Former summer capital of the Madras Presidency (now Tamil Nadu), Ooty is popularly known as the Queen of Hill Stations. It nestles in the Nilgiris (Blue Hills) near the junction of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, at an altitude of 2308 m. Famous for its spectacular scenery and all-season climate, it is approached via the popular blue-train (cog railway) ride up from Coimbatore.
Ootacamund derives its name from a Toda term Othakamanthu, meaning ‘village of huts’. The Todas, original settlers here before the British, are an aboriginal tribe who comprise most of the hill station’s resident population. They still live in small barrel-shaped huts, and if invited in you’ll have to crawl on all fours. I Ooty was first discovered by the Collector of Coimbatore, John Sullivan, who built first a residence (1819) and then created the lake (1823). The British quickly moved in, erecting stone cottages with flower gardens, laying the beautiful Botanical Gardens (1840) and developing facilities for golf, horse-racing, polo and tennis. In 1869, the hill station became the summer headquarters of the government in Madras. Today, ‘Snooty Ooty’ is a rather rundown resort and retirement home for the rich.
But it remains a popular watering hole for travellers, with a definite air of elegance and refinement still clinging to it. There are Raj reminders everywhere, notably in the terraced Botanical Gardens, the English public schools, the churches and, above the town, the tea-gardens and eucalyptus plantations. Even the climate is British; cool, even chilly, in the winter and one of the few places in India you’ll need to bring warm clothing. Though most popular in September/October and April/May, it’s far cheaper (low-season hotel discounts) and far less crowded in February /March. Ooty has its big Summer Festival throughout the month of May with tribal dances, live music and drama shows, held every evening at Anna Stadium. There’s even a ballroom dancing competition when they can find enough people to participate!
Indian Airlines has daily flights between Coimbatore (3 hours by bus from Ooty) and Bangalore (Rs600), Bombay (Rs1785) and Madras (Rs1031).
The toy train leaves for Mettupalaiyam/Coimba tore at 2.50 pm daily. From Coimbatore, there are regular trains for Madras, Mad urai, Cochin etc. To reach Mettupalaiyam directly from Madras take the Nilgiris Express which leaves Madras Central at 9 pm and reaches at 7.20 am in time to connect with the waiting Nilgiris passenger to Ooty via stations with names such as Hill Grove, Coonoor, Ketti and Lovedale.
Ooty’s smart, efficient bus-stand has a handy reservation desk for buses to Mysore (8 am, 9 am, 11.30 am, 1.30 pm, 3.30 pm; 4 1/2 hours) and for Bangalore (6.30 am, 10.30 am, 12.30 pm, and 8 pm; 8 hours). There are also hourly buses to Mettupalaiyam (2 hours) and Coimbatore (3 hours).