A walk in the clouds : Bangalore to Coonoor | Horn please, OK?

A walk in the clouds : Bangalore to Coonoor

Route: Bangalore -> Ooty -> CoonoorWhen : April 2013 | How far : 600 kms | How long: 10 hrs

Itching to get out of the city and looking for a break from the tedium of everyday life, we set our sights on the verdant slopes and cool climes of Coonoor.

To be honest, it wasn't our first choice. Wayanad featured higher on the list. But some unsolicited advice and a wiki search were enough to make us change our minds.

Coonoor, a hill station in the Nilgiris, is often thought of as Ooty's poorer cousin and is a short, winding 17 kms away. That very supposition is what keeps loud, raucous tourists away and helps the small town retain its quiet beauty and serenity.

Enchanted woods

To get to Coonoor, we took the Bangalore Mysore highway which is a wide four lane one but has annoying speed breakers every couple of kilometers which sort of defeats the purpose of being on a highway. From Mysore we continued south on the Kozhikode - Mysore highway (SH212). The road after Mysore has two lanes and is undivided so watch out for oncoming traffic. The next milestone is Gundlupet where the highway splits right towards Kozhikode. For Ooty, keep left and follow the road signs for Bandipur National Park. Once past Gundlupet, the road and traffic quality both improve and the drive becomes more enjoyable. The rural landscape gives way to a thickly forested one indicating the start of Bandipur National Park.

A small gate demarcates the official entry to the park and on entering you are required to stick to a speed limit of 40 kmph for the benefit of the local residents- the furry ones. Its one of the more beautiful drives we've taken - a wide paved road twisting and turning through thickets of towering trees with silver barks. We were lucky to spot some of the inhabitants including a few grazing deer and a family of langoors.

Bandipur gives way to Mudumalai National Park at Theppakadu which also marks the beginning of Tamil Nadu. After crossing into Mudumalai, we were mobbed by a group of jeep drivers ready to take us on a "safari" for a 1000 bucks. Taking a rain check we turned left towards Masinagudi. This is a shorter route for Ooty but also a narrower one. The alternative is to turn right (on to  SH67 - Gundlupet-Ooty-Coimbatore highway) a route we took on our way back for it's scenic spots.

As was expected, the Masinagudi road was narrow and took us through the jungle. The quality of road isn't the best but thanks to our car's high ground clearance and 4WD we could navigate without much effort. The climb towards Ooty begins shortly after exiting the national park at Masinagudi. With lots of sharp hair pin bends (36 to be exact), the route tests both the driver and the car and is comparable to some routes in the mountainous terrain up north. Thankfully, the road is good and the thoughtful road works folks have installed mirrors at each bend for better visibility.  

A roller-coaster ride later we were on SH67 once again and continued towards Ooty only a short distance away.

Are we there yet?

To get to Coonoor one has to drive through Ooty. The fresh air stoked our hunger and a helpful passerby directed us to Shinkows. From the looks of it, this little restaurant has been around for many years and become one of those places that both local residents and tourists flock to for some good ol' Indian Chinese. Red checked table cloths, stainless steel dishes and no-nonsense waiters brought back memories of Kowloon in Kolkata. Our meal of egg fried rice and hot garlic chicken was supremely satisfying, if a bit starchy. 

With our stomachs full, we set out for Coonoor, another 40 min drive from Ooty. The heart of Coonoor town is a busy hub with buses, people and lines of shops. Wallwood garden, our B&B, or non-hotel as Neemrana likes to call it, is about 2 kms from the hub, separated from it by the lush Sim's botanical garden. The bungalow was earlier known as Blair Athol (learnt from a discarded signpost lying in the corner of the garden) and was built by a Scottish Major General more than a hundred years ago. 

True to its name, the garden is the most striking feature of the property. The variety of flora, the colors and fragrances all competing with each other create a heady mix. I fancy myself as having a green thumb but none of my plants, even on their best day, have come close to looking this vibrant and healthy. I blame the weather.   

If you haven't had enough of how pretty Wallwood garden is, read more here
Charming colonial bungalow with a beautiful garden

No particular place to go 

Our stay was planned for two nights. We reached late afternoon and had a couple of hours till sunset. The meandering lanes leading off the main road called out to us and we set out on a little exploratory evening walk.  The famous tea gardens of Coonoor covered every slope in sight. Clouds drifted in and out, brushing our faces with a soft, damp caress. Quaint bungalows bedecked with seasonal flowers peeked out from behind swiveling iron gates and stone boundary walls. They reminded us of stories we'd heard back in the 90's of Coonoor becoming a summer getaway for the who's who of corporate India (read India's oldest and biggest FMCG major), a perfect place to build that much coveted house in the hills; the proximity to Wellington gymkhana club with its sprawling golf course, increasing its appeal.  

The evening was spent reading by the fire and wolfing down large amounts of food. Geeta and her staff were helpful, chatty and non intrusive. A good end to a long day of driving.

Point taken

The next day was spent visiting 'view points'. Any Indian hill station would be incomplete without a sunset point, an echo point and with our colonial hangover, a 'Lady Something' point and Coonoor didn't disappoint. Fearing we'd run out of patience, we whittled down the list to the top two points - Lamb's rock & Dolphin's nose.

Online reviews of Lamb's rock weren't flattering, with people complaining about monkey trouble and a long steep climb. We went there not expecting much but the view took our breath away and the climb, while steep, had hidden stops and ledges which offered some fantastic views of the valley below.

Dolphin's nose was less breathtaking, possibly because we got there past 11 when it was buzzing with people. Catherine falls which can be seen from this point looked like an unimpressive thin stream of water. It might have had something to do with the time of year.

A visit to highland tea estate and a tour of the tea factory showed us how fresh, green tea leaves are turned into the black curly stuff that goes into your morning cuppa. We learnt the difference between green and white tea, one made from young leaves and the other from buds before they turn green. White tea is said to have medicinal properties and retails for more than 600 rupees for 100 gms!

Lunching on wood fired pizza at La belle vie, we were treated to a 180 degree view of Coonoor. The restaurant is one of the more popular haunts in Coonoor and is part of 180 McIver, a lovely old style B&B. A bit hard to find but worth the hard work.  Our photographs don't do justice to the place and so you'll just have to do with this  La belle vie & 180 McIver

Sim's botanical garden, our final touristy-place-to-visit stretches out over 12 hectares of land and is a proud home to more than 1000 species of trees and plants from all over the world. The park has some picturesque spots that make for good photo ops.

Another languorous evening was enjoyed at Wallwood garden which was followed up with dinner at the Gateway hotel on church road. The restaurant and attached bar belong to a different era. I could easily picture my grandfather sitting on one of the leather chairs swilling his scotch and smoking his pipe.

A friend had spoken of a cheese farm called Acres Wild which was worth a visit but on inquiring we found out that a visit was possible only if you were staying at their B&B. Ah well, there was always next time.

Homeward bound

We left Coonoor bright and early the next day. On our drive back to Bangalore we kept on SH67 and drove through the heart of Mudumalai forest reserve. The vegetation was lush for the time of year and the smell of eucalyptus wafted to us through open windows.

Passing multiple signs to Pykara boat house it looked like the universe was trying to tell us something (either that or Tamil Nadu tourism was doing a great job) and we gave in, making a slight detour. A narrow, muddy road turns left from the highway and ten minutes later you emerge onto a tarred road with this view on your left

As tempted as we were to take a ride on one of those boats, time wouldn't permit it. So a chocobar and three pictures were all we got out of Pykara lake.

The road joined the state highway at Theppakadu which eventually took us home.

Coonoor has given us a reason to renew our efforts to climb that corporate ladder. It may not be the 90's anymore but the enchanting hill station is still just as attractive a destination for that house in the hills.  
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