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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year:Tranquil India

Coonoor & Ooty delightful relics of the Raj.
Marianne de Nazareth

Bangalore has become chaotic, with traffic and crowds and pollution everywhere, making a break from the city, mandatory every month. So after a hiatus of five years, we decided to hit the road and ‘do’ Ooty (Ootacamund) and Coonoor for three days.


Taking off very early at 5am in the morning from Bangalore, we hit the Mysore Road before the traffic jams of office goers choked the area with their vehicles. The Mysore Road is a dream and besides the horrid speed breakers erected by villagers around their habitation on the way, it is a ribbon of a road, and a delight for a motorist. The flowers blooming in the centre of the 6 lane highway make the whole experience different from the drudge it was when we were kids. On the way there are Baristas and McDonald cafes serving the usual fast food fare which I detest. Instead we normally stop off at Kamath’s with its local ‘fast foods’ of Dosa’s and idli/vadas to be savoured dunked in sambhar and washed down with piping hot filter ‘kapi’.

Mysore was ablaze with the Gulmohur avenues in different shades of crimson and deep orange. They say it’s the minerals in the soil that give the flowers their different colour. Something like the trees in the west in Autumn with their differing shades of red and yellow. The city is still pretty laid back with its wide avenues and the central show piece--- the glittering Maharajas palace.

Soon we were out of the city heading for the Nilgiris hills where Ooty and Coonoor are located. These hill stations as they are called were discovered by the British and where they fled to escape the heat of the plains in the summer. Here they built their colonial summer residences some of which are maintained as heritage hotels like Glyngarth Villa. This is a boutique hotel run by Shahid Sait which he has refurbished to give his guests the true blue feel of what it was to live in these homes in days gone by. Until recently even the bathrooms were maintained like in the days of the Raj with bucket baths and little stools to sit on while you poured the water over you. Your valet brought in hot water heated on wood in the garden through a little staircase which ran through the turrets and out the back! "Today my guests demand tiled baths with fancy shower cubicles so I have had to do away with the old bathrooms," reveals Shahid regretfully. However the tall and brooding Cypress trees still stand sentinel around the property and were probably growing there before the 150 year old mansion was constructed.

Shopping in Ooty is plentiful in the Upper and Lower Bazaar Road. However the Co-operative Supermarket just off Charing Cross sells all the spices like cinnamon, cloves, pepper, cardamom and fresh honey and tea. Pick up all your gifts to take home from here as the prices are the best and the quality too- top of the line. If you are looking for serious shopping then head for the stores selling Toda tribal jewellery in silver and embroidered shawls which are not inexpensive but worth investing in.

All along the road which is what we considered a shopping mall in the old days, one can find shops selling a variety of Ooty chocolates. They are meant for the Indian palate – gooey and milky with different additions like nuts or raisins. Absolutely divine!Ooty has a botanical garden which is filled with rare trees and flowers and May is the season when the flower shows abound. Entry to the gardens is inexpensive at Rs.5 and adult and Rs 2 for a child. Still cameras are charged at Rs 25 but its worth taking them in as the flower show is spectacular. A legacy of the British, the gardens were laid out in 1847 by the Marquis of Tweedale and is spread over 55 acres.

Today it is maintained by the Horticultural department and the government of Tamil Nadu. In the gardens you can find a cork tree, a monkey puzzle tree (monkeys cannot climb this tree!) and the paper bark tree. A glass house contains rare species of orchids and a huge variety of ferns which set the visitors clicking away with their digi cams. To the East of the garden one can visit a Toda mund (hill) where the Todas, the native tribe of the region live.

Just 20 km away from Ooty is Coonoor. At the entrance of Coonoor is the Coonoor Railway station surrounded with ancient Cypress trees. The station is again built by the British and we waited at the level crossing for the Nilgiris Express, a UNESCO world heritage train chugged by at 15 km an hour! It is a beautiful steam engine and belches out huge clouds of black sooty smoke as it steams into the station. There is an old steam engine on display on one side of the station which the kids love to gawk at.

In Coonoor we had come in search of Citronella oil (lemon grass) as it is excellent to keep mosquito’s away. Just a drop when the maid swabs the floors keeps the house smelling fragrant and drives away all sorts of insect pests. We finally found a shop near the Municipal bus stand, selling it at Rs100 a miniscule bottle, so we bought several since they cannot be had in Bangalore. Coonoor too has a beautiful Botanical garden called Sims Park which was established in 1874.

We have a favourite ‘spice garden’ called the Kurumba Village resort which we stayed in and from there went around visiting Ooty and Coonoor. Kurumba is situated on the 5/6th hairpin bend down from Coonoor to Coimbatore and is owned by a young man named Sanjay who is a professional trained in Switzerland in the hospitality business. Obviously the hospitality at the resort is of world class standards. The resort is eco friendly too with solar and rainwater harvesting mechanisms in place. And, if you a bird watcher, Kurumba is the place to be as the surrounding jungles harbour an amazing variety of bird life including the elusive Malabar Whistling Thrush.

Three days just flew by for us, but Ooty and Coonoor still hold the old magic of hill stations if you keep away from the regular touristy spots.

© Marianne de Nazareth June 2009
mariannedenazareth at

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