Travel – Ooty hill station

Udhagamandalam (sometimesOotacamund (About this sound listen )), sometimes abbreviated Udhagai and better known as Ooty (About this sound listen ), is a town, amunicipality, and the district capital ofthe Nilgiris district in the Indian state ofTamil Nadu. It is located 80 km north ofCoimbatore. It is a popular hill stationlocated in the Nilgiri Hills. Originally occupied by the Todas, the area came under the rule of the East India Companyat the end of the 18th century. Today, the town’s economy is based on tourism and agriculture, along with manufacture of medicines and photographic film. The town is connected to the rest of India by road and rail, and its historic sites and natural beauty attract tourists.[4] As of 2011, the town had a population of 88,430.

Quick facts: Ooty Udhagai, Country …

Etymology

The origin of the name Udhagamandalam is obscure. The first mention of the place occurs in a letter of March 1821 to the Madras Gazette from an unknown correspondent asWotokymund.[5] In early times it was called OttaikalMandu. “Mund” is theTamil word for a Toda village, and the first part of the name is probably a corruption of the local name for the central region of the Nilgiri Plateau.[6]Another likely origin of the stem of the name (Ootaca) comes from the local language in which Otha-Cal literally means Single Stone. This is perhaps a reference to a sacred stone revered by the local Toda people. The name probably changed under British rule from Udhagamandalam to Ootacamund, and later was shortened to Ooty.[7]

History

Ootacamund in 1911

Front of Ootacamund Club, 1905.

Ooty is situated deep within the Nilagiri hills (which can be literally translated as The Blue Mountains). It is unknown whether this name arises from the blue smoky haze given off by the eucalyptus trees that cover the area or from thekurunji flower, which blooms every twelve years giving the slopes a bluish tinge.[5] Nilgiris in general was ruled by Ganga kings and later by Hoysala kings, particularly Vishnuvardhana who captured Wynad and Nilgiri area during the 11th century.[8] Tippu Sultan was the first to extend his border by constructing a hideout cave like structure.[9]

It was originally a tribal land and was occupied by the Todas along with other tribes who coexisted through specialisation and trade. The major tribes of Nilagiri area are Toda people,KotasBadagas and Alu Kurumbas,[10]who settled in and around Ooty. The first reference of Todas in Nilgiri is found in a record dated 1117 A.D.[8] Toda people are known for raising water buffaloes and Badaga people for their farming activities.[9] Frederick Price in his bookOotacamund, A History states that the area called ‘Old Ooty’ was originally occupied by the Todas. The Todas then handed over that part of the town to John Sullivan, the then Governor ofCoimbatore. Sullivan later developed the town and encouraged the establishment of teachinchona, and teak trees. Like many of the settlers, Sullivan was highly impressed by the way the tribes cooperated, and sought to maintain this balance. He later campaigned tirelessly to ensure land rights and cultural recognition for these tribes and was financially and socially punished for this by the British Government.[9]

Ooty, India (ca 2011)

The Nilgiri territory came into possession of East India Company as part of the ceded lands, held by Tipu Sultan, by the treaty of Srirangapatnamin 1799. Rev. Jacome Forico, a priest, was the first European who visited Nilgiris in 1603 and released his notes about the place and the people of Nilgiris. In 1812 surveyor William Keys and Macmohan visited the top of the plateau. In 1818, Wish and Kindersley, Assistant and Second Assistant to Collector of Coimbatore visited this spot and submitted their experience report to the Collector of Coimbatore John Sullivan. John Sullivan with his party proceeded to Nilgiri Mountain and camped at Dimbhatti, just north of Kotagiri in January 1819 and was enthralled by the beauty of the place. He wrote to Thomas Munro – ” … it resembles Switzerland, more than any country of Europe… the hills beautifully wooded and fine strong spring with running water in every valley”[11] Again in May 1819, Sullivan came to the Hill of Ooty and began the construction of his bungalow at Dimbhatti (near Kotagiri), the first European dwelling on the hills. John Sullivan laid the path from Sirumugai (near-Mattupalayam) to Dimbhatti in 1819 and the work was completed in May 1823. The route up to Coonoor was laid in 1830-32.[5] Ooty served as the summer capital of theMadras Presidency and other small kingdoms, much visited by British during the colonial days, and as today, a popular summer and weekend resort. Soldiers were also sent here and to nearby Wellington (the home of theMadras Regiment to this day) to recuperate. Its stunning beauty and splendid green deep valleys inspired the British to name it Queen of Hill Stations.[9]

From May to October each year during the hot season, the Madras Government and its officials, the Governor, and his family, went to the Government House in the Nilgiri Hills. One governor, Sir Arthur Lawley (1906-1911), was an accomplished horseman, a quality admired by the Indian princes of the Madras Presidency. He enjoyed hunting with the Ooty hounds and was frequently joined by close friends like the Maharajah of Mysore. “Hunting, which had been the passion of his youth in England, probably appealed to him more than any other form of recreation, and he was a fine shot with a rifle and brought home many of the trophies – tiger, panther and bison – for which the Southern Indian jungles are well renowned.” [12] The Governor’s Residence, Government House, was the focus of activity and there was a splendid Club House with a fine golf course, polo, swimming and tennis. Snooker is said to have originated on the billiard tables of the Ootacamund Club, invented by an army officer – Sir Neville Francis Fitzgerald Chamberlain. There was also a cricket ground with regular matches played between teams from the Army, the Indian Civil Service and the business sector. Visiting teams would come from various parts of India as well as from the island of Ceylon. There were riding stables and kennels at Ooty and the Ootacamund Hounds hunted across the surrounding countryside and the open grasslands of the Wenlock Downs, named after Sir Arthur Lawley’s brotherBeilby Lawley, 3rd Baron Wenlock. There were Point to Point Races and Gymkhanas, and horse riding was a very popular pastime. The maharajas, the business fraternity and the senior civil servants had summer cottages at Ooty. There were churches like St Stephen’s and St Thomas’s and traditional inns. It was in many ways a re-creation of Old England. When the Governor was in residence the Union Jack flew over Government House and a six gun salute would announce his arrival and departure. The misty blue haze of the Nilgiri Hills, and the fragrant mountain rains were a welcome change from the sultry heat of Madras.[13][14]

Ooty is reached via winding hill roads or a complicated rack railway system, known as the Nilgiri Mountain Railway, built in 1908 by impassioned and enterprising British citizens with venture capital from the Madras government.[15]In 1882, a Swiss engineer named Arthur Riggenbach came to the Nilgiri Hills on an invitation from Government of India and he submitted detailed estimates for a line costing £132,000. A local company named “The Nilgiri Rigi Railway Co. Ltd.” was formed, and the Government offered it free land. This company insisted on a guaranteed return of 4%, which was not acceptable, and the proposed railway, once again, had to be shelved. In 1885, another Nilgiri Railway Company was formed and, in 1886, planning work commenced, using the Abt system with two adjacent toothed rails in the centre of the one metre gauge track. The work on the line commenced in August 1891 when Sir Arthur Lawley’s brother, Beilby Lawley, 3rd Baron Wenlock, the then Governor of Madras, turned the first turf to begin construction. The Mettupalayam-Coonoor section of the track was opened for traffic on 15 June 1899. In January 1903, the Indian Government purchased the line, and took over the construction of the new extension from Coonoor to Ooty. The Nilgiri Mountain Railway was operated by the former Madras Railway Company until 31 December 1907 on the behalf of the Government. In January 1908, the railway line was handed over to South Indian Railways. Construction continued. The line from Coonoor to Fernhill was completed on 15 September 1908 and reached Ooty, one month later. On October 15, Sir Arthur Lawley, Governor of Madras, officiated at the opening ceremony of the new railway to Ootacamund.[16][17][18]

Climate

Ooty features a subtropical highland climate (Cwb) under Köppen climate classification.[19] Despite its location in the tropics, in stark contrast with most of South India, Ooty generally features pleasantly mild conditions throughout the year. However, nighttime in the months of January and February is typically cold. Generally, the town appears to be eternally stuck in the spring season. Temperatures are relatively consistent throughout the year; with average high temperatures ranging from about 17–20 °C (63–68 °F) and average low temperatures between approximately 5–12 °C (41–54 °F). The highest temperature ever recorded in Ooty was 25 °C (77 °F), which by South Asian standards is uncharacteristically low for an all-time record high temperature.The rainy season in Ooty is generally very cool and windy with high humidity. The windchill may fall to as low as 5 °C during the day time. Wind is always high throughout the year. The lowest temperature was −2 °C (28 °F).[20]The city sees on average about 1,250 mm (49 in) of precipitation annually, with a marked drier season from December through March.

More information: Climate data for Ooty (Udagamandalam), Month …

Demographics

Panoramic view of Ooty

Panoramic view – Scenic beauty of Ooty

According to 2011 census, Uthagamandalam had a population of 88,430 with a sex-ratio of 1,053 females for every 1,000 males, much above the national average of 929.[23] A total of 7,781 were under the age of six, constituting 3,915 males and 3,866 females. Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes accounted for 28.98% and .3% of the population respectively. The average literacy of the city was 82.15%, compared to the national average of 72.99%.[23] The city had a total of 23,235 households. There were a total of 35,981 workers, comprising 636 cultivators, 5,194 main agricultural labourers, 292 in house hold industries, 26,411 other workers, 3,448 marginal workers, 65 marginal cultivators, 828 marginal agricultural labourers, 56 marginal workers in household industries and 2,499 other marginal workers.[24]

Tamil is the lingua franca of Udhagamandalam. Languages native to the Nilgiris like Badaga and Paniya are also spoken by the tribes. Due to its proximity to the neighbouring states and it being a popular tourist spot, English,Kannada and Malayalam are also spoken and understood to an extent.[25]

Governance and politics

Ooty is the district headquarters of the Nilgiris district.[26] The Ootacamund assembly constituency is part of theNilgiris Lok Sabha constituency.[27]

Economy

Blackened Nilgiri tea leaves

Contrary to the thought that much of the local economy is now dominated by tourism, Ooty is still a supply base and market town for the surrounding area which is still largely dependent on agriculture, notably the cultivation of “English Vegetables” and “English Fruits” grown locally. This primarily consists of potato, carrot, cabbage and cauliflower and the fruits being peaches, plums, pears and strawberries.[28] There is a daily wholesale auction of these products at the Ooty Municipal Market, which is one of the largest retail markets in India.[citation needed] Dairy farming has long been present in the area and there is a cooperative dairy in Ooty manufacturing cheese and skimmed milk powder. As a result of the local agricultural industry, certain research institutes are based in Ooty. These include a soil conservation center, livestock farm and a potato research farm. Efforts are being made to diversify the range of local crops with Floricultureand Sericulture being introduced in the local area, as well as the cultivation of mushrooms.[28]

Hindustan Photo Films, the film manufacturer, is also a major industry in Ooty. This is located on the outskirts of the town at Indu Nagar.[28] Human Biologicals Institute, which manufactures Human Rabies Vaccine is present in Ooty near Pudumand. Other manufacturing industries are located in the outskirts of Ooty. The most significant of these are in Ketti(manufacture of needles); Aruvankadu(manufacture of cordite) and Coonoor(manufacture of rabies vaccine). Cottage industries in the area including chocolate, pickle manufacture and carpentry. Homemade chocolates are popular among the tourists and the locals.

Though the local area is known for teacultivation, this crop is no longer grown nor processed in Ooty. Tea is more economically grown at slightly lower altitude and hence Coonoor and Kotagiriare local centres of tea cultivation and processing.

Transport

Road

Main article: Ooty bus stand

Ooty Bus Stand

Ooty railway station

Ooty is well connected by good roads. It is 535 kilometres (332 mi) from Chennai[29] (via Salem, Erode, and Coimbatore), 80 kilometres (50 mi) from Coimbatore, 18 kilometres (11 mi) from Coonoor, 155 kilometres (96 mi) from Mysore (via Gudalur),[30]187 kilometres (116 mi) from Kozhikode, 277 kilometres (172 mi) from Bangalore (via Mysore), 281 kilometres (175 mi) from Kochi (via Coimbatore and Palakkad) and 236 kilometres (147 mi) from Kodaikanal (via Coimbatore and Palani). Ooty is situated on National Highway NH 67. It is connected by road to travellers from the states of Tamil NaduKerala andKarnataka via the five main acceptedNilgiri Ghat Roads. There is also a road from Mettupalayam (Coimbatore) to Ooty via Kotagiri and Manjur, which doesn’t pass through Coonoor town.

Ooty, being the headquarters of Nilgiris district, has frequent buses connecting nearby towns in the district such as Coonoor, Kotagiri, and Gudalur. There are bus connections to most villages in the district via one of these three towns. There are also frequent bus connections to the nearby mainline railway stations of Mettupalayam and Coimbatore. The town also has direct bus services to various cities and towns of Tamil Nadu, namely CoimbatoreTirupurErode,SalemSathyamangalamKarur,DindigulChennaiTrichyTirunelveli,MaduraiThanjavur, and Kanyakumari. There are several bus services to and from the nearby cities of Mysore andKozhikode. Direct buses can be boarded for Ooty from many other parts of Karnataka and Kerala, including Palghat,Nilambur and Sulthan Bathery in Kerala, and Gundlupet in Karnataka. The capital cities of these two states (Bangalore andThiruvananthapuram respectively), andPondicherry are also connected via direct bus links.

Rail

A passenger train chugging upon NMR

Ooty is connected by a lightly connecting train service. The railway station for Ooty is Udhagamandalam railway station.[31] Mettupalayamprovides the interchange between ‘The Nilgiri Passenger’ NMR metre gaugeservice and the Nilgiri Express broad gauge service. The Nilgiri Mountain Railway (NMR) is one of the oldest mountain railways in India. The NMR was declared by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in July 2005. This connects Ootacamund with the town ofMettupalayam, at the foothills of the Nilgiri Mountains. It is the only rack railway in India, and uses the Abtsystem.

Air

Ooty does not have a civilian airport. The nearest airports are Coimbatore (96 kilometres (60 mi)), Kozhikode (141 kilometres (88 mi)) and Bangalore (309 kilometres (192 mi)).The nearestInternational airport is Coimbatore. Ooty has three helipads, one at Theettukal and two at Kodanad. The Theettukal helipad, was the closest to the town, approved by Airports Authority of Indialong ago, used for defence and VIP services. Pawan Hans was supposed to start its service with Bell 407, but being present amidst farmland, dislocation of the farm animals there has put the operations on hold for commercial activities.[32][33] The helipads at kodanad are located near Green Tea Estate and Kodanad Tea Estate.[34][35]

Education

Boarding schools have been a feature of Ooty since the days of the British Raj. They offer a significant contribution to the local economy. The facilities and standards of education are considered amongst the highest in India,[36] and so these schools are popular amongst the elite of India and some of the neighbouring countries.

Tourist and historical landmarks

The Government Botanical Garden

Fernhills palace

Ooty Lake

Toda Hut

Deer Park

Located in the Blue Mountains of theWestern Ghats, Ooty draws a large number of tourists every year. Lofty mountains, great lakes, dense forests, sprawling grasslands, miles of tea gardens and eucalyptus trees greet the visitors en route to Ooty. The hill station itself is a land of picturesque picnic spots. It used to be popular summer and weekend getaway for the British during the colonial days, later it was made into a summer administrative town. It is situated at an altitude of 2,240 meters (7,350 feet) above sea level.[1]

Government Rose Garden

The Government rose garden (formerly known as the Jayalalithaa Rose Garden, Centerary Rose Park and Nootrandu Roja Poonga)[37][38] is the largest rose garden in India.[39] It is situated on the slopes of the Elk Hill in Vijayanagaram of Ooty town in Tamil Nadu, India[40] at an altitude of 2200 meters. Today this garden has one of the largest collection of roses in the country with more than 20,000 varieties of roses of 2,800cultivars.[41] The collection includeHybrid Tea RosesMiniature Roses,Polyanthas, Papagena, Floribunda,Ramblers, Yakimour and roses of unusual colours like black and green.

Ooty Botanical Gardens

The 22-acre (89,000 m2Ooty Botanical Gardens was laid out in 1847[42] and is maintained by the Government of Tamil Nadu. The Botanical Garden is lush, green, and well-maintained. A flower show along with an exhibition of rare plant species is held every May. The Gardens have around a thousandspecies, both exotic and indigenous, ofplantsshrubsfernstreesherbal andbonsai plants.[43] The garden has a 20-million-year-old fossilized tree.[44][45]

Ooty Lake

Ooty lake covers an area of 65 acres.[46]The Boat house established alongside the lake, which offers boating facilities to tourists, is a major tourist attraction in Ooty. It was constructed in 1824 byJohn Sullivan, the first collector of Ooty. The lake was formed by damming the mountain streams flowing down Ooty valley.[46] The lake is set among groves of Eucalyptus trees with a railway line running along one bank. During summer season in May, boat races and boat pageantry are organised for two days at the lake.[47][48]

Stone House

Stone House is the first bungalowconstructed in Ooty. It was built by John Sullivan and was called as Kal Bangalaby the tribals (Kal means stone in local tribal language). John Sullivan started building Stonehouse in 1822, acquiring land from the Todas at one rupee an acre.[11] Today, it is the official residence for the principal of the Government Arts College, Ooty[49][50]

Toda huts

There are a few Toda huts on the hills above Botanical Garden, where Todas still dwell. There are other Toda settlements in the area, notably Kandal Mund near Old Ooty. Although many Toda have abandoned their traditional distinctive huts for concrete houses,[51]a movement is now afoot to build tradition barrel-vaulted huts and during the last decade forty new huts have been built and many Toda sacred dairies renovated.[52]

Ooty Mountain Railway

The Nilgiri Mountain Railway was built by the British in 1908,[53] and was initially operated by the Madras Railway Company. The railway still relies on its fleet of steam locomotives.[54] NMR comes under the jurisdiction of the newly formed Salem Division. In July 2005, UNESCO added the Nilgiri Mountain Railway as an extension to theWorld Heritage Site of Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, the site then became known as “Mountain Railways of India.”[55] after it satisfied the necessary criteria, thus forcing abandonment of the modernisation plans. For the past several years diesel locomotives have taken over from steam on the section between Coonoor andUdhagamandalam. Local people and tourists have led a demand for steam locos to once again haul this section.[54]

St. Stephen’s Church

St. Stephen’s Church is located on the road to Mysore in Ooty,[56] in the state ofTamil Nadu, India. It is one of the oldest churches in the Nilgiris district.[57][58]The church dates back to the 19th century. Stephen Rumbold Lushington, the then Governor of Madras, who keenly felt the need for a cathedral exclusively for the British, in Ooty, laid the foundation for the church on 23 April 1829, to coincide with the birthday ofKing George IV. St. Stephen’s Church was consecrated by John Matthias Turner, Bishop of Calcutta, on 5 November 1830. It was thrown open to public communion on Easter Sunday 3 April 1831. It came under the Church of South India in 1947.[47] The architect in charge was John James Underwood, Captain, Madras Regiment.[59]

Wax World, Ooty

A wax museum that houses life-size look-alike wax statues of personalities of Indian history, culture and heritage housed in a 142-year-old bungalow. Located in the Ooty-Coonoor road.

Tribal Museum

The Tribal Museum is part of the campus of Tribal Research Centre which is in Muthorai Palada (10 km from Ooty town). It is home to rare artifacts and photographs of tribal groups of Tamil Nadu as well as Andaman and Nicobar Islands and anthropological and archaeological primitive human culture and heritage. The Tribal Museum also displays houses belongs to Toda, Kota, Paniya, Kurumba and Kanikarans.

Deer Park

Deer Park is located on the edge of Ooty Lake. It is considered as one of the high altitude zoo in India aside from the zoo in Nainital, Uttarakhand. This park was formed to house a number of species of deers and animals for travelers to view.[60]

Sports

The England cricket captain Colin Cowdrey was born in Ootacamund on his father’s tea plantation, and lived there until he left for school in England in 1938.[61]

The diverse landscape of Ooty offers an opportunity to explore number of adventure sports and recreational activities, including hang gliding. Located around 20 km from Ooty, Kalahatty in the mountain ranges of Nilgiris is a world-class site for hang gliding. Kalahatty has a launch area that can be reached by a jeep.

Ooty Golf Course is located in Ooty town.[62][63] The golf course is set at an altitude of 7600 feet.[64] It is owned by the Gymkhana club in Ooty. The course extends over 193.56 acres[65] and comprises 18 holes.[64]

Tourist spots around Ooty

Ooty is situated in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. Many of the forested areas and water bodies are off-limits to most visitors to protect this fragile ecosystem. Some areas of the Biosphere Reserve have been earmarked for tourism development, and steps are being undertaken to open these areas to visitors whilst conserving the area. Much of Ooty has already been damaged by rampant commercialization as a result of tourism. Some of the most prominent tourist spots around Ooty are as follows:

  • Doddabetta Peak: It is the highest peak (2,623 m) in the Nilgiris, about 10 km from Ooty. It lies at the junction of the Western and Eastern Ghats and offers beautiful vistas of the Nilgiri Hill ranges. It is surrounded by dense sholas. One can have a panoramic view of the landscape through the TTDC telescope. TTDC restaurant caters the needs of tourists.
  • Pykara is a river located 19 km from Ooty.[66] The Pykara is considered very sacred by the Todas.[67] The Pykara river rises at Mukurthi peak. It passes through hilly tract, generally keeping to North and turns to West after reaching the Plateau’s edge.[67] The river has a dam and power plant. The river flows through a series of cascades; and the last two falls of 55 meters and 61 meters are known as Pykara falls.[67]The falls are approximately 6 km from the bridge on the main road. There is a forest rest House at Pykara. A boat house by the Pykara falls and Dam is added attractions to the tourists. Pykara boasts of well protected fenced Sholas, Toda settlements, undistributed grassy meadows and also a good wildlife habitat. The Pykara Dam, Pykara falls and the reservoir attracts many tourists.[66] Being one of the oldest plants in south India, the Pykara station still functions, generating about 60 megawatts. The first unit of 6.65 MW was commissioned in October 1932.[68]
  • Pine forest: Situated between Ooty and Thalakunda, this tourist destination is featured in many movies. It is a small downhill region where pine trees are arranged in an orderly fashion. The waters of Kamaraj-Sagar Dam are visible from the bottom of the hill.

Parsons Valley Reservoir,Ooty
  • Wenlock Downs: This is a grassland area typical of the original bioscape of the Nilgiris. It has gently undulating hills and is often compared with areas in the British isles such as the Yorkshire Dales. This is a popular film shooting area, particularly two areas situated approximately six and nine miles (14 km) out of Ooty on the main Ooty to Pykara road (also known as Mysore Road). These locations are accordingly named “Sixth Mile” and “Ninth Mile”.
  • Kamaraj Sagar Dam (also known as Sandynalla reservoir)[69] is located at a distance of 10 km from the Ooty bus stand.[70][71] It is a picnic spot and a film shooting spot on the slopes of the Wenlock Downs.[72] The various tourist activities the dam include fishing and studying nature and environment.[73]

Porthumund Dam at sunset.Ooty
  • Needle hill viewpoint: Situated between Gudalur and Pykara.
  • Frog Hill Viewpoint: It got its name as hill looks like a frog sitting on slopes of mountains. This view can be found while from Pykara to Gudalur.
  • Parsons Valley Reservoir: This is the primary water source for the town and is mainly in a reserved forest and is thus largely off-limits to visitors.

Emerald Lake near Ooty
  • Emerald Lake: This lake is near the town of the same name. There is a viewpoint near the dam. The rest of the area is mainly in a reserved forest and is largely off-limits to visitors.
  • Avalanche Lake: Adjacent to Emerald Lake, this picturesque lake is mainly situated in a reserved forest and is largely off-limits to visitors
  • Porthimund Lake: This is mostly in a reserved forest and is largely off-limits to visitors. Shooting of the blockbuster Tamil movie Roja was done here.
  • Upper Bhavani: This lake is in the Mukurthi National Park and largely off-limits to visitors.

Eco-friendliness

A lot of action have been carried out in the past few years to maintain the precarious ecosystem that is present in this part of the region. Plastic carry bags have been banned for years now. Residents, as well as shopkeepers, prefer to use recycled paper or cloth bags for normal use.[82]

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