I always believe that road trips bring out the best of every place which otherwise remain out of view for most travelers, be it solo traveling or in a group or with family. The level of intimacy with any place would be different if the journey is done by road and these very emotions might have inspired numerous travelers to take up road trips to almost every possible place in the world.
One of most fascinating road trips I had undertaken was my journey from Mangalore, right in the middle of Western Ghats to forever beautiful Udagamandalam or Ootacamund or Ooty,though the name Ooty is most popular. It is also known as Queen of Hills, don’t know but in India, there are many popular hill stations especially in north India known by the term Queen of Hills. So many Queens in a single country! On a lighter note, it may be the rulers of the time did not want to upset any of their many queens and so they might have dedicated one hill station to each queen!
So keeping the above in mind one fine winter morning we started our journey to Ooty in the beginning of this year. We started around 07 am on a mildly sunny early January morning. Since I had never driven on this road before, so the excitement was palpable. The road also appeared full of adventures as it was to pass through misty and cool mountainous Coorg or Madikeri, which was affectionately nicknamed ‘Scotland of India’ by the early Scottish coffee planters, Mysore and then through the famous National Parks of Bandipur and Mudumalai. As mentioned earlier we started around 07 in the morning anticipating next 370 km as one of the best road trips. In some 50 km, we left the coastal roads of Mangalore and drove towards the twisty hill roads making our way towards Coorg. Just before Coorg, we stopped at a place to have something to eat as all of us were hungry since we skipped the breakfast for an early start. Just a small detour off the main highway and we were among one of the numerous coffee plantations of the Coorg. We had homemade items for breakfast which was carried from home. Having the delicious breakfast and sipping freshly made coffee from the nearby shop, under the deep blue sky with soft sun felt like heavenly. The day could not have started in a better way. We took a good 45 minutes break there before moving on. Now traveling can be of two types, one where reaching the destination as soon as possible is of paramount importance and the other where enjoying the journey leisurely and reach the destination. Most of the time I try to follow the second type.
As we crossed Coorg and got down to the plains, rows of colourful Buddhist flags welcomed us. Yes, we were in Kushal Nagar, a small town near Coorg known for small Tibetan population settled here. This is the largest settlement of Tibetan refugees in south India. The place has much to explore but not today as we had a long distance to cover. Slowly the highlands of Coorg gave way to the fertile agricultural fields on both sides of the highway. We are now one of the most fertile agricultural belts of South India known as Cauvery belt made by the River Cauvery or Kaveri. The Coffee plantations which were our companion in and around Coorg now gave way to plantations of Sugarcane and different cereals. The whole geography changed within an hour or so. The roads till now are very in very good condition. As we crossed small villages and towns on the way we could not resist stopping at a small roadside shop selling fresh sugarcane juice. If time permits one should try the fresh sugarcane juice sold by any of these roadside vendors. One should insist on this juice without ice though. It was really refreshing for all of us. Throughout we experienced a striking change of weather, from the coastal climate of Mangalore to cool hilly climate of Coorg to now sunny plains of river Kaveri and yet more change is anticipated as we reach near to Ooty.
We were traveling on NH-275 connecting Coorg to Mysore but we did not enter Mysore and took the right turn on picturesque Mysore-Ooty highway just before Mysore. By this time it was around 02 pm and we were all very hungry. So we decided to stop at some restaurant and the restaurant we choose was right beside the highway in the middle of the mustard farm with bright yellow mustard flowers, as if welcoming us. Food was good and very cheap compared to many fancy restaurants in cities but the whole setting was just awesome. We couldn’t ask for more!
By the time we finished our lunch it was almost 3.00 pm and we still had to cover almost 100 km with a large stretch of it passing through forests and hills. But this was the same stretch we all were eagerly waiting to cross as it was supposed to be most picturesque and full of surprises. The only worry was that we have to quickly enter the stretch going through Bandipur and Madumalai National parks before dark so that if lucky, we might encounter some of the animals found in these renowned national parks, known for a large variety of wildlife found here. We reached the gates of the Bandipur National Park within an hour and from that point onwards it was all pristine forest well protected by the government. Our hearts were beating fast in anticipation as we crossed the gate and entered the forest area. As we took the first bend, I pressed the breaks of my car to a screeching halt as a big heard of spotted dears crossing the road. It was a sight to behold. The telephoto lens of my camera did not miss this opportunity as I kept it ready even before entering the forest! After this, we slowly moved forward encountering several residents of this forest like wild boars, porcupines, macaques and more dears. The excitement of seeing wild animals in the wild made our slow speed even slower and by the time we crossed the whole forest stretch it was almost dark. Now, I was little apprehensive as the road ahead was a steep climb to Ooty at the height of 2240 meters or 7350 ft above mean sea level and all this climb had to be done in fading light with 36 hairpin bends! But the day so far was wonderful and driving through the famous hairpin bend was expected to be full of adventure and what an experience it was! It was a totally new experience for me. It was around 7 pm when we finally reached our pre-booked homestay, Colonel’s Inn in Ooty.
At Ooty the temperature was around 9 degree Celsius with a light layer of fog enveloping the city, making it look like straight from some dreamland! It was a huge drop in temperature for us as in Mangalore the night temperature was hovering around pleasant 23-25 degree Celsius. We were quickly shifted to our rooms and got freshened up. It was only us in the homestay for the day and in fact, we were the only guests for the whole period of our stay except for the last morning. So the whole home was for us literally. Since all of us were tired from days traveling we decided to spend the rest of the evening in the homestay only as it was very cold outside. The hot tea with hot snacks made from chilly served by the caretaker afterward was just the bonus we needed, it was like icing on the cake. It was a wonderful day where we drove through the land of coffee to land of tea. We had early dinner that night and after that just crashed into the cozy bed anticipating an even better next day.
By Road- Ooty is a famous hill station in south India and well connected with cities like Mysore (156 km), Coimbatore (86 km). Regular Bus services are available from these cities and a number of buses are also available from cities like Bangalore, Chennai etc.
By Rail- Nearest Railhead is Coimbatore. After reaching Coimbatore one can take the famous Nilgiri Express to Ooty. Starting from Mettupalayam this slow speed small heritage train runs on narrow gauge track and passes through breathtaking valleys. Advance reservation is absolutely necessary for this train.
By Air- The nearest airport is at Coimbatore which is 86 km from Ooty.
Stay- Ooty is very famous hill station and boosts all kinds of hotels, resorts etc suiting every budget. During peak seasons like summer and Christmas holidays, the rates are generally little higher.
Connectivity- Excellent 3G and in city areas even 4G connectivity.