A lot of people ask us about this journey we are on and among the foremost questions they ask is ‘Which places did you like the most?’. Though I, now, have a standard answer to this question but this post is not about it. This post is about the inclusion of Udhagamandalam (or Ooty as we know it) in that list.
Now, a common perception about Ooty goes this way a) used to be a beautiful destination b) now super crowded c) not worth it. Hence, a fair amount of incredulity is shown by people when I name Ooty in the best places I have been to. Can’t blame them as I too had similar notions about the place, that is, it might have been spoilt by the teeming number of tourists, won’t find any peaceful spots with good views and so on. But this was before visiting Ooty, the highest place in South India, not now.
Below are a few things that I think made a big difference to our trip
1. Avoid all attractions in the town of Ooty
If you don’t like crowds, avoid all the tourist attractions in the town. Skipping Ooty Lake, Rose Garden, Doddabetta Peak will not only help you miss out on loads of crowds but also save a lot of time, as they have absolutely nothing special to offer. Attractions like Botanical Garden & Nilgiri Toy train should be considered if traveling with kids.
2. Rent a Bike
This is important. Having skipped all the attractions in the town, you have no options but to explore things around Ooty. You can do this either shared cabs & buses or rent a bike (because the former option doesn’t make sense at all).
Once you have a bike under you, choose any road out of the city and you will be amazed how beautiful the place is. The roads here are impeccable, the scenery mindblowing and the weather pleasant. If some routes have beautiful lakes on every 5km,
others will have huge meadows will little toda huts visible in distance, whereas some routes will just have colorful villages where you will want to spend your afternoons sipping hot tea.
3. Avoid town, even for accommodation & food
This one might sound tricky, but its things like these that hamper your experience the most. Ooty has tonnes of Marwari Restaurants, Kebab places, Chinese Fast Food joints that give shit food. And expensive. Avoid, avoid.
We found our best food on stalls, or in small villages while on our way around Ooty. Lime tea in this part is to die for. Do not miss it.
Accommodation. As one can guess, there is no shortage of rooms in Ooty. Problem is, again, the crowded town. There are, of course, peaceful resorts & holiday homes with lavish setting, but they burn a hole in your pocket that will take you months to recover from, plus its not the travelers way of doing things.
Ooty, in my opinion, has some of the best camping locations in South India. Apart from few places, there are no restrictions on camping, and you will have vast spaces of lands or water bodies at your disposal to set up your camp. Few places where camping can be done without a second thought are 7th mile, 8th mile, Emerald lake.
If camping is not your thing, you can find rooms in almost every village outside Ooty too. Though these will demand an effort of actually wandering from one village to another, the result will be more than rewarding. Just choose a village settled slightly above the main roads and you will find a room you won’t want to leave for a week.
4. Do not Visit Between March to May
We visited Ooty in Jan, an idle period as per the shopkeepers there, and were flabbergasted by the number of people even at that time of the year. Just imagine what happens there during Spring. Strict no no.
5. Do not Miss the Tea Gardens
Ooty is not very famous for its tea gardens (which are thought as exclusively associated with Munnar). That’s a big mistake. Munnar’s beauty lies in the huge spreads of Tea Gardens, whereas Ooty’s Tea gardens fetch their beauty from endless lakes they surround.
Most of the tea gardens around Ooty are developed around lakes, which make them equally beautiful, if not better. Unfortunately, these spots are not popular and hence you will have to keep finding small roads to reach these. The best among these are around Avalanche lake, and other lakes that fall on that route.
6. Don’t Spend too Much
Ooty is highly commercialized and you will find agents bugging you for rooms, tours and even food. Do not listen to these. These agents actually start from double the usual price and end up at around 1.5 times of what should be paid.
Find a room on your own. Avoid fancy restaurants. Ooty doesn’t have any cultural culinary delights, so its best stick with the basic Dosas & Bread Omelettes.
Avoid tours. Bus or cab or whatever. You will end up paying much more than renting up a bike.
We stayed for 4 days here, and did hell lot of things, all under our 1000 per day program.
7. Take Permissions from Forest Department
This, again, applies if you are on a bike. Some of the highly rated attractions like trekking Mukurti Peak, going beyond Avalanche lake and reaching upper Bhavani lake etc. require prior permissions from forest department if you are traveling on a personal vehicle. The process is not a tedious one but one should know plan accordingly as the disappointment faced otherwise is huge.
8. Do Not Litter
I know this sounds more like preaching but is very important. The authorities in Ooty have done a fantastic job in maintaining its attractions. Even points as distant as Needle Point (which is amazing, by the way) have a nominal Rs10 entry ticket, and are spotlessly clean. You won’t find a single plastic bag at these places. Small detail. Big Impact. Make sure you leave the place as you find it, if not better.
Summary of south India bike tour