Day-1 : Coimbatore-Ooty-Botanical Garden
We reached Coimbatore from Mumbai by flight at noon. The overnight rain had made the weather a pleasant one at Coimbatore. Sivakumar, our driver was already waiting at the airport concourse to receive us. I was happy to note that Sivakumar was fluent in English and had a keen interest in nature trails and exploring new areas.
At around 12.30 p.m., we left airport for Ooty, our first destination. The journey was smooth except in Mettupalayam where it took about an hour to cross the town due to traffic jam reportedly created by a horde of trucks parked around the vegetable market for unloading vegetables brought from Ooty side. The Mettupalayam-Ooty road was in excellent condition and there was not much of traffic on the road. It was nice to see many Jacaranda trees in bloom on the road sides. We reached Ooty at around 4.00 p.m. We checked in King’s Cliff, a heritage property located about 2 kms north-west of Charring Cross on a hill top overlooking the valley. We liked the secluded location, the ambience and the food in the hotel.
King's Cliff Hotel, Ooty
In the evening, we visited Botanical Garden. Being Sunday, the garden was full of noisy crowd. To me, the Botanical Garden looked more cramped than the one I had seen in my last visit in December 1975 – perhaps due to crowd outnumbering trees in the garden. The large slopping lawn looked somewhat congested due to more trees being planted on the lawns than what I saw in 1975. Nonetheless, in my view, the Ooty Botanical Garden is still one of the best maintained gardens in the country.
Botanical Garden, Ooty
Dragon tree - Botanical garden
Day-2 : Doddabetta- Rose Garden-Wenlock Downs-Pyakara-Glenmorgan
The next day, we drove to Doddabetta ( 2623m) - the top of Tamilnadu. From here we got the good view of Ooty and Coonoor towns and also a faint glimpse of Avalanche Dam at the far end. On the way back to Ooty, we visited the Rose Garden which was laid out in three layers. It was not a peak season for the roses and we could see roses only in the third layer. Even then, it took us about an hour to complete the round of the third layer. In the month of May, all the three layers of garden would be full of roses and serious rose lovers can easily spend half-a day to complete the rounds. Also the annual rose show is held in the month of May.
Ooty town seen from Doddabetta
Doddabetta watch tower
View of Rose garden
After a hearty lunch at Ooty Sravanan @Rs.35/- we drove towards Pyakara lake. After 7-8 kms from Ooty, our driver pointed out on the left the dense pine tree forest where the climax scenes of the Roja were filmed. Locals call this place as Ooty’s silent valley. A steep descent from the road through the dense pine forest led us to a lake formed from the water from Kamraj dam. This is a very serene place devoid of crowd. I was a bit surprised by the presence of pine trees in such a large number in this place (and also elsewhere in Nilgiri) as I was under the impression that pine trees grew mostly in temperate climate. However, the pine tree cones were smaller here than what I used to see in Himalayas.
Pine tree forest leading to Kamraj lake
We walked about one km further by the side of the lake. I could imagine that this walk could have led us to one of the meadows of Wenlock Downs which was our next destination – the shooting meadow as locals call it and one of the the favorite places for film shooting in Ooty. A gentle climb of about one km in the warm afternoon led us to the top of the meadow. From here, one could have a panoramic view of grasslands surrounded by the mix forests of pine and eucalyptus and also the Mukkurthi peak. There was not much of the crowd on the top. This was the place we could have spent some more time had we carried sun caps.
'Shooting meadow' - one of the many meadows in Wenlock Downs
View from 'shooting meadow'
We skipped Pykara waterfalls as those who were returning from the place told us that the force of the waterfalls was very low. We did stop for sometime at the Pykara lake boat house. Although there was not much of a crowd for boating, we also skipped the boating for spending more time at Glenmorgan View Point, our next and the last destination of the day. In my view, boating at Pykara can be more rewarding than in the Ooty lake due to less crowd, the clean lake water and the surrounding scenery.
Pykara boat house
Most of the drive to Glenmorgan was through the forests of pine and eucalyptus trees. The road was generally in good condition. As we reached close to Glenmorgan, the forests gave way to a cluster of tea plantations on the right side with the lake on the left of the road. After reaching the gate of Tamilnadu Electricity Board (TEB) Rest House, we realised that Glenmorgan View Point was a restricted area and we were required to take prior permission from TEB to enter the View Point area.
Glanmorgan tea plantations
Sivakumar, who was very enthusiastic to get into the View Point, talked to TEB security staff and explained to him that we had come all the way from Mumbai to see the place. The TEB staff, perhaps feeling pity on us, gave permission and directed us to also seek permission from the police manning the Check Post inside the premises. After producing my I-card, giving my background (RBI Pensioner etc.,) and writing our details in the log book, the police permitted us to walk through the gate to the View Point. The photography inside the TEB premises was strictly prohibited. The police told us later that recently a militant was arrested in the Kodaikanal forest area after which they had stepped up security in the Power House and they allow very few genuine tourists ( as against picnickers) to visit the View Point. He also pointed out that in the recent period, some of the picnickers had misused the View Point and the tunnel with drinking binge and immoral activities.
As we entered the restricted area, a short walk towards the right side took us to the tunnel which was closed. For the security reason, the tunnel is kept closed except in the morning at 8.00 a.m. and in the evening at 5.00 p.m. for ferrying TEB staff to and fro Singara Power House located about 3 kms down in the valley. The way to the left led us to a cliff on which there was a small tower by the side of the winch (trolley pulled by a mechnical rope) track. The view from the tower was spectacular to say the least. The bowl-shape valley was densely covered by the shola forest with Power House in the mid-point. The forest was extended to the Madumalai Wildlife Sanctuary.
The next amazing view of this place was the three stage rail track on which the winch runs. The first stage journey looked more dangerous as the track was almost perpendicular to the cliff followed by a steep downward inclination until it reaches the second stage where the second winch is stationed. From second to third stage, the winch journey appears to be a straight one. Unfortunately, the journey by winch has since been discontinued even for TEB staff for safety reasons. The winch stationed at the View Point had the capacity to carry six passengers and freights. The fresh coating of grease on the cable ropes would indicate that the winch may have been occasionally used for ferrying the freights to the power house. Looking at the topography of the area, I could imagine that the winch journey to the Power House would have been adventurous and rewarding.
We traveled to Coonoor by the morning toy train. Sivakumar dropped us at Ooty railway station and thereafter drove to Coonoor to pick us up at the station after an hour or so. The toy train hauled by a diesel engine stopped at Lovedale, Ketti, Aravankadu and Wellington stations before reaching Coonoor at around 10.00 a.m. Though the valley views from the train, especially between Lovedale-Ketti (right side) and between Ketti and Aravankadu (on the left side) were great, I felt that we could get, more or less, the same view from the road journey as well. Perhaps Coonoor-Mettupalayam train journey could have been more interesting than the one we took.
Me on the Guard's cabin of toy train
The road to Lamb’s Rock/Dolphin’s Nose passes through the large expanse of tea plantations, the most prominent and beautifully laid tea plantations being that of Singara Tea Estate. The drive was smooth as a major portion of the 10 kms road to Dolphin’s Nose has been paved with inter-locking tiles and work on the remaining portion of the road was underway. From the road end, we trekked about one km through monkey infested forest to reach the first ( lower) view point of Land’s Rock. The view from this point was restricted towards Mettupalayam plains. A further walk of 100 meters took us to a higher view point with watch tower from where we had the wide angle view of shola forest and tea plantations on the lower and the higher alleviation respectively.
Catherine's waterfall as seen from Dolphin's Nose
After lunch at Rangoli located at Orchid Square, about 3 kms before Coonoor, we proceeded towards Kotagiri road from one of the interior bylanes connecting Orchid Square, bypassing Coonoor. The Kotagiri road was in good shape and there was not much traffic. Much of the tea plantations of Nilgiri are located on the Coonoor-Kotagiri-Kodanad circuit which was a scenic journey. After crossing Kotagiri, we drove about 15 kms to reach Kodanad Point View. The steep drop from the View Point to the plains was awesome. On the south-eastern side was the Rangaswamy peak with a conical rock called Rangaswamy Pillar. The hazy conditions in the plains and around Rangaswamy peak gave a defused view of the valley which was not good for the photography. Perhaps our morning visit would have given a much clearer view of the plains.
View from Kotagiri road
Burning woods in a fireplace in room at King's Cliff
Day-4 & 5 : Destiny Farmstay, Avalanche
After breakfast, we commenced our road journey to Destiny Farm. Last evening, Sivakumar had told me that he had never been to Avalanche/Emerald/Red Hills sides of the Nilgiri and he was eagerly looking forward to this part of the journey. On the way, we spend sometime around Ooty Lake just to refresh the memory of our last visit in December 1975. The lake frontage around the boat house which was visible from the road in 1975 was eclipsed by the row of shops. I missed the serenity around Ooty lake due to its proximity to markets and bus stand though it still is a great place for children to enjoy the trip.
Jacaranda trees in full bloom at Ooty lake boat house
Leaf-less trees in the midst of tea plantation at Palada
Good Shepherd International School at Palada
Without wasting much time, we proceeded towards Fernhill side for our journey on the Avalanche Road. The weather was perfect and the road was excellent for the drive. Once we crossed Palada, the road journey to Emerald Town and then on the Red Hill road/Avalanche Forest Check Post was very scenic. It was visual treats for us to see rolling tea plantations on the hill side and vast expanse of vegetable farms on the valley side. The Emerald Town surrounded by hills and vegetable farms looked stunning with unique landscape. For the first time, I saw tea plantations on the upper slopes and the vegetable farms, mainly carrots and cabbage, on the lower slopes of the hills in continuum. I would rate the Ooty-Emerald-Avalanche route as the best scenic road journey of our Nilgiri trip.
Emerald Town seen from Avalanche road
Vegetable farms and tea plantations seen from Red Hills road
Sivakumar was so engrossed in enjoying the journey that he missed the right turn to Red Hill road after Emerald Town and instead he drove straight on the road full of potholes towards forest check post. I was a bit worried about our Indica car withstanding the rough road. But it was such a terrific scenic journey through dense forest cover with Avalanche lake on the right side that the doubt about the road worthiness of the car went out of my mind. This was one of the rare drive on the road where both forest and Avalanche lake 'traveled' with us until our halt at a forest check post beyond which we needed to have the written permission from DFO to proceed. The forest guard was in no mood to allow us to walk towards Avalanche lake probably due to the presence of a group of two families who had permits to visit the forest beyond the check post. In any case we had not planned for this visit.
Cottages at Avalanche Forest Check PostWe made the return journey to Emerald stopping at a couple of places to see Avalanche lake. But the dense tree lines by the side of the road made it difficult to get a good perspective of the lake. My guess is that in rainy season, the Avalanche lake water level would touch a point where the forest begins.
Road to Avalanche forest check post
As we drove about 3-4 kms on Red Hills road, we reached a bridge dividing the Avalanche lake (left) and Emerald lake (right). The low water levels in both these lakes had resulted in a dry patch of land of about 200-300 meters wide in-between these two lakes below the bridge. It was pathetic site to see a group of picnickers with their minivan spoiling the serenity of the place on the dry patch of the lake. A further 2 kms drive on the Red Hill road and 1.5 km drive on a mud road to the left led us to the car parking lot of Destiny Farm. The pick up van of Destiny took us to Destiny Farm on a 1.5 km forest mud road. The 15 minutes ride on a 1.5 km forest mud road reminded me of a popular TV advertisement about a truck carrying loads of passengers on a bone rattling journey on a rough road but sticking together because of Favicole!!
Vegetable farms skirt the forest mud road to Destiny farmstay
Destiny is a 128 acre vegetable farmstay situated in a picturesque location bordering the Avalanche lake in the south and east slopes, hills of pine and shola forests in the west and Emerald lake in the north-east. There are electric fences all around the farm to prevent wild animals, particularly wild boars from damaging the vegetable crops.
View from our room-1
View from our room-2Soon after the buffet lunch, we went for a stroll within the farm. The main vegetabl crops grown in the farm are carrots, cabbage – both Indian and Chinese varieties, green peas and some herbal plants. There are ranches for horses, cows and sheeps. There was a large fish pond just in front of our room meant for those interested in fishing. Bhaskar, the rock-climbing and raffling instructor from Darjeeling working with Destiny for last 2 years told me that in rainy season, the level of lake water touches the higher slopes of the farm and then the lake will be clearly visible from the hotel room. In fact the lake we saw near the forest check post takes a U turn behind a hill with one shore at Destiny and other one at the road bridge near Emerald.
As per our schedule, we were to drive to Coonoor via Ooty under the impression that Emerald-Kundah road was not in good condition. With 2 days stay in Destiny, Sivakumar had become an ardent admirer of nature and he was keen that we visit Kundah and Upper Bhavani also. As I was returning from morning trek, he told me in great enthusiasm that road to Kundah was in good condition as told to him by one of the drivers sharing room with him. I checked with one of the Destiny staff who told me that while the road up to Kundah was in good condition, road to Upper Bhavani was not fit for vehicles like Indica and advised me not take the car to Upper Bhavani.
After breakfast, we started our journey to Kundah and as predicted, the road was in excellent condition except some patches near Kundah. As we came near Kundah village, a zigzag road from the base of Kundah village to the Manjoor village was visible. The location of the Manjoor village looked interesting. We decided that once we were through with Kundah dam, we would drive to Manjoor.
After driving around Kundah dam, we proceeded to Manjoor on a climbing zigzag road. Manjoor is a big village (or town?) with usual bustle. As we drove 1-2 kms further on a climbing road from the village, we came across a point from where we had almost 360 degree view of the dense forest and mountains all round. The weather was much cooler than what we had experienced in Kundah. Though Sivakumar was interested in taking us further on this road winding down through the forest to Upper Bhavani, I decided against it on fear of breakdown of the car. We returned to Coonoor in the afternoon via Kundah on a 30 kms scenic drive through forests.
In the afternoon, we took a round of Wellington town and visited the places around Golf Course, Madras Regimental Centre and Army Staff College. Being an army cantonment, Wellington is a clean town with good roads and bylanes. Sivakumar took us to the highest point at the outskirt of Wellington from where we had panoramic view of Wellington town on the one side and the dense forest on the other side.
Ayurvedic Retreat in the midst of tea plantations - Outskirt of Wellington
Day-7 : To Coimbatore and back to Mumbai
After breakfast at Hotel Sri Lakshmi (good and cheap south Indian snacks and coffee), located near bus stand, we commenced our journey to Coimbatore airport. There was not much traffic on the Coonoor-Mettupalayam-Coimbatore road and we could reache the outskirt of Coimbatore in less than 2 hours. Since we had time and my wife wanted to buy Coimbatore cotton saris , we proceeded to Coimbatore. After lunch at Annapurna (best south Indian meals of our trip), we proceeded to airport. The Air India flight to Mumbai was on schedule time. As the air- hostess was announced landing of the flight in Mumbai, the thought of the sultry weather and daily traffic jams at Western Express Highway loomed large on us.
Photos by the author