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Monday, 29 January 2018

Ooty as a winter destination (a guide to offbeat Ooty)

   Initial apprehensions about the weather were there.We were sceptical more about the rains in Ooty than anything else.This was my fourth visit to the hill station.In all my previous visits I have encountered rains ,or cloudy weather in Ooty.However the chill was what we were looking for.So Google showing temperature of about nine  degrees at night ,was actually thrilling.


  Ooty comes with a deluge of nature.Having known this ,we decided for Ooty despite all the crowd .We decided to visit some of the places which were a little offbeat,and so less crowded.So in this trip the very first day we spent at the places in Ooty like the botanical garden or the Boat house.The next 2 days we spent venturing a little away from Ooty ,to  Conoor and the lakes.

   WE  had the Nilgiri Mountain Railway in mind this time.However being the  year end holidays,tickets were not available.We were told at our hotel reception that we can get tickets to the unreserved compartments if we are ready to stand in queue early morning at the railway station.But getting up early in a winter morning ,during a vacation!!The Idea did not seem to work with us.The least you can do is view the tunnel through which the train passes from a observatory located on the way to the Dodabetta peak.It is the tunnel where the song sequence of Sharukh Khan was shot in the movie Dil Se .

The tunnel, P.C.my nine year old

 We did not go to the Dodabetta Peak this time since we had been there in our earlier visits.It is the highest peak in south India.One can get a stunning 360 degree view  of the surrounding peaks and valleys from there.

 The best way to explore the town  in winters is to walk down the footpaths.Click pictures and walk down leisurely with your family.For me that is the perfect way to spend a holiday.

As we walked down the roads we came across this fruit shop and tasted the passion fruit for the first time.There were a few more varieties of fruits quite unknown to us.What better way to know a place than experimenting the local food.


  Notwithstanding the crowds and the numerous buildings that have come up here to support tourism,a distinct aura of the colonial era still seeps in.The many churches  or the buildings of the British period when Ooty served as  a  Summer resort for the Britishers ,can still be seen.Then the homemade chocolates and the chocolate museums,were all over the place!!!Though I could not convince myself with the quality of the chocolates,and felt that the taste has gone down with the years.

Be it the change in ones interest with time, or my years of travel blogging, I saw Ooty in a little different perspective this time.The homemade chocolates,the pleasure boating or even  the omnipresent smell of the aromatic oils could no longer entice me.It was only nature in its raw form that thrilled me .Further more ,I feel Ooty has lately started showcasing something that had never been targeted at the tourists till now.It is the Toda tribe and its lifestyle!!I found this rather interesting.Replicas of the Toda huts were built at different places and trips to the Toda villages were also being conducted from places.We could not find time for it this time ,will try in a another visit.
The Toda tribe is the original tribal people of Ooty who resided in the mountain slopes till a Britisher bought a piece of land from them and built a  summer resort here.

Places in Ooty

If you are a first timer at Ooty you can buy a ticket to the boat house or the Ooty lake .Go for boating in the lake or enjoy some family time on the lawns .

.Take few hours for the Botanical Garden or simply walk around cross the flower lined roads.

You can also while away some time at the Botanical Garden.sit on the lawns of this place under huge trees ,munch on some carrots bought at the gate  or simply click selfies with your families.Though the place is a good one to bask in the sun in the winters ,it could not hold me back for long because I wanted to run away from the crowd.

Offbeat destinations from Ooty

 So the second morning we decided to drive out of Ooty.There are quite a few places within 20 to 30 km around Ooty .We took the road which leads to Kotagiri.With no particular destination our sole aim was to drive along the roads and enjoy the pleasant landscape.We drove slow as I stopped to click the flowers at almost every possible place.The sun was out and the rays reflected from the well manicured tea gardens.

We were looking for a break when we  noticed this open space with an array of small shops selling something.It was an unique experience to sit snacking right beside the road against a back drop of the tea gardens in the valley .Though it was not labelled as a view point,it looked like one.Small surprises like boiled titar eggs  or the regular bhel kept us busy.My daughters got their all time favourite Magi ,steaming hot.

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 I have always been a bigger fan of the roads than the destination,and the roads here are more than beautiful .The amazing variety of flora and fauna of the Nilgiris is what can beckon me again here.

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On your way back take a break at the Tamil Nadu tea gardens to the left of the road.Sip hot tea or coffee  in the fog and get your hands on some varieties of tea leaves to take back home.Back home we are regulars with black tea.Initially the shop selling tea here did not seem to have the correct tea leaves for us,but later we learnt that the Orthodox Variety of tea is meant for black tea.Still curious to know how it derived this name.

To me Ooty is all about nature. If it is not the tea gardens then its the flowers everywhere.If the pine forests are out of sight then i guess its the eucalyptus and the bamboo plants that give you company.

 After several rounds of google searches and enquiries at the hotel reception we decided to head for the Emerald and the Avalanche lake.These are two lakes around 30 kilometres from ooty .The roads are good enough to ensure a smooth drive  through the villages.Towards the end of the journey their are some abrupt gradients ,which can make it a little tough drive.The Emerald and the Avalanche Lakes are two lakes beautifully located in the valley.They are basically the same water body with a bridge in between.We parked our car beside the Emerald Lake and walked down to the water.This is a serene place much in contrast to the crowd in Ooty.IT is best visited for photography,or spend some time sitting beside the lake,basking in the sun .it is best to visit these places with your own food ,since thee are no shops or other eateries at these places.

Conoor can be visited as a one day trip from Ooty.It is extremely scenic,with the forests and the tea gardens on the mountain slopes.The misty slopes with tea gardens will keep you engrossed for long.In Conoor on can visit Dolphins Nose or Lamb's Rock ,though they are merely view points.You can also visit Sim's park .It is a park with a good collection of trees of different species from across the globe.
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The Drive Down Ooty

 The drive to Ooty and back is  factually more enchanting than the place itself.There are two roads to Ooty from Mysore.The first one is via Masinagudi,while the second one is via Gudalur.The road through Masinagudi is less picturesque and steeper.The drive is actually tougher on this road,but it is a shorter one than the road via Gudalur. The Masinagudi road is nearly 30 km drive whereas the Gudalur road is a 50 km drive .The latter is  a much more scenic one and the one with gentler bends.No matter which road you take you are sure to pass through the Bandipur and then the Madumalai Santuary on the way.
Enjoy the greenery of the forest and be on the look out for  the herds of deer .You might come across an occasional herd of elephants.I zoomed in for this flock sitting at a distance from the road.


 Stop for a tea break at the beautifully located tea shops along the road.You can also take  a pick of the many oils sold ,like the almond oil ,the eucalyptus oil and more.


While driving to Ooty we had taken the Masinagudi route,but on our way back we took the Gudalur route we explore another route.
There are two main attractions on the Gudalur route from Ooty.First comes the pine forests,a marvelous spot by the roadside with a lake at the far end.A steep gradient from the main road through the pine trees takes you to the lake. Fortunately all the lakes had a very good amount of water owing to a bountiful monsoon this year.

Then comes the Pykara Lake,with an adjoining Dam.We could not make it to the Lake due to time constraints.I would suggest that you plan accordingly so that you can visit these places,as they are far more pleasing than the places located in  Ooty township.

A drive back to Bangalore ensued with spectacular scenes all along the way.We took few breaks ,one at  a very picturesque location of the Tan Tea Estate.We noticed a sign board on the main road of a jail,and visited a unique jail little off the road.Read more here An ancient Jail in the Tea gardens.
the drive further takes its course through  Eucalyptus and Bamboo forests.The forests here are so dense that the roads are pretty dark in daytime.

Bandipur sanctuary follows soon .We took lunch at the Nisarga Dhama inside Bandipur .Beautiful surroundings but I cannot vouch for the food.
It was still a long drive to Bangalore ,and I was already waiting impatiently to upload the pics on the computer.

Stay options
We stayed at the Tamil Nadu tourism hotel .It is a beautifully located place with a variety of rooms of all budgets to choose from .Karnataka tourism too has its property in Ooty .Otherwise ,YOu have a wide range of places in Ooty to choose from.It is not difficult to get a booking even during the tourism season,considering the number of hotels here.
the Tamil Nadu Tourism hotel had its own food,I can rate it as moderately good.Though it is necessity when you dont want to go far at night in the cold.
To name a few more places,we tried out the Thallassery Biriyani place.It was a good option .For vegetarians ,The Adyar Anand Bhavan lies right in the heart of the place. 

We visited in the month of December,it was comfortable during daytime though the temperature dropped sharply after sunset  .Fortunately it was not foggy or raining this time ,we enjoyed the clear skies and the bright sunshine.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

A surprise visit to an ancient jail in the tea gardens in Ooty

  A jail in the tea gardens!That was exactly our reaction when we happened to see the rusted sign board while we drove down from Ooty.The people around us actually did not find the sign board worth noticing,since we were the only four who walked down to the jail building after taking directions from the Tan Tea outlet on the main road.After all ,a jail is the last thing anyone would expect in such a picturesque surrounding.

We walked past beautiful huts of the workers of the Tan Tea Estate to reach this asbestos roofed building.From a distance ,the jail building looked more like a well maintained warehouse to me.

A lone watchman hurriedly opened the doors of the jail to us. He readily explained the interiors of the jail in what we assumed to be Tamil.We were obviously the only visitors to the jail that morning.This is not very surprising ,as this place finds no mention in the places to visit around Ooty.

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The jail has two huge halls running parallel with cells lined up to one side. The asbestos roof has openings at places to allow sunlight.Towards the rear end of the jail ,there also exists a small room used by the British as an execution room  (as the watchman told us). The main hall of the jail is surrounded by dispensaries and office rooms.Part of the jail building has been converted to a tea museum.We went inside to take a look ,but there was nothing much to see except for models of the tea making procedure.
A jail immediately brings many questions in our mind.But what I was wondering is why should a jail be built in such a remote place.This one of course had  a very different story.

       In the 19th century  the British were starting tea plantations on this region of the Nilgiris which is called Naduvattam.Along with tea they found the climate of this place suitable for cinchona plantation and planned to grow this medicinal tree here.At the beginning they had started the process with help of the locals ,but seeing a slow progress they applied for more labours to the British government who sent  566 convicts from the Second Opium War and also  from the British Straits Settlements( Singapore,Malacca and Penang) to work here as labours .

The Naduvattam jail was thus constructed to accommodate the convicts somewhere around 1865.Another reason for bringing the convicts here was the rare possibility of escape of the convicts from the hills.With the Madras jail running short of space,this was a relief to the British. After completing their sentence,the convicts  were left free here ,who married local Tamil women and settled as dairymen and tea garden workers.It goes without saying that they never returned to their country.The place nearby ,where they settled is called the Chinese village till today.

This was a very insignificant place,but had a very dynamic past.Quite in contrary to the solitary look it bears today.The rooms around the jail building were locked,except the office building,where the watchman himself issued us tickets. He could only explain very little of the intriguing past of the place.There were many stone and metallic objects of those times lying around,with none to explain their use in the past.And then the execution room,though morbid ,yet it is  always fascinating to many.So did the convicts try to escape the jail at times.There was a lot to listen to ,but practically no one to tell.

This was my fourth visit to Ooty ,but I had missed this place in all my earlier visits.Probably because we had concentrated more on the very popular tourist destinations  here.
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The main building

The picture of the structure below was a canteen for the Britishers,as told to us ,but we felt that alternatively this place might have been a place to store the collected tea leaves,as their was an weighing machine right outside it.


                                                 The office rooms,in the premises

There were many things lying around old and rusted ,which we could not comprehend.Had there been a guide ,many of these objects would be explained.


                                                     The corridors and the cells

                                            An opening in the roof to allow sunlight

An old rusted latch,on the jail door 

The execution room

The Naduvattam Jail Lies to the right of the road while we drive down from Ooty.The best landmark being a Tan Tea outlet on the main road.There are two main roads to Ooty ,one being the route which goes across Masinagudi and the other via Gudalur.The ancient jail is located on the route which passes via Gudalur.This place is located after the Pykara lake and is about an hours drive from Ooty(approximately30 kms.)

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Rameshwaram(Tamil Nadu) And The Pamban Island || The Perfect Weekend Getaway

Rameshwaram and the Pamban Island

  Rameshwaram had always been a pilgrimage to all ,but my recent visit to place revealed quite a mixed bag of things other than just  a pilgrimage.I would rather call it  a melange of things ,from visits to temples , serene beaches ,tit bits of mythology strewn everywhere,or even places of inspiration as the newly constructed  memorial of Dr. Abdul Kalam Azad.


First and foremost -The Temple

  The Ramanathaswamy Temple in Rameshwaram is the most coveted place for pilgrims to the island.
It houses one of the twelve Jyotir Lings in India and it is believed that a visit to Kedarnath or Badrinath in the north is not complete without a visit to Rameshwaram .This small town in the Pambam island  is  a very popular destination for shaivites as well as vaisnavites,since Rameshwaram is also associated with numerous incidents in the epic of Ramayana.It is from this island that Lord Rama is believed to have waged a war against Ravana to bring back Sita from Sri Lanka.

 Once in Rameshwaram ,you will be surprised to see signboards of many teerthams all over the place .The teerthams are basically holy water tanks all over the island with temples built along with them. Each teertham has  a different mythological story associated with it.Twenty two of these teerthams are located inside the Ramanathaswamy temple itself and are referred to as Agni Teertham.

The visit to the temple for Darshan
There can be many ways of getting Darshan
1-You can start with a bath in the sea and enter through the east gate.and then take baths in the 22 tanks inside the temple and go for Darshan
2- If you are not interested in a bath in the sea you can even go for a bathing ritual at the 22 tanks inside the temple  and go for Darshan to the main shrine.The queue starts at the east gate for the 22 tanks also known as Agni Teertham
3-In case you are not going for the ritualistic bath (Agni Teertham), you can even go for Darshan straight(that is what we did)

A quick breakfast in front of the temple before starting for Dhanushkodi

I shall admit that I visited the place not so much  for  a pilgrimage as for the much heard of Dhanushkodi.
.  Dhanushkodi is the south eastern most tip of the island,and  it is believed that lord Rama had broken his bow here at the sea coast after the battle with Ravana and hence the name..Frankly I was interested in visiting Dhanushkodi to see the ruins of a huge cyclone which had hit the place on the sixties.Now those were things I had read about.But the very intriguing landscape there won over me completely .I had not seen a similar landscape before .As the bus proceeded towards the tip of this end of the island I could see the landscape slowly getting more and more barren .But within a few minutes of this ride waters of two seas started lining the landscape.We had the Indian ocean with its very aggressive waves to one side and the very quiet Bay of Bengal to the other side.The only habitation seen here was that of huts of the fishermen s village.

In brief ,Dhanushkodi is  a small strip of land with many tales to tell.
A cyclone in 1964 , devastated the entire township at the coast and killed nearly 2000 people .An entire train with passengers was washed away to the sea.A railway line connected Mandapan to Dhanushkodi at that time  no longer exists. The ruins of the once existing township ,like the remains of a water tank or  a church stand in the barren landscape as a testimony to it here.The cyclone had submerged much of this end of the island ,which was exposed for  a few minutes in 2004 again before the tsunami struck the coast.

How to reach Dhanushkodi
The tip of Dhanushkodi is about 15 kms. from the Ramanathaswamy temple.In case you are dependent on public transport ,buses ply at regular intervals and can be boarded from the temple gate.Bus number 3 takes you straight to Dhanushkodi .One can spend about an hour at Dhanushkodi and board another bus back.Till 2016 ,the road at Dhanushkodi was not good enough for buses to ply ,and the last few kms had to be travelled by a jeep .By the end of 2016 a proper pitched road has been constructed ending all travel woes.
The other option is that of an auto rickshaw ,which is very common at Rameshwaram ,the autorickshaw has to be hired with some bargaining . The autorickshaw has to wait at Dhanushkodi and bring you back to Rameshwaram.While negotiating it needs to be mentioned that the Autorickshaw will take you for a visit to the Bibhison (Ravana's brother) temple on the way

The waves of the Indian ocean at Dhanushkodi

I am standing here with the Bay Of Bengal in the background

A shack at the diversion for the Bibhison temple for some quick refreshments

Dhanushkodi through pictures


Then there are surprises awaiting everywhere.This tiny island was the home town of Dr.Abdul Kalam Azad .IT surprised me to think that a man of his stature had his very modest childhood ,and education here,considering it was so much more remote in those days.A memorial has been recently constructed here,as a tribute to the great man.(The memorial and Dr. Kalam's house are two different places.The house is not open to the Public since his family still lives there)

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The Bibhison Temple
This temple is located to the left of the road on the way to Dhanushkodi.We visited it on the way back .You shall get a big crowd and many shops in front of the temple.As you can see in the pic the fields lining the roads to the temple wore a whitish hue,It reminded me of the Rann of Kutch in Gujarat .Probably the sea water here had got land locked ,which evaporated to leave behind the salt.
As for the temple ,when seen from inside could be inferred as  quite an old one.The temple houses idols of Rama ,Sita, Laxmana and Bibhison .The priest at the temple enlightened us about the significance of the temple.According to him ,this was the place near the sea where Rama first met Bibhison. Lord Rama's entire army including Sugriv tried to convince Rama against accommodating Bibhison in his army .It was only Hanuman who was convinced that Bibhison was a saint and would mean no harm to them even if he was Ravana's brother.

The Bibhison Temple can be seen at the distance

An autoride through the breezy township

The autorickshaw is the best and the most convenient option to go around Rameshwram.The auto rickshaw can be hired for going around all the teerthams (small temples )all over Rameshwaram.The autorickshaws here have a different fare for each group of points to see .WE hired one to visit the  road bridge and
watch the trains passing over th Pamban bridge running parallely. On the way back we visited the Vilom Teertham and the memorial of Dr.Abdul Kalam Azad.WE paid about 500 rupees for this trip.

A steamer ride in the blue sea

We had plans to take a bath in the sea adjacent to the temple ,but we discarded our plans as the place seemed to be very crowded.You can definitely pay a visit to this place as this place as the remarkable thing here is that no waves are formed in this part of the sea.You can also enjoy a quick south Indian breakfast here at the many shacks around the shore and then go for  a steamer ride .My kids enjoyed the ride the  most .The view of the temple and the shore from the steamer is wonderful .I enjoyed the cool breeze and watched the fishing boats all around me.

The temple as seen from the steamer

The very appealing view from the streamer
A little bit of geography
Rameshwaram is located in the Pamban Island ,which is  an island in the east of the tip of peninsular India.This island can be spotted in the map of India as  a piece of land between India and Sri Lanka

  So the very first excitement lies in crossing the sea over a road bridge  and watching the Pamban bridge running parallely.The Pamban bridge is  a rail bridge and was the only connection to the island till.The most interesting part is that the rail bridge opens up when  a ship has to pass.

The Vilom Teertham
The Vilom Teertham is  a place where Rama is believed to have struck the arrow into the ground in the sea to quench Sitas thirst.So even in the midst of salty sea water he could get fresh water for his beloved wife.So there is  a well marking the place.THis place can be reached on the way back from the bridge(it is close to the bridge).

What we enjoyed is the time spent in the adjoining sea water.I would not suggest  a dip here . Few could be seen taking  a dip ,possibly because the sea bed was very coarse with rough edgy pebbles.

The sea from the bridge
The best connectivity to Rameshwarm is from Madurai.It is the nearest biggest town in the mainland of India. Also as Madurai is  a religious place,one can plan  a stay here and visit the Meenakshi temple too. Madurai is well connected by rail, road and airways,to the rest of the country.From madurai one can board a train to Rameshwaram .I am suggesting this ,since the train crosses the Pamban Bridge ,which can be an expirience in itself.
Otherwise,their are ample options for road transport which take an average of 3 to 4 hours.

Stay at Rameshwaram 
The best option would be to stay at the Tamil Nadu Tourism Property,which can be booked online.It is located right at the shore,there are many cottages too to get an excellent view of the ocean.Apart from this ,their are numerous other options around the Ramanathaswamy Temple.

A stay of three days and two nights are enough for a visit to this island. Rameshwarm is best visited in the winters.Though the place is very breezy due to the sea,it can get very hot in the summer months.