local Toda community on the top levels. About 2000 of them live up here, almost exclusively engaged in the cultivation of potatoes and weaving. As a race, they are supposed to date back to Alexander the Great’s Greeks. The women are tattooed, wear bright handwoven clothes, keep their hair in distinctive plaited loops, and are very feminist. They have up to four husbands apiece (all of them henpecked) and won’t give male visitors the time of day, considering men a sub-species. Nearby, you’ll see the Raj Bhavan (Government House), still used by the Tamil Nadu Governor as a summer residence.
Out of the gardens, turn right at the end of Garden Rd, then make a hairpin turn left into Higgins Rd to St Stephen’s Church; a 20-minute ascent. The creation of a Captain John Underwood (1829), it is a typically English parish church, with Gothic exterior and Tuscan interior. Just below it is the select Ooty Club, well worth a visit for its amazing collection of Raj memorabilia (contact manager for permission to view) and famous as the place where snooker was invented in 1875. From here, it’s a straight walk down to Ooty Lake: small (4 km; 2 1/2 miles circumference), picturesque, with good boating and fishing facilities. This is Sullivan’s artificial lake, chosen for its scenic surrounds, and still, despite silting and incursions of waterhyacinths, the perfect place to spend an afternoon messing about in boats. The Boat House here (open from 8 am to 6 pm) hires out rowing boats at Rs35 per hour (plus Rs25 deposit). Next to it is a pony-rank.
In the afternoon, try a lovely walk (6 km; 3 3/4 miles, 3 hours return) up to the Golf Club, bear right at the top of the Lake, then left at Finger Post into Golf Links Rd. The scenery is very varied and picturesque, and if you turn up at 9 am sharp, you can usually get a game of golf (Rs100 green fee including hire of clubs and balls) on the expansive 18-hole course. Walking on a further kilometre, you’ll come to Wenlock Downs, offering spectacular views down over the Coimbatore plains, Ketti Valley, the Mysore plateau, and the tea estates. Alternatively, visit Hindustan Photo Films (also a kilometre from the golf course) for its interesting model room demonstrating the manufacture of sensitised photographic materials. You may need prior permission to visit so enquire at the golf course.
Walk Two (bus, then on foot; 5/6 hours)
This is a very pleasant excursion, best done in the afternoon. Take a bus (20-minute journey, regular service from Ooty bus-stand) up to Dodabetta Heights, the highest peak (nearly 3000 m; 9750 ft) in the Nilgiris. There’s an observation point with telescope at the top, and on a clear day the views down over the hill ranges, plateaux and plains are superb. But the walk back down’s a 3-4-hour descent (10 km: 61/4 miles) through tea-gardens, terraced fields, wooded glades and pretty valleys. If you get tired, you can always hitch a bus for a quick lift back to town.
Other good viewpoints in the area include Snowdon Peak (panoramic view of Mysore), Cairn Hill (overlooking Avalanche River) and Elk Hill, which is just an hour’s walk from Ooty. Further information, plus details of the many local treks available from the Trek Director, Department of Tourism, Government of Tamil Nadu, Madras (tel 849803).