A SLICE OF NILGIRIS, A SLICE OF WESTERN GHATS
Ever since we (my husband and I) moved to Bangalore about a year back, we have been meaning to take a holiday in the Nilgiris. But work and lack of holidays coinciding with each other’s leave days were the constant deterrents. Finally our leaves coincided and we quickly sat to chalk out a plan. This is how we planned our itinerary:
Day 1: Mysore.
Day 2: Ooty.
Day 3: Ooty (Day-trip to Coonoor)
Day 4: Ooty.
Day 5: Wayanad.
Day 6: Wayanad.
Day 7: Back to Bangalore.
Day 1: We started early in the morning towards Mysore. A few kilometres before Mandya we decided to stop for break-fast at a south Indian restaurant. After a hearty meal of masala dosa and milk tea, we resumed our journey. On the way we stopped first at Tipu Sultan’s Daria Daulat Bagh which literally means the ‘Garden of the Wealth’. Like most other architecture in this part of India, this palace of Tipu Sultan too is built in the Indo-Sarcenic style. Preceded by a water body with green, manicured lawns and gardens, the palace is built on a raised platform. The most extraordinary feature of the palace is that all the spaces available on the wall, pillars, canopies and arches have intricate frescoes in the style of Mysore paintings. The outer walls have murals of battle scenes while the inner walls have ornate floral patterns which was reminiscent of pietra dura of the Taj Mahal. Most of the walls were undergoing renovation.
From there we set off for Vrindavan Gardens. Since it was the end of April, the sun was at its scorching best. It is advisable to visit the garden only after sundown when the fountain and light shows come alive.
From there we drove to Mysore which. Even inn that dry heat, Mysore greeted us with pristine roads and shady groves. The thoroughfares, the squares, the government buildings- every single architecture had the element of royalty etched on them- a welcome change from the ubiquitous glass and steel buildings of urban cities.
After lunch we decided to rest for a while before heading for the Mysore Palace. Our first stop was St.Philomena’s Cathedral. Built in the Neo-Gothic style, the cathedral has twin spires. The main hall has stained-glass window depictions of Christ, Last Supper, Crucifixion, Resurrection, etc.
We reached the Mysore Palace at around half past five, a good one and a half hour before the light show. It was teeming with tourists. Since this was our second visit to the palace and judging from the long queue, we decided to skip taking a tour of the interior. Instead we decided to wait in the sprawling front yard for the gloaming. It was a Sunday and tourists had milled to catch sight of a lit Palace. This palace too is built in the Indo- Saracenic style and blended Hindu, Muslim, Rajput and Gothic styles. Flanked by the East Gate, South Entrance and West Entrance, the palace’s facade has many expansive arches.
It was around seven in the evening when the rims around the arches were lit. At exactly half past seven the entire palace was lit. The palace was bathed in a brilliance that could only match the brightness of a Diwali night. The three gates too were lit, their arches looking like glittering garlands.
Ps: The Mysore Palace lit only on Sundays.
Day 2: After the historical splendour of Mysore, it was time to taste Nature’s flavour. It took us about 5 hours to reach Ooty. We took brief halts at various locations of the Bandipur National Park, sometimes to take a shot of spotted deer, at other times to catch a glimpse of the slothful Malabar Giant Squirrel nibbling vigorously. After lunch we headed to the most popular tourist destination of Ooty- the Botanical Garden.
My earliest memories of the Botanical Garden are Bhagyashree, the actress from Maine Pyar Kiya serenading Salman Khan in a canary yellow chiffon saree or Anil Kapoor singing love paeans to Madhuri Dixit about her melodious voice. The Botanical Garden of my memory was lush green meadows with enormous tree trunks, manicured gardens. Blossoms of all colour, shape and size. But the garden reality was far from my memory’s for it was milling with tourists so much so that the green meadow had been converted into a picnic spot, the trunks had become a backdrop for that perfect selfie. The slushy water in a pond had dried up to slimy mud where many a tri-coloured munia foraged.
Spread across an area of 55 acres, the terraced garden is laid out in many sections. It abounds in various flora that is home to many a bird. We navigated through the teeming crowd right at the top, the arboretum. Separated from the other sections, this area is expansive and idyllic. We had just about started to walk around when it started to drizzle and were forced to leave. As the rain petered away on the way to our hotel, we decided to visit the Ooty Lake. Boating in the Ooty Lake should be in every tourist’s to-do list.
As our boat started to motor on the placid waters of the lake, the sky on the other side was shrouded in dark, rain-bearing cloud. It lent a spectacular beauty to the evening. The sun beams struggled to peep through the cloud cover every now and then but they were over powered by the dark cloud. It was and windy and drizzle had started by then. The lake looked magnificent amid the small ripples that were formed by the rain drops. By the time our boating was done, the thick trees bounding a lake had formed a silhouette in the gathering darkness.
The drizzle too had increased to a rainfall. We scampered to our car and headed to our hotel. The night became extremely cold and wet.
We had been planning to take a ride in the popular Ooty-Coonoor Heritage Train, but the train was overbooked. So we drove down to Coonoor from Ooty. Barely 21 kms away, Coonoor is a quaint little town surrounded by rolling tea gardens. We first took a round around the tea gardens which was a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of Ooty. The rich green of the tea gardens contrasted beautifully against the blue of the sky.
Our next stop was Lamb’s Rock. We had to climb a few flights of stairs to reach the zenith. It was too sunny and the plains below were barely discernible. We were told that the place provides a good vantage point for the junction of the three states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Honestly we could not this make out. Probably we should have hired a guide. There is a small trekking trail around the rock that goes through shady groves.
We also visited the Sim’s Park which a smaller version of the Botanical Garden of Ooty. From here we went to the Railway Station of Coonoor to try our luck at getting tickets for the Heritage Train. Unfortunately the down train was delayed and there was no clarity when the up train would leave. Dejected we drove back to Ooty. After lunch that day we again visited the Botanical Garden and while I rested in the upper reaches of the garden, reading a book; my husband was up and about looking for more avian life.
On this day we visited the Doddabetta, the highest mountain peak in the Nilgiris. We climbed up to the observatory which provided a panoramic view of the surrounding. Thankfully we reached the place pretty early in the morning, for as the day progressed, tourists thronged the place. This place too abounds in birds. We spotted Nilgiri Laughing Thrush (in the trash bin area), great tit, Nilgiri flycatcher, pied bushchat, etc. From there we went to the Rose Garden where we saw thousands of varieties of roses.
We were done with having a look around this place at around 9 in the morning. Having nothing to do much, we again drove to Coonoor in the hope of the elusive ride in the Heritage Train. After waiting in the queue for almost two and a half hour we finally got tickets in the Heritage Train. It is advisable that one sits on the left of the train on the journey from Coonoor to Ooty and vice versa. Unfortunately, we sat on the right and the train was packed to the brim. Fortunately towards the end of the journey, some kind fellow-passengers swapped their left-sided seats with ours. The train meandered through tunnels, shady groves flanked by the Nilgiris on the right. The ride is almost idyllic. The valleys are dotted with colourful houses which makes a picture-perfect postcard scene. The train chugged along to Ooty at around 2 in the afternoon. After lunch at Thalaserry, we again headed to our favourite spot- The Botanical Garden for one last time before we left for Wayanad the next day.
This day we headed for Lakkidi in the Wayanad district of Kerala. On our way from Ooty we visited the Shooting Point and Pykara Lake. Pykara Falls is a must visit destination. Fed by the Pykara River, the Falls cascade in milk white water. Flanked by pine trees and green meadows the place is a dream location. We spent about an hour here and resumed our journey.
As we drove, not only did the topography change, but also the temperature. It grew warmer and more humid. We reached our resort in the afternoon. The Wayanad district is surrounded by the lush green Western Ghats. This place receives the second highest rainfall in India after Cherrapunjee. Late in the afternoon we visited the Pookat Lake. There is boating available in the lake though it is really not worth boating for the lake has a thin film of slime on the edges which looks hideous. From here we went to the Lakkidi View Point which provides a bird’s eye view of the serpentine roads that ascend to the Wayanad district and another that forked to Kochi.
It rained in the evening making the place green, especially the hills of the Western Ghats.
The trek to the Chembra Peak was closed due to forest fire. We were left with little choice. Early in the morning we headed to the Banasura Sagar Dam. This is the second largest earth dam in Asia and the largest in India. The dam has been constructed in the Banasura Lake situated amid the Banasura Hills. The lake looked a pristine blue. Boating and speed boating is available here. We opted for the speed boat. This lake is almost like the Periyar Lake. When we boated towards the interior we saw bare tree trunks standing starkly in the blue water. With little traffic early in the morning, the boating was indeed a pleasurable experience.
From here we went to the Eddakal Caves. One has to trek a few kilometres uphill to reach this cave. The heat had taken its toll on my health that day and I could only trek through half way. My husband went ahead with the trek.
The day temperatures can reach up to 40 along with a generous dosage of humidity. That evening too the sky poured itself. Our resort built in a hill flanked by tea gardens grew all the more beautiful after the rain.
We decided to go for the famous Ayurvedic spa in the evening that rejuvenated us after the day’s exhaustion.
After a complimentary break-fast, we set out for our return to Bangalore.