What does one do when the mercury soars in Bangalore and rains play hide and seek? Old timers always said that it normally rains after holi in Bangalore. Rain. It did. In few spots and after that there was never a sign of cloud anywhere. The heat intensified and it was time to escape from it and move to cooler environs.
If you are in Bangalore, the only place you can escape quickly is Ooty and it's sister towns Coonoor and Kotagiri. Ooty is not new to us having been there many times before. We also hear everyone comment about how crowded Ooty has become. Yes, it has. But the beauty of Ooty lies in the outskirts with places like Avalance, Redhills, Coonoor and Kotagiri which are still nice and beautiful.
Long weekend of Ugadi was like god sent as we planned our next outing and this time it had to be Ooty. Since we started planning late, we were not able to get accommodation in some known places. We also tried in the charming farm stay of Mansoor Khan - the director who directed Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander and Amir Khan's uncle - but we were not lucky. I had just bought the latest issue of Lonely Planet magazine and there was a special section on Hill stations of Tamil Nadu. As Brinda was browsing through, she stumbled upon Red Hills nature resort in Red hills on the outskirts of Ooty. I had read about it and the reviews had been good. We were again sceptical of availability and nevertheless gave a try. I called up Vijay Kumar, the amiable host of Red Hills and he said that he has two rooms left and we have to make quick decision and confirm to him next day by paying an advance amount of Rs 4500. I told him that we will do so and next day morning, the first thing i did was to deposit the money and send the scanned copy of the bank's receipt.
With accommodation confirmed, we decided to leave Bangalore after Ugadi lunch at home.
We left Bangalore at 11 after an early lunch of Mavina Kayi Chitranna (Mango flovoured rice), Shavige Payasa (Semiya Kheer) and Mysore Pak - my mom makes it the best - specially made for Ugadi. We always avoid the regular Bangalore - Mysore highway as it would be choc-a-block with holiday crowd. We went through the time tested route via Kananakapura - Malavalli - Kollegala - Chamarajanagar - Gundlupet - Masinagudi - Ooty. This is a familiar road having driven on it umpteen times in the last one year. Road condition is good and there is hardly any traffic on the road. We breezed past - the last thirty KMs on Kalhatty ghat with 36 hairpin bends was really adventurous and thanks to Scorpio it was a cake walk - to reach the outskirts of Ooty at 4 PM after a break of 45 minutes in Cafe Coffee day in Gundlupet.
I called up Vijay who gave me directions to come to Red Hills from Ooty. Red hills is at a distance of 25 KMs from Ooty railway station. The drive is very picturesque as we go through beautiful valleys of Ooty. Being dry season, the terrain was all brown except for the spots where the carrots were being grown with irrigation. We had earlier traveled on this road after rains in 2009 and it was heavenly.
As we reached Red hills we were dumbstruck at the beauty of the place. Perched on a hill with magnificent views of the lakes and valleys in the front and the hill as the backdrop, this is a fantastic place. The Bungalow itself is more than 150 years old built by British. There was a chill in the air. Fortunately i had asked Brinda to pack two shawls. It came to our rescue as temperatures dipped dramatically as evening progressed. It was very cold at night and mercury was around 10 degrees. We freshened up and had a relaxed evening in front of the fire place.
The rooms in the resort are quite spacious. Each room has a fire place which is functional. Sitting in front of fire place was again a nostalgic memory for me having experienced it in the officers mess while serving in army years ago. The place was so cosy that we got up only when the staff of resort called us for dinner. A good dinner and we hit the bed with an aim to get up at at 5.30 to watch sun rise which i understood was awesome. (Click on the pictures and view it in full screen for best experience)
The fire place kept us warm through the night as we had good sleep only to get up early in the morning. It was still dark as we moved in torch light to the vantage point in the resort to see spectacular sun rise for which red Hills is famous.
We were not disappointed as you can see from pictures. It was one of the spectacular sun rises i have ever seen. As the sun came up and became brighter, the mist enveloped the mountains. When the mist finally gave way, we had beautiful view of the valley.
After watching sunrise and a nice cup of tea, we decided to go for a drive to explore Emerald lake and surroundings. Early morning sun is best for photography and my wife who is the official photographer wanted to experiment and see. What we saw was spectacular sights of the lake.
Let the pictures tell the story from now on !!!
We returned from the drive to Emerald lake, had a quick breakfast and ready to go on the trek. Vijay insisted that we do the trek as the views from the top are to die for. We were anyway game for it and started off.
This is a small trek and took us around three hours to complete. But climbing was quite tough and we could see many in the team slowing down considerably. Nevertheless everyone of us made it to the top of the hill and had views of our life.
Again, let the pictures take over....
The trek was a fantastic experience though tiring. The route for coming down was through real forest and we had to make a file to make sure that none of us were lost. Our guide Rajendran was telling us the stories of Elephants in the forest and we were keeping our fingers crossed not have any encounter with the big guy.
We definitely needed bath and after freshening up, what else to look for but the chilled one!! Vijay only serves Beer and if anyone wants to have other liquor they have to get themselves. The setting was perfect. Chill in the air, sun on the hill and greenery around!! What else one can ask for.
The staff calls us for lunch and we fill our stomach. The dining table discussion is "What next?". Nobody was in mood to rest and sleep and we also had to go town to buy famed Ooty Chocolates from King Star. The option was either to go in the afternoon or pick up chocolates on the way back.
The decision was made and we left at 3 PM after taking some rest. On the way we were to visit Avalanche dam, boat ride if there was no rush and then explore Commercial road. A friend of my wife had recommended that Sidewalk cafe in Nahar Hotel serves best Pizza and she wanted to try it as well.
The first stop was Avalanche dam. A small detour off the road - a dirt track of half a KM - takes you to the dam. All dams in the hills are manned by cops. When we went to Emerald dam in the morning, there was a police outpost but there was no one and hence we were not questioned. But now in Avalanche two cops stopped us and asked us what we were doing there in Tamil. I told them that we came to see the dam in my broken Tamil. He does not allow saying that unless we have a permit from Executive Engineer, we can't enter. Now i plead with him saying that i am ex Captain from Army etc and he says " Pongo sir, pongo" (Please go sir) !!! Sometimes this army stuff works!!
Avalanche had less water but still picturesque. This place should look great after rains. We did not stay long and left for city. The drive from Avalanche to city must be one of the beautiful drives especially after rains. Now we saw brown patches with some green spots.
We had seen two boat houses when we were coming to Red hills as the road goes next to it. I am always averse to long queues in these boat houses. When it is crowded, it in no fun to be there and many a times, we have skipped. The best time to come for boating in any place is early in the morning. So, when we decided that we do boating, it came with a caveat - only if it is not crowded and there is no waiting. We parked the car and walked to the booking counter. To our surprise, there was no queue and we took the ticket and went to the jetty. We took ticket for one boat which can accommodate eight persons and cost us Rs 385. We now have an exclusive boat for three of us!
Actually, we were not disappointed. Though the shores of the lake is dirty, it is still a picturesque place. The lake is huge and the pine covered shores provide a pretty sight. As we moved around we could see the huge crowd in the other boat house. I asked the boat man what is this all about. He said that the boat house where we got in does not get many tourists as they are not aware. Strangely this boat house is named "Honeymoon boat house". Anyway, we had good time and returned back after half an hour. The boatman asked me if we want an extra round - obviously for a tip - which we were not interested.
Now our next stop was to look for good Ooty chocolates. The best place to explore is Commercial road around Charing cross. I had heard about King Star as the best and went straight to the small shop to buy the chocolates for mama, chacha, friends etc etc.....
Brinda was told by her friend that she should try pizzas in Sidewalk cafe in Nahar Hotel. We took a bet that it would not be as good as you get in Bangalore and not worth trying.We land in Side Walk and order for Pizzas. I make no comment but eat. But Brinda says you win the bet and i rest the case. To be fair, i was not bad but not the best.
We walked back to place where we had parked the car and started our journey back. It was turning cold as we entered Red hills. The bonfire was already lit in the middle of the small garden. Having experienced cosiness the fire place on the previous day, we did not want to move out until the boys called us for dinner.
It was a small break but refreshing one in real sense. Mind blowing locales, beautiful vistas of lakes, clear night skies, adequate chill in the atmosphere, the fire place, the trek and the views, the birds............all made this a memorable experience as i settled the bill with Vijay, bid good bye to him and started moving to Bangalore after breakfast.
Red hills is also a birders paradise. Some pictures of the birds we captured during the stay.
Coming down on the Kalhatty was more difficult than going up as we were moving almost as a convoy. Some of the drivers are so cautious - or are they nervous - that they neither go fast or allow others to overtake them. Driving in second gear through out the ghat, we took almost one hour to reach teppakadu junction.
Now we were on a fantastic road and were zipping. Suddenly we saw the vehicles in front halted in the middle of the road. It did not take much time to realise what it was all about. A young tusker was enjoying his lunch on the roadside. Naturally people were not sure whether they should continue to stop or keep moving. After waiting for few minutes the first car moved, then the second and we too crossed over. We captured the guy in our lenses.
After a good lunch in newly opened Nijaguna Residency in Chamarajanagar, we were in Bangalore by 6 PM.
By road - Ideally one should drive down to Ooty. The roads are excellent and one can comfortably reach the place within 6 Hours. If you are not keen on driving, you can go by Karnatataka State transport buses which ply regularly from bangalore to Ooty. It will be good to go by night bus as it will save a day.
By Train - If you plan to go by train then you have to go via Coimbatore. There is intercity express between Bangalore and Coimbatore. From Coimbatore, you have to go to Mettupalyam and then catch the narrow gauge train to Ooty. Alternately, one can travel by train till Coimbatore and then take a bus from there to Ooty
Thera are hotels to suit all budgets. I would strongly recommend to stay out side the hustle bustle of city to enjoy the peaceful environs of nilgiris.
Some places that are worth exploring are
a) The best season for Ooty is between September and November when the valleys are green and winter has not set in. If you want to escape heat of summers, then go in summer. Winter will be very cold - similar to North Indian winter.
b) One can comfortably spend three days in exploring Ooty. It is worthwhile to have your own cab for moving around. List of places to see can be had from this link.
c) Don't miss to experience the journey in the narrow gauge train - remember chaiya chaiya song - which is an experience in itself. Try and get the seat in 1st class bogie which gives clear view.
d) Central parts of Ooty gets crowded during season. Go to the outskirts and enjoy the beauty of this hill station.
e) Try and make a day trip to Avalanche and Emerald lake. Drive up to Red Hills nature resort - only if you have cars with high ground clearance - as well as Destiny Farm stay and enjoy the out - of - the - world scenery.
f) Don't forget to buy famed ooty chocolates. King Star on Commercial road is the best.
g) Don't miss enjoying "High tea" in Taj Savoy which brings back memories of British era.
h) Get a bicycle and pedal around the lake.
i) Boating in Ooty lake can be fun if you go when no one goes - early morning. Try and get into the boat at Honey Moon Boat house and not the main boat house which is always crowded.
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