My Kind of Place: Ooty, Tamil Nadu, India
Head to the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu and the country’s favourite hill station to escape the heat and dust of the plains, especially during the summer months. Udhagamandalam, corrupted by British tongues to a friendlier Ootacamund, and finally Ooty, sits 2,240 metres up in the Nilgiri (Blue Mountains) range, which get its name from the blue-grey haze that envelops it frequently.
Ooty is dotted with quaint Raj-era buildings, many of which have been converted into hotels and homestays.
Leave your sightseeing checklist at home and choose Ooty for a perfect do-nothing holiday.
If you need to be up and about, there are tea plantations to walk through and a large lake to row on. But remember, Ooty gives itself the most to those who want to slow down, switch off and perhaps search for their own secret hiking trail.
A comfortable bed
Lymond House is an old-world, mid 19th-century guesthouse; think cozy alcoves, high ceilings, working fireplaces and a beautiful garden (www.serendipityo.com). Double rooms from 5,200 rupees (Dh286) including breakfast.
Another popular property, redolent of the Raj, is the Savoy Hotel (www.gateway.tajhotels.com/en-in/savoy) from the Taj group. If the going gets too tiring, unwind at the spa with an Ayurvedic massage or on the verdant lawns with a tall cool drink. Double rooms cost from 6,800 rupees (Dh373) including taxes.
Or opt for the outdoors with a stay at Destiny Farm Stay resort (www.littlearth.in/destiny) far from the chaos of mainstream Ooty. Try your hand at farming, learn to ride a horse or just sit back with a book by the fireplace. Double rooms cost from 7,200 rupees (Dh395) per night including taxes.
Find your feet
For a good orientation to this small town of about 90,000 people, walk up and down the arterial Charring Cross Road, peeking into the bakeries, shops selling shawls and woolies, fresh vegetable markets, and the like, along the way.
Head on towards St Stephen’s Church, with its stained-glass windows and graves of the wife and daughter of John Sullivan, who is considered Ooty’s founding father.
End the day with an evening stroll along the lakefront, which is heaving with locals and tourists in all seasons.
This man-made lake created in 1824 also has a boathouse and lots of family entertainment options, such as boating, pony rides, an amusement park, a mini-train, cycling and a deer park.
Meet the locals
Doddabetta Peak, at just over 2,637 metres, is an unofficial social hub, apart from having the best views in town. It is a comfortable 9-kilometre walk from the town or a quick cab ride away.
Or find a shaded spot for people-watching at the Botanical Gardens, a sprawling collection of Nilgiris native flora, including a fossilised tree believed to be 20 million years old.
Book a table
Tucked away high up in the hills, inside King’s Cliff hotel, is Earl’s Secret (www.littlearth.in/kingscliff/restaurant.php), perhaps Ooty’s best-kept secret. This fine-dining restaurant for Indian and continental cuisine, located inside a glasshouse in an old bungalow, scores high on ambience. Eschew the steak and pasta for the kebabs and mutton dum biryani (a meal for two, from 2,000 rupees (Dh110).
For a quick bite, head to the all-vegetarian Sidewalk Cafe on Charring Cross Road, which boasts the best wood-fired pizza in town (a meal for two, from 800 rupees (Dh44). And for authentic south Indian fare like idli and dosa, washed down by a cup of strong filter coffee, duck into Nahar’s Hotel next door, for its Garden Cafe (a meal for two from 500 rupees (Dh28).
With a wide range of gourmet chocolates, cheese, tea and spices, Ooty and its surrounds are a foodie shopper’s delight. Pick up some organic Gouda, Gruyere or Cheddar, and a pack of flavourful soft cheese (the Indian Summer is particularly good) produced at Acres Wild farm (www.acres-wild.com), from Baker’s Junction (Bedford, Upper Coonoor) or Shivani Stores (Commercial Road, Ooty).
Tea packets straight from a premium estate like Tranquilitea (www.tranquilitea.in) make great souvenirs and gifts. Stop by for an interesting tea-tasting experience for an hour and then choose from a variety, from silver tips to oolong.
For tribal handicrafts, indigenous oils, honey and spices, look no further than the fair trade Green Shop (www.lastforest.in/green-shop-ooty). And finally, don’t forget to stock up on Ooty’s famous fudge and homemade chocolates from King Star (54, Commercial Road).
Relive your childhood with a joy ride on the Unesco World Heritage-listed Nilgiri Mountain Railway – known affectionately as the “toy train” – from Ooty to its sister town Coonoor, roughly 20km away.
The full route reaches Mettupalayam down in the plains, taking five hours to cover a distance of 46km, passing through 16 tunnels and more than 200 bridges. Buy tickets time from the counter at the railway station.
What to avoid
Stay clear of hotels and guesthouses in the centre of town, where the traffic snarls and market crowds can get overwhelming, especially in season; choose a place away in the hills or among the tea estates.
Return flights on Etihad to Coimbatore (www.etihad.com) start from Dh1,589, including taxes. From there you can hire a cab for the three-hour drive to Ooty.