Ravishing terrain with the bluish hue caused b y the kurunji flowers is home to magnificent hills, serene valleys and fascinating waterfalls.
The grassy undulating hills with narrow valleys and swamps are counted among the 400 natural wonders of the world by geographers. Spread across the border of three states, the Nilgiris (Neelmalai in Tamil) is blessed with one of the most beautiful terrains. Though the mountain range is part of the Western Ghats, it relishes its identity from the rare purplish blue flowers of Neelakurinji that envelopes the Anamalai, Nilgiris and Palni hills. If a local says that he or she has seen three seasons of kurinji, one can easily guess their age to be more than 36 years because the spectacular carpet of these pale purple flowers blossom occurs only once in 12 years. Due to this unique diversity, this region is recognised as India’s first biosphere.
The beatific Nilgiri district that resides in these mountain ranges is made up of steep hills, picturesque landscape, rolling tea estates, fantastically narrow valleys, numerous rivers, waterfalls and rivulets. During your visit to the romantic hilltop, the toughest choice is to pick a favourite station to descend as the Nilgiris has a galore of reasons to excite the traveller in you.
Queen of the Hills, Udagamandalam (Ooty)
The mountains, floating clouds, valleys, rolling tea plantations, misty mornings, cascading Pykara falls, the famous botanical gardens, highest peak Doddabetta (2,623 m), abundance of scenic charms and a heritage that lives through the British-styled houses make Ooty unique and special. Being the capital of Nilgiris district, Udagamandalam or Udhagai always tops the charts for those who travel to Tamil Nadu for the first time. As the region is part of a fragile ecosystem, Ooty is home to myriad of plant species, giving way to some of the most beautiful gardens and parks on its slopes. St Stephen’s Church is the oldest church while St Thomas Church commands a compelling view of the Ooty Lake. Speaking of lakes, this British hill station also boasts of Pykara lake, Emerald Lake and Porthimund Lake.
The credit for discovering Ooty goes to John Sullivan, the then collector of Coimbatore. He built a house up in the mountains called Stone House, which is famously known as the first bungalow of Ooty, now converted into a government museum that is worth a visit. The 169-year-old Ooty Hunt Club, the only hunt club of Asia is the most exciting place to trace the history of hunting days in India. Arts College, Post Office, Nilgiris District Library, Breeks School, Adam’s Statue, Rajbhavan, Fern Hill Palace, Lawley Institute are some of the other colonial buildings which add to the historical significance of the Nilgiris.
The sister Town of Ooty, Coonoor
If you have been looking for a laid back holiday in the hills that are far from the maddening crowds of the city, Coonoor could be a beautiful bet. It is clean, calm, absolutely uncluttered with colourful houses and layered landscape. Not only it enjoys the status of being the second largest hill station in Southern India after Ooty, it also enjoys a fascination among the bird lovers. Some of the best and rare species of birds can be spotted here.
With the peace of tea gardens, comfort of colonial buildings cum homestays and proximity to the rich bio-diverse universe of the Nilgiris, Coonoor is alluring in its own sweet way. A walk around the Sim’s park and a drive to Dolphin’s nose should definitely be on the list.
The glorious past and a disciplined present, Wellington
Endowed with a plethora of striking charms and salubrious climate, Wellington is home to the Defence Services Staff College (DSSC) of India. This self-contained military cantonment, 14km from Ooty is one of the most photogenic places to settle down and enjoy the finer things of life. Blessed with scenic views of mountains, floating clouds, terraced tea gardens and colonial aura, Wellington enjoys a gorgeous setting. The effort that is made to keep it immaturely clean and disciplined enhances its beauty many a times.
The first bridge that transfers one from Coonoor to Wellington is the Black Bridge. The historic bridge of the area now called Manekshaw Bridge is named after Sam Hormusji Framji Jamshedji Manekshaw, the first Indian Army officer to be promoted to the rank of field marshal. The people from triservices have known Wellington for decades and some of these places like Gymkhana Club, the golf course, Wellington Lake, Madras Regimental Center and DSSC canteen are part and parcel of its existence.
The lovely neighbourhood, Lovedale
There is something magical and unpretentious about this peaceful place and that is it instantly soothes the city-worn soul. Boasting of some stunning vistas and being an all-weather destination, this is one of the most idyllic and quaint places in the Nilgiris. While Dodabetta (8000ft) is the highest peak of Nilgiri mountain range, Lovedale at 7200ft over mean sea level, happens to be one of the highest settlement. The town was founded by the Britishers in 1812 to escape from the heat of the plains below. Lovedale is sure to bring to life the old-world charm through colonial flavour of cottages, bungalows and gothic church. Lawrence School, established in 1858 is one of the prestigious residential schools of India and pride of this region.
Mountains of the Kotas, Kotagiri
This is definitely one of the best kept secrets of Nilgiris. Surrounded by dense Shola forests and lush green tea estates, Kotagiri gets its name from the Kota tribes. 33 km southeast of Ooty, this quaint and traditional town is known for its mild and temperate climate, is one of the best in the world. Kotagiri is the smallest and oldest hill station of the South which the British officials chose to build their cottages to beat the scorching heat. The carefully cultivated tea gardens have their own stories to tell. Kotagiri happens to be the first place around this region where coffee and tea were planted on experimental basis.
The verdant vegetation, cool mountain air, the floating clouds, close-to-the-elements experience makes Kotagiri a place of sheer beauty. One can do morning drive from Coonor or Wellington and spend the day exploring some of the nearby attractions like Kodanad View Point, Catherine Waterfalls, Elk Falls, Sullivan Museum. The adventure lovers can opt for treks and may choose from the three, Kotagiri–Kodanad, Kotagiri–St Catherine Falls and Kotagiri– Longwood Shola.
Words: MANJULIKA PRAMOD