[2005-11-07] Ooty

Anusha and I are back from our vacation to Ooty, the highest (~2,250m above MSL) hill-station on the Nilgiris range of mountains. It is also known as Ootacamund, Udhagamandalam or Udhagai.

It is the most famous tourist spot in South India and is a top destination for many a honeymooning couple. Unfortunately, that also means that it is quite crowded with tourists (especially with a lot of loud-mouthed Gujjus for some weird reason), has bad roads for the most part and has many a shopkeeper eager to fleece you. Despite all this, it is still a very beautiful place with a lovely cool weather. At this time of the year, it is foggy for the most part which is a result of clouds passing through the mountains - yes, it is so high up in the mountains that you can literally walk in the clouds in Ooty!

A Toda Temple
A Toda Temple on Muthunadu Mund near Ooty

Our visit took an unexpected turn when we struck a conversation with Chinnapparaj, the driver of our taxi on our detour to the nearby town of Coonoor. He told us about the history of Ooty and the Todas, the original inhabitants of Ooty. We engaged him the next day as well and he took us to the less popular, but far more interesting, destinations in Ooty as well as a Toda mund, where we actually got to interact with the Todas and enter their lovely huts and see their temples. The Todas have lovely curled hair and speak a language that sounds totally unlike any Indian language I have ever heard (it sounds more like Russian). Their language does not have a script either. We also got to see the Stone House, the first pucca house built in Ooty by John Sullivan, a huge golf course (supposedly the second largest in Asia), the really old Nilgris Library, St Stephen's church that was built in 1830, etc. Incidentally, John Sullivan used to be the collector of Coimbatore in the 1820s when he took a fancy to the place on an expedition with the Kanan-Devan brothers as guides and went on to establish the town of Ooty. The brothers called the place “Whotakaimund” or the village (mund) with the fruits (kai) of whotai (a species of dwarf bamboo). This was anglicised to “Wotykamund” by the British, then to “Ootacamund” and then simply “Ooty”. (Some say that the name is actually an anglicised version of the Tamil name for the place “Udhagamandalam”, or the home of the clouds.) Apparently John Sullivan bought the entire land off the Todas for a mere one rupee! The Kanan-Devan brothers were asked to pick land as far as their eyes could see as their gift and this land came to be used for the tea estates still producing the brand of tea named after them.

It was an unforgettable trip for sure. Do note that if you are taking your own car to the place beware of very bad and narrow roads where you need to be a really good driver if you do not want to end up trapped in a car rolling down a mountainside to an eventual crash. Do also note that plastics are banned in the Nilgiris (the fine for using a plastic bag is apparently 500 rupees for tourists and 2,000 rupees for the locals). The supposedly home-made chocolates are not as good as they are made to be and every other shop tries to sell them - the most reliable one is King's Star on Commercial Road.

Other Posts from 2005