Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Long weekend in Ooty

The May 1 holiday on Tuesday made a long weekend possible, so we started planning on a trip. Vidya’s father had a timeshare that he had taken in the late 90s and had not been using for a while. He invited us to avail of it and looking at the hotel rates at Ooty, we were happy to accept this.

Ooty is around 320 km from Bangalore, a 6-7 hour journey. Rather than cover it in one go, I decided to split it into two halves. So, we set out for Mysore on Friday evening. The road from Bangalore to Mysore is just fantastic now, four lane all through and 6 lane at the towns along the way. The biggest challenge, as always, is getting to Mysore Road. As we had discovered the previous weekend, on our trip to Wonderla, it takes over an hour to cover the 15 odd kilometers to Mysore Road. I was suggested an alternate route on the partly completed BMIC Peripheral Road. So, we set out on Hosur Road till Electronics City and took the BMIC road from there. The road is fantastic, no traffic (atleast for now). The intersections at Bannerghatta Road, Kanakpura Road and Mysore Road are incomplete, so you have to take a detour. The Bannerghatta Road detour is really bad, but the others are not too much of a bother. Overall, I don’t know if we saved much time, as the route does seem to be a bit longer, but it was totally stress free and that’s a big plus when you’re setting out on a holiday. I only wish Deve Gowda and family would stop letting their personal interests hold the city to ransom and allow BMIC to complete the road, Bangalore would be much better for it.

We covered the distance to Mysore in around 2 hours. We stayed at a hotel called Ginger. This is a new budget hotel chain promoted by Tatas, which promises clean modern rooms at affordable prices. To do this, they cut down on the frills like room service. They definitely delivered on that, as the rooms are really good, spacious with comfortable beds, LCD TVs, wi-fi (not free!!!) everywhere. There is only one restaurant and they only have a buffet, it is somewhat high priced (175 for the buffet) but the food was good. Overall we had a very pleasant experience and I will definitely stay there again.

We set out to Ooty on Saturday morning. I was hoping to see some wild animals as we went through Bandipur and Mudumalai forests. However, they seemed to totally avoid the area around the roads and other than a couple of deer, we saw absolutely nothing. The roads in Karnataka were really good, except for a 20 km stretch from Gundulpet to Bandipur. Once we crossed into Tamil Nadu, we were at the Mudumalai forest. A well known secret is that you can cut the journey by almost 35 km if you’re willing to brave narrow roads and 36 hair pin bends and go though Mudumalai. The alternate route via Gundalur is much flatter. We decided to take the narrow road. The journey was quite uneventful, except at the ghats, where I discovered just how underpowered the Santro is. At the hairpins, I had to switch to 1st to get any momentum going and avoid slipping backwards. To be fair, this was among the steepest roads I’ve been on, much steeper than Nandi hills or Yercaud where I’d driven before. This is probably one place where a diesel with its higher torque would be useful. All the low gear driving did tell on the mileage, when I topped up in Ooty, I found that it had just gone 14 km to the litre.

We had quite a time finding the resort in Ooty. It wasn’t in Ooty proper, but at around 7 km from the town, it wasn’t too far. The resort was beautiful, it was built on a hill with each cottage at a different level. The resort had definitely seen better times, and wasn’t maintained very well. The rooms were dingy with poor lighting and carpets falling apart. The cottages further up the hill were half complete and it did appear that only around 15 of the cottages were in use. In fact, the waiter told us that at peak, there were almost 45 staff and now there were only 6 people in total.

We had planned to go sightseeing on both days, the first day in Ooty and nearby areas and the second day to Connoor. We first went boating early in the morning. The experience was ok, it would have been nicer if the lake was cleaner. There is also a children’s amusement park, where we went hoping to persuade her to go on some rides. She flatly refused to go anywhere alone, just like she had done at Wonderla. We finally decided that it was pointless and proceeded to Doddabetta, the highest viewpoint. Unfortunately, it appeared that everyone in Ooty had the same idea and in India, if you put too many people together in a small area, chaos is inevitable. There was a massive traffic jam on the hill. As it was a narrow road, we could not do anything as vehicles were stopped in both directions. After almost 20 minutes, we decided like everyone else to just leave the car there and walk up the hill. We started off, but luckily after 15 minutes of walking, we could see the traffic clearing. I ran back and got the car and we drove the rest of the way. The views were fantastic, the area is very green and Coonoor is very picturesque. There was a viewpoint called Green Valley viewpoint, where you can see a valley totally covered with vegetation, which was beautiful. On clear days, you’re supposed to be able to see until Coimbatore, but we did not have any such luck.

We had a quick lunch and proceeded to the Botanical Gardens. The Ooty Botanical Gardens are quite different from Lal Bagh in that it is in a much smaller area but set on many different levels. As you enter, the view is absolutely magnificent, tall trees towering above you. Like everywhere in Ooty, it was totally full with people, but I’m sure that in the off-season, it would be a fantastic place to get some peace and quiet. By then, we had had enough sightseeing for the day and went back to the resort.

On Monday, we had planned to go to Coonoor but dropped the idea and decided to take things easy. I decided to take a walk around the resort and came across a small densely wooded hill. There was some kind of a path going into the jungle, which I decided to follow. Once I went in, I found that it wasn’t as dense as it had appeared from the outside, just a lot of trees and not much undergrowth. I went right to the top of the hill and got some really good views of the surrounding countryside. On my way back, I went off the trail and started to follow a few other trails, but they just went around aimlessly without leading anywhere, and after a while I decided to just head back. It was a really good experience, my first trek in many years, and left me wanting more. Maybe, I’ll join a trekking club and plan on atleast a few more soon.

After I got back, we decided to go to the Rose Garden, which supposedly had 2800 different varieties of roses. Like the Botanical Gardens, this too was set at many different levels, 5-6 in all. There definitely were a lot of roses, I didn’t bother to verify if the number added up to 2800. They all looked the same to me anyway. It was quite hot during the day, so we didn’t really explore all the different levels. On the way to the rose garden, we took a horse ride. Nisha was initially very afraid to get on to the horse, but after some persuading, she got on and enjoyed it quite a bit.

On the way back, disaster!!! Near the lake, there was a small traffic jam due to a bus reversing to park. As I didn’t want to risk anything, I went to the extreme left of the road and stopped waiting for him to reverse into the parking lot. The idiot, however, was only looking to his right and didn’t notice our car at all, despite one of his helpers banging on the side of the bus and me honking away. He made contact with the right front panel. Luckily, he realized right away and came to a stop immediately, before he could cause more damage. The damage was done though, after 3 years of no scratches and dents, I had a fairly big dent on the side and a lot of scratches. There were a lot of arguments with him and his helpers. Afterwards, we went and relooked at the dent and realized that the panel had just gone inwards due to the thin sheet metal and could be brought back to shape very easily. One of the bus passengers, who owned a workshop in Bangalore, offered to do it free of charge and also touch up the scratches. We finally agreed to it, after taking a security from the driver of a couple hundred rupees. I don’t intend to go to the workshop, but am hopeful that the repairs should not cost more than 200-300 at most.

We finished off by buying some chocolates and Varkey (a snack popular in Ooty) for both mine and Vidya’s teams in the office. The next day, we started off to Bangalore around 11:00 am and reached home by 5:30.

You hear a lot about how Ooty is totally commercial but I really ended up liking the place. It is crowded, polluted, dirty, chaotic etc etc, just like most Indian cities. But there is enough beauty just waiting to be discovered, if you're willing to go off the beaten path.

Photos on my Picasa web album

Ooty April 2007


Sabol said...

I recently visited Ooty and spent a short break for three days. Stayed at Sinclairs, which is on the way to Dodabetta peak. A beautiful place. Don’t miss out this hotel if you visit Ooty.

Swathi said...

I love this place,i want to travel to this place but till not i havent gone.Thank you for sharing your travel experience.By reading this i just want to go there and enjoy. SRS Travels