The Nilgiris, which literally means ‘blue mountains’, are a range of at least 24 mountain peaks running through Tamil Nadu and bordering Karnataka and Kerala. The picturesque hill station of Ooty, short for Ootacamund and now officially Udhagamandalam, lies amid four peaks — Doddabetta, Snowdon, Elk Hill, and Club Hill. As you chug through the spectacular landscape in the toy train, the wonderfully uplifting smell of eucalyptus fills up the senses.
The pretty resort town of Ooty was founded by the British Collector of Coimbatore, John Sullivan, around 1820 to enable the sahibs to escape the searing heat of the plains. Sullivan’s legacy is one of the most popular hill stations in India today, drawing everyone from families to honeymooners to wildlife enthusiasts. Ooty’s rolling green hills, extensive gardens, lake and waterfalls make it a perfect setting for some invigorating R&R.
Situated 7,500 feet above sea level, the weather in Ooty is perennially pleasant. Eucalyptus trees and tea and coffee plantations abound, filling the air with a mild heady spicy fragrance. While tea and coffee are the town’s chief produce, essential oils of eucalyptus, lemon grass, geranium, clove, and camphor extracted from local plants are also highly valued.
Sullivan created Ooty Lake between 1823 and 1825, and introduced plants like potato and barley and the concept of horticulture in Ooty. The town gradually developed as the summer capital of the Madras Presidency of the British. However, the original inhabitants of Ooty are the Todas, a tribal community famous for handicrafts like shawls with their trademark red, black, and white embroidery.
The main attractions in and around Ooty are the Ooty Botanical Gardens, the Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary, tea and coffee plantations, Ooty Lake, the magnificent Doddabetta (highest peak of the Nilgiris at 8,652 feet), and miles and miles of conifer, eucalyptus, pine, and wattle forest.
OOTY BOTANICAL GARDENS
Lush and well-maintained, these gardens have a diversity of flora with over 650 species of plants including rare trees (cork, paper bark, monkey puzzle), flowering plants, ferns, orchids, and a 20-million-year-old fossilized tree. These gardens are also a haven for birds and the Italian-style garden bordering a pool is a major attraction.
OOTY LAKE AND BOAT HOUSE
Surrounded by extensive groves of eucalyptus trees, the lake offers boating facilities that gives visitors a chance to enjoy the scenic beauty of Ooty at a leisurely pace. Close to the lake is a mini garden with a toy train and an amusement park for children.
Built by John Sullivan on land bought from the Todas, this is reportedly the first “pucca” (concrete) house in Ooty. Today, it is located within the Government Arts College.
10 kilometres from Ooty town is the Doddabetta peak (8,652 feet), the highest point in the Nilgiri Hills. The peak offers spectacular views of the town and district and is ensconced within a reserved forest area.
The half-barrel shaped Toda huts are specimens of a vanishing culture and are of immense anthropological interest. Several Toda huts can be seen near the botanical gardens.
TEA AND COFFEE PLANTATIONS
Vast slopes covered with tea and coffee plantations, and men and women picking leaves with baskets on their backs, are a beautiful sight to behold. You can also visit the tea factory to see the tea being processed.
This wax museum has life-size wax statues of people like Dr. Abdul Kalam, Mother Teresa, and other personalities from Indian history housed in a 142-year-old heritage bungalow.
EXCURSIONS FROM OOTY
MUDUMALAI WILDLIFE SANCTUARY
The thickly forested Mudumalai is a continuation of Bandipur National Park in Karnataka and borders the Wayanad Sanctuary in Kerala. The 321 sq Km reserve, hosts a wide range of flora and plentiful fauna such as spotted deer, gaur, mouse deer, elephants, bonnet macaques, tigers, leopards, wild dogs, hyenas, jackals, sloth bears and peacocks, which look wonderful in their natural habitat rather than in a zoo! The drive to Mudumalai is especially scenic and the elephant training camp outside the reserve is an added attraction.
This is another forest reserve near Ooty that offers exciting Government-organised camping and trekking activities. You can go on elephant back into the unspoilt sanctuary to see spotted deer, bears, boars, etc. At the Elephant Camp, you can watch the cleaning and caring of around 30 elephants.
13 km from Ooty, the 100-feet-high Kalhatty Falls amid the lush Kalhatty-Masinagudi slopes is a picturesque picnic spot.
17 km from Ooty, Coonoor is a cool and cosy tea garden town at an altitude of 6,000 feet in the Nilgiris. It’s an excellent place to do some bird-watching because of the sheer variety of birds there. The main attraction here is Sim’s Park, a small well-maintained botanical garden with several interesting plant varieties.
The Nilgiris have been labelled one of the 14 biodiversity hotspots of the world. It is only natural, therefore, that trekking across the trails of Ooty is one of the top things to do in Ooty, replete with visual treats. Several land routes are available, varying in terms of distance, terrain, altitude and difficulty. Wildlife enthusiasts will find plenty of work for their cameras, thanks to the abundance of Nilgiri langurs, the tahr or gaur, and the macaque. The guides are well-versed in the region and will keep you engaged with interesting tidbits about the trail.
With the number of lakes in and around Ooty, it is only natural that game-fishing would be a popular pastime here. Start by acquiring a fishing license from the Fisheries Department near the Ooty bus stand. They will even provide you with useful information about fishing spots in the region, along with the kind of equipment you might need. Goad trout and carp are some of the popular options here, especially at Pykara Lake. Take a guide along if this is your first time and you’ll learn the basics of angling in no time.
3. Horse Riding
Horse riding is another great way to explore the region, and ranks high on our list of top things to do in Ooty. North Lake is one of the starting points for the horse trails, from where you can venture up the hillsides or wander the many grasslands in the surroundings. Quite a few hotels and tour organizers provide guided horse tours in tea plantations and race courses. Of course, if you are a beginner at horseback riding, we recommend you give racing a backseat until you get the hang of things!
4. Hang Gliding
If you’re looking for adventure, nothing beats hang gliding as one of the best things to do in Ooty. Venture about twenty kilometres from Ooty to Kalahatty and you’ll reach the famous hang-gliding point. The Tamil Nadu Tourism department offers hang gliding courses from March to May, so if you want to hone your aerial skills, plan your visit between this period.
5. Mountain Biking
Mountain biking is another excellent adventure sport offered in Ooty, with a special park dedicated to the activity. The bumpy trails are perfect to wheel along, and the minimal fee of Rs. 10 per lap means it’s one of the most cost-effective things to do you’ll chance upon in the area.
Drinking tea and riding toy trains isn’t all there is to Ooty. With a buffet of adventure activities to choose from, we can assure you that your visit to the Queen of the Hills will be nothing short of exhilarating.
The closest railhead is Mettupalayam, 40 km from Ooty station, which is only meant for the toy train.
The closest airport is in Coimbatore, 100 km away.
All important towns of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Karnataka are connected to Ooty by road.
- Area: 36 sq km (Ooty town)
- Altitude: 7,500 ft
- State: Tamil Nadu
- Distance from nearby towns/ cities: Coonoor (18 km), Mysore (155 km), Coimbatore (98 km), Bangalore (290 km), Kodaikanal (236 km)
- Take away: Tea, coffee, honey, spices; essential and aromatic oils such as eucalyptus (mainly), lemon grass, geranium, clove, camphor; Toda shawls, silver artefacts
- Summer: 10°C – 25°C
- Winter : 5°C – 21°C
Best Time To Visit
The months of February to May and September to November are the most pleasant months to be in Ooty.