Overview of the destination
Ooty is undeniably a beautiful place - with picturesque views and a lot of places to see. The mix of tranquility and plenty of activity no wonder makes it a most popular destination for families all over India.
Food, sight-seeing and shopping
I honestly don't know if there is any local cuisine to talk about because I did not come across any. After having almost every meal at our hotel (Sullivan Court), we thought we should try out a new restaurant and went to 'The Paradise'. We asked them for the local cuisine and they said - it was only idly and dosa! Can't be true. Anyway after trying the food at the restaurant we only said 'Paradise Lost' the food was bad! Strangely no auto drivers or cab drivers could recommend a good restaurant or a local arts and crafts shop. Almost every other shop sells chocolates, tea and eucalyptus oil. We went to a shop called 'Sarkar' and their stuff is quite good. I was looking for those typical Toda hand woven shawls and other crafts - couldn't find them anywhere. The shop keepers said all items come from either Mumbai or Bangalore.
Activities & things to do
Day one: We went to the Rose Garden nearby. Very huge garden with an exhaustive collection of the most exotic and pretty collection of roses. So many varieties , so many interesting names - but after all, 'What's in a name? That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet.' In the evening, we took a walk through the main shopping area in the town - Charing cross - filled with tourists from all over the country, a few locals, smells of eucalyptus oil, tea, freshly steamed corn...hmm... nice. Day two: Took a rather new way of sight-seeing...hired an auto-rickshaw and the very friendly driver took us around, right up to Doddabetta, stopping by at interesting places and bungalows of celebrities! The first stop over was at the Wax Museum - a very humble collection by a private organization I guess. The statues looked more papier mache then wax and the owners of the museum have cleverly started adding items which will definitely turn ancient and antique soon - a cassette recorder, a telephone with a circular dial of the manual era, an LP etc. The museum is obviously struggling to survive but I feel it will do good if they get rid of 'please help us' boards everywhere and wax models of beggars and sick people. Tea factory: The government-run tea factory is an interesting place to understand the process of tea making - I now appreciate my morning cuppa even more! The free cup of Elaichi tea they offered was yum! There are even a few outlets that sell typical local products. There is a 'Home-made chocolate factory' too - quite an oxymoron I thought!! :) Doddabetta: The view on the way was nice but the drive was very bumpy. We shouldn't have gone by auto all the way but it was fun. The view of Ooty from Doddabetta - the highest point here - was awesome. There is a telescope on a watch tower through which there is even a greater view but it was way too crowded and we didn't venture. Boat house: Huge place - so it didn't seem as crowded as the other spots. We had a lovely 30 min boat ride on a row boat. There are options of self-pedalling and motor boats as well. Take the self-pedalling only if you are sure you can manoeuvre it. Motor boats for one are polluting and secondly the trip will be too fast and mechanical - we are on motor-vehicles all year as such! There are other attractions that one sees in any fair - a giant wheel, archery etc. Gave them a miss and took the toy train for the sake of our baby. It was an extremely short but fun ride! We had lunch at Punjabi Dhaba just outside the boat house. Please avoid it if you can. I thought it is the original one that we have in Chennai but no - its a franchisee and horribly managed. Day 3: We got cleverer after the tiring auto ride and hired a cab to go to Mudumalai and Pykkara. Devote an entire day for this. The drive to both places is beautiful. If you have the time and energy, stop by at the famous scenic shooting spots on the way. Pykkara waterfalls: There is no waterfall! :) Yes, there is nothing at this time, yet nobody - not even the local cab guy is aware of this. It is a long walk of a kilometer and we were disappointed. Next stop, the Pykkara Lake with boating trips. The view is nice but the boating managed by Tamilnadu tourism is a rip off at Rs. 525 for a 10 min ride for just 3 people. The other choices are 6-seater and 8-seater boats which cost only a little lesser - all boats are motorized. The boating at the Boat House was far better where the view and greenery is concerned. We then headed to the best part of the day, Mudumalai Tiger Reserve. You have to pass through Gudalur. It will be a good idea to carry lunch with you. If not you will have to stop by at Gudalur - there aren't great veg options - we tried Saravana Bhavan (no, not 'the' saravana bhavan) - bad ambience - okay food. Maybe you can try India Coffee House, which is next door- better ambience at least. The drive up to Mudumalai was beautiful. You can actually feel the smell changing to a quaint foresty, herbal fragrance as you approach the forest. Keep your eyes open to spot animals on your way. The Reserve organizes for Safaris around the forest at a fee. They give you tokens and you have to wait for your turn. The rush was heavy as it was the summer vacations. We spotted Bisons, an Elephant (which the safari guide argued was a bison too, until the entire crowd made him see the head of the baby elephant!), lots of deer, a couple of peacocks and a pack of Langoors. A very memorable ride it was! There is an Elephant training camp just outside the Reserve. We drove through Masinagudi on our way back to Ooty and wow! what a beautiful drive it was - we spotted some more wildlife on our way. Remember to drive slowly - you never know what you will get to see. We have seen elephants, deer and peacocks even in cities but to watch them in their natural habitat is simply a lovely experience. It gets you thinking of a lot of things - the environment, survival and so on. We ended our Ooty trip with some obligatory shopping of Tea, Chocolates and Essential Oils! In the last minute, I heard there is a shop of the local tribes, the Todas near the Botanical Garden - it was too late - that might be a hope if you are looking for something locally made souvenirs.
Travel tips, How to reach, travel warnings etc.
One thing that caught my attention is that Ooty is a 'plastic-free zone' at least in the shopping areas. The ubiquitous plastic bag that is such a common sight in our cities is totally missing. And people DO manage without it. Kudos to all 'Ootites'. The rule is religiously followed by all shop keepers who pack their wares in a brown paper bag or in a cloth bag if your purchase is big. So, remember to carry a bag with you when you venture out. Locals and hoteliers alike seem to take Ooty's popularity for granted. They don't seem to promote the place in a big way. So do your home work and go - be it about places of interest, restaurants or shopping. Be prepared to be part of the milling crowds if you are travelling during the holiday season!