Our next step was Lamb’s Rock. Here, we had to hike a short distance to catch the breath-taking views of the surroundings. It was funny to see a large stuffed tiger was placed on one of the rocks and tourists were charged ten rupees to take a picture with this toy tiger. I think this is popular in Ooty since I had seen it in a couple of other places as well. My elder daughter grabbed this opportunity to take a picture of her strangling the tiger! We spent quite some time walking around this place. The weather here was a bit sunny though. Taking pictures dressed as tea workers, resplendent with colourful clothes, antique jewellery, head gear and carrying cane baskets beckoned many tourists. My wife struck a bargain with one of the vendors renting tea-worker costumes. The subsequent photo session took more than 30 minutes, but I think [for once] that it was worth it.
From thereon, we drove to Sims park. This is a picturesque park with lovely landscaping; tall trees; meticulously trimmed shrubs; a small pond for boating; well-maintained walkways; and most of all less tourists. This was a far better experience than the botanical gardens in Ooty. We relaxed quite a bit here and had our packed lunch. We could not spend too much time here since we planned to go to the Conoor railway station to see if we can catch a ride on the toy train which goes to Ooty. My hopes of getting a ticket were dashed upon seeing the long queue at the ticket counter. And expectedly many of us waiting in the queue did not get the tickets, since the train itself was small and could accommodate not more than 75 people. My family and I were disappointed that we could not get the tickets. I was wondering what the alternatives were when a gentleman disembarked the train and said he wants to return his tickets. He and his family did not get a seat in the train and also did not want to stand all the way to Ooty. My family was sporty though and hence I bought his tickets.
We boarded the train with a lot of enthusiasm and never worried about standing throughout. I remember riding the train from Ooty to Mettupalyam, many many years ago. It was indeed a wonderful journey. And so I naturally expected a similar experience here. However our enthusiasm died down very soon since the journey from Conoor to Ooty in the toy train was not as I had expected. For a large part of it, the train travelled through flat terrain. There were no scenic views; instead it was filthy garbage and stinking drainage in many parts. Very soon I realized that Conoor to Ooty is not the same as the journey from Ooty to Mettupalyam. The sole consolation was that a good Samaritan offered his seat to my wife and my second child. This eased the pain of them standing through this forgettable train journey. Very soon we reached Ooty and agreed that we could have spent more time at Sims park than this gruelling and unrewarding train journey. We wanted to visit the Rose Garden before calling it a day. However it started raining… rather pouring very heavily. Hence we went back to our hotel and relaxed. The rain continued unabated for the rest of the evening. We again went to Commercial road for our dinner. And finally in this wet Ooty, we hit the sack back at the hotel, completing yet another eventful day of our vacation.
Today was our last full day in Ooty. The only plan we had was to visit Dodda Betta. Everything else, we agreed, that we will decide along the way. The early morning routine was industrialized now. We were actually beginning to like the breakfast that was served at the Rose Park Residency. The hospitality of the staff made up for every other grouse which we had about the place. As anticipated the journey to Dodda Betta was slow due to the heavy traffic. This was one of the most visited places in Ooty and hence the traffic. If this was not enough, Dodda Betta itself was a mess. Parking was unregulated; litter everywhere; open drains at some places; water clogging..… it got me thinking as to how the brand value of a place can more than compensate for the much in and around it. It was however nice to see the hawkers, their stalls and wares. And the only other takeaway was the views from the peak. The horde of tourists competing and jostling to catch these views and take pictures meant that we could get only a few seconds at every vantage point.
There was a display of nearby places to visit at Dodda Betta. One of the recommendations was Tea Park and we impulsively decided to go there. It was a very good decision. Tea Park is a short drive from Dodda Betta. It has beautiful landscaped gardens; play area for children and a small slope covered with tea plants. It was an ideal place to relax after the experience at Dodda Betta. A much needed fully loaded picnic hamper would have completed the visit to this park. We then wanted to visit one of the tea factories here. We visited one such tea factory situated at the base of Dodda Betta. Going around the factory was more like an education tour, but it was informative. We not only got to see how the machinery converted tea leaves into tea, but also got to know a bit about the history of tea. Having finished this educational tour, we had no clue about what to do next. We had the entire evening ahead of us. The driver recommended that we visit Karnataka Park.
With no expectations whatsoever, we headed to Karnataka Park. My elder daughter was thinking aloud as to why there is a Karnataka Park in Tamil Nadu. And even went onto ask why there isn’t a Tamil Nadu park in Karnataka. Yet another of those questions which can arise only in a child’s mind!
Karnataka Park was the best of the parks we visited in Ooty. It was stunningly clean; superbly manicured lawns; an amphitheatre of sorts; vast expanse of trees and shrubs; had a small maze to lose yourself in and a small artificial lake. Not many tourists were here though, which was bewildering but suited us well. Since we had ample time, we loitered around the park. All of us had good fun entering the maze and finding our way out of it. We had some of the snacks that we had packed and took great care not to litter the place. It is always a surprise as to how a clean environment and bring the best out of us! We then headed to the last destination of our Ooty tour, which was the Rose Garden. True to its name, it was filled with rows after rows of rose plants. I have never seen so many roses together in my life time. But I confess that after a few minutes, we all got bored of seeing so many roses, even though they were beautiful. We however spent more than an hour here since we had nothing else to do until dinner and also since the hotel was just a stone’s throw away from here. We finally got back to our hotel and started the laborious process of packing the bags again. We had a sumptuous dinner at a restaurant called “Sumukha’s Kitchen”, before going to bed.
The next morning, we were all ready to head back to Bangalore. We quickly bid adieu to Ooty and hit the road. We planned to visit the bird sanctuary at Mysore along the way to Bangalore. We reached the outskirts of Ooty in no time. From thereon it was a stunning journey downhill towards Mudhumalai and Bandipur. There was a light drizzle throughout this memorable journey. The winding roads were covered with various kinds of vegetation on either side. Shrubs and small trees were prominent in most places. At a couple of places we were surprised by meticulously maintained tea estates. All of this was interspersed with the occasional barren land and hamlets. And just when I was contemplating as to which were the best amongst these, we were welcomed by tall pine and eucalyptus trees. Bricks were laid here in the form of a jigsaw puzzle, to form improvised roads. A light mist engulfed the top of these tall trees. The whirl of the engine was unwelcome amidst the tweets of the distant birds and swoosh of the trees. Such was the beauty of the place, that I was in no doubt that it claimed the top spot for the best scenic moment in the entire trip. It was a pleasure that such patches of tall trees greeted us in various spots during our journey. And thus the swansong of our vacation continued with the pine trees providing the tremolo effect.
We soon covered Mudhumalai and Bandipur and were truly on our way back to Bangalore. A few elephants, deer and a lone bison welcomed us back to Bandipur. In no time, were in Mysore which was warm and sunny. We reached Ranganathittu bird sanctuary at around three in the afternoon. We had a light lunch and hopped onto the boat ride to see the birds. I am not sure about the best time or season to visit Ranganathittu. However this is second time in three years that I am visiting this place in the month of May. And I vouch that it is a good time to visit. Forgive my ignorance of birds for I can only recognize crow, parrot, duck and sparrow. Every other living thing that can fly, is just a bird to me. Even with this ignorance, I can assure you that this is a bird lover’s paradise. It is also for people, like me, who love to lose themselves in the arms of nature. The person manoeuvring the boat doubled up as the guide and he pointed out storks and cranes and various other kinds which I do not recall now. He dutifully warned us to not touch the water since the river was known for its alligators. True to his prophecy we spotted more than a couple of alligators in the water. We even spotted a baby alligator during this ride. Halfway through this exciting boat ride, it started to rain. Very soon, it was pouring like anything. The rain along with the birds above and the alligators below, accentuated the experience of this adventurous ride. When we disembarked, we were delighted to know that ours was the last boat ride. The heavy rains prohibited any more of them. Phew… so much for good timing.
This is where our vacation truly came to an end. The rains accompanied us all the way to Bangalore. After a frustrating drive in very heavy traffic, we reached home at about nine in the evening. As I lay in bed recollecting the wonderful vacation of the past few days, I definitely missed the chillness of the Ooty air hitting my face. Among various memories, one particular image kept coming back again and again. It was that of an old lady selling fresh produce of carrots, beetroots and radish on the Ooty highway. Sitting at one of the umpteen bends; keeping herself warm with a sweater and scarf; an umbrella to guard her from the rains; she just sat there waiting for customers to stop by and buy the vegetables. A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that she will not be making more than Rs 200 on any given day. Hence I could guess that life was not easy for her. But I could not help appreciate her for the choice that she made for a living along with its simple consequences and expectations. I must have dozed off pondering over this and various other memories of Ooty.
Thank you, Queen of Hill Stations, hope to visit you again in the coming years!
- You can choose to drive, but be prepared for at least 8 hours of driving. Else go the easy way like me and book a cab at Bookcab.in
- There are numerous resorts and homestays. Pick your stay based on what you plan to do in Ooty. If you are of the lazy types, choose one of the good resorts. If you are like us, who do not believe in idling away in the hotel, pick a bed & breakfast kind of an option. I suggest selecting something in the city, since it is easier to visit all the tourist spots.
- Stay away from crowded places. In particular avoid the botanical gardens, Ooty lake and Doddabetta during the tourist season.
- Avoid the toy train from Conoor to Ooty. It was not worth the trouble. Instead see if you can ride the Ooty to Metupalyam line.
- Many good restaurants, especially on Commercial Road. Adyaar Ananda Bhavan, Junior Kuppanna, Sumukha’s Kitchen and Thalassery were the ones where we dined at. All of them serve good food at reasonable prices.