Saturday 27 June 2015

Destination guide: Snooty Ooty

In the time of the British Empire, Ooty in the Nilgiri hills was the hill station where the British administration in Chennai - then known as Madras - headed to in the summer to cool down. 

Nilgiri Hills
Being in India during the heat of summer ourselves, we could understand the attraction.

The town itself is definitely not 19th century British- its a bit of a sprawl, loud and full of traffic and cows! Get out into the hills, however and its a different story - soaring pine trees, hectares of tea plantations and beautiful heritage buildings.

Walking through the pine forests
That's not to say that the town isn't interesting - we really enjoyed getting lost in the market and eating at the local snack stalls in the main town area.

1. What to do
Get out into the hills: The landscapes of the Nilgiri hills are beautiful. Its worth getting yourself up into the pine tree forests, through local villages to reach the peaks and look out points, where you can admire the panoramic views, before walking back down through lush tea plantations.

To get yourself a guide, go to the tourist information centre on the roundabout near the railway station on the corner of the Coimbatore-Ooty Highway and North Lake Road. It costs 500 rupees (£5/$7 per person) for a 5 hour walk. 

Our guide wasn't the most informative, but he did take us on a beautiful walk, which I'm not sure we'd have been able to do by ourselves.

A day at the races: We were in Ooty in June in the height of the racing season and so were excited to go along and try our luck. It was a very local affair and the other punters seemed a bit bemused to see us there, but a couple were soon giving us tips on who they thought we should be betting on. 

Minimum bets were 20 rupees (20p/ 30cents), which is what we stuck to on most of the races.  On the odd race, when we were feeling a bit flash, we upped our bets to 100 rupees (£1/$1.60). Needless to say, we didn't walk away as millionaires, but a fantastic afternoon out.

A winning ticket!
Take a ride on the historic mountain toy train: The railway line that takes you up and down the hill to Ooty was completed in 1899. Its a classic train ride along a picturesque route and was given UNESCO world heritage status in 2004.

Out the window
From Ooty, there a couple of trips down to Coonor every day for the heart-stopping (!) price of 15 rupees (15p/ 20cents). From there you can get a bus back up the hill.

At the station
Train tickets can be bought from a small office on the other side of the road from the tourist information centre on the Coimbatore-Ooty Highway.

Get to highest point: At 2,633 metres high, Dodabetta look-out is the highest point in the Nilgiri hills, offering panoramic views across the valleys. It also gets very crowded. We were there in June, which is high season and we arrived mid-morning and it was very busy. It was good to get to the top of the highest peak, but I have to say the views on our walk were better. It's 5 rupees to get to the viewpoint and 10 to take a camera.

Dodabetta selfie
Visit the tea museum: Chinese tea was introduced by the British to the Nilgiri hills in the 1830s and the climate suited it well. After walking through the tea plantation on our hike, I was interested to learn more about the history of tea in the area and how tea goes from field to pot. 

Tea processing
This small museum had all of the factory equipment in working order and demonstrated the cutting and drying processes the leaves have to go through. And there was a free sample at the end!

Buy your tea here!
Ooty's gardens: We didn't make it to the Botanical gardens, but did spend a relaxing couple of hours strolling through the rose garden - a lovely setting for a pic-nic or afternoon walk. It was 20 rupees (£2/$3) plus an inevitable camera charge, which was the same again. 

Stroll around the market: We've been to lots of different markets around the world and so I'm not sure why we particularly enjoyed strolling around Ooty's market, but it was full of life and friendly. People seemed happy and curious to see us there and didn't mind us asking questions and taking pictures. 

Jasmine and other flowers on sale at the market
2. Where to eat (& drink)
In the main town area, there are plenty of local canteen type eateries, all of which serve tasty local fare. We ate masala dosas, veggie thalis and paneer curries in a couple of places along the Upper Bazaar. They are mostly not much to look at and you'll probably have to eat with your hands, but the food is generally good and very cheap. 

We also found a couple of the small food stands in town very friendly and reliable for tasty idlis (a savoury cake made of lentils and rice) or bhaji type snacks.

Local snack bar
However, as we were on holiday, we did also treat ourselves to good restaurants in Ooty. On our first night, we headed up to Earl's Secret - a restaurant located in the King's Cliff hotel, which looked like the dining room of a private school or all members club - with dark wood covering the walls and coats of arms on the walls. 

We really enjoyed the food there, but were a little disappointed that they didn't serve any alcohol. As I was curtly told 'no alcohol ma'am, just food'. Feeling the need for a beer (we were on holiday after all and there didn't appear to be any bars in town, only very dodgy looking liquor stalls), for our next night out, we went to one of the most expensive looking hotels in the guidebook, the Savoy Taj.

Paneer and black dal

Arriving early evening, we enjoyed a beer in the gardens, as the sun went down, before heading inside for a delicious dinner. Once we'd eaten, we took our drinks back outside and sat beside the bonfire - it gets cold in Ooty at night. 


In sum, for cheap hearty fare, go to the local canteens in town. For more of a restaurant experience, pick one of the nicer hotels (but don't be surprised if they don't serve alcohol).

3. Getting there and away 
The 'classic' way to get to Ooty is get an overnight train from Chennai and then the first mountain toy train journey in the morning. However, in high season you need to book ahead.

If (like us) you don't book ahead, there are regular overnight sleeper buses from Chennai. The 2+1 A/C buses are best, as you get a proper bed, although the windy roads of the last section up the hill do mean you get thrown about a bit. Our bus was supposed to take 12 hours, but it was late and then the journey itself took about 14 hours. It cost around 900 rupees (£9/$14).

The bus journey to and from Ooty from Bangalore is about 9 hours. It also costs around 900 rupees.

4. Getting around

Once in Ooty, you'll need transport to get to most places. There's a 'hop on, hop off' type bus, the 'circuit bus' that runs from the bus station to most of the attractions, including Dodabetta look-out, the tea museum and the botanical gardens. 

As ever the reliable tuk-tuk can get you most places!

5. Where to stay

We stayed in Reflections Guest House, which was fine and a good location for what we wanted, although the staff were not the most welcoming or helpful. There are some really nice heritage hotels in the area, so if you do more research than we did you might find a real gem.

Eff It, I'm On Holiday


  1. Oooh, I would love to visit that tea museum and learn more about how the tea is processed, I once visited a chocolate factory and it was fascinating! :D

    1. It was interesting and we bought some tea to bring back with us too. I bet the chocolate museum smelt amazing - hope you got some free samples?

  2. India is one of those countries that doesn't appeal to me very much (for sanitary reasons) although I know there is a lot to see and do there. Nilgiri Hills look really beautiful.

    1. India is an amazing country. There is so much to see. This was our second visit to the country and we have plans to go back. I hope tales of Delhi belly don't put you off. I didn't get sick on either of our visits.

  3. Sounds like you had a great time. Is alcohol not served for religious reasons?

    1. Apparently, its really difficult to get an alcohol license and can be really costly. Some states in India haven't issues new licences in years, so there's big bucks to be made by selling the licences that already exist. I think the cost and the hassle is just not worth it for the smaller restaurants and hotels.

  4. Looks great! I only know Ooty because it's got lots of boarding schools that Indians abroad send their kids back to. I always was threatened with boarding school in Ooty when I misbehaved as a kid. It was enough to keep me on the straight and narrow because I had zero interest in living in India! #theweeklypostcard

    1. Ha! I didn't know that. Has the Ooty threat put you off ever visiting the Nilgiri hills?

      Just did a quick google - loving the uniform for the Lawrence School!

  5. I am looking forward to visit India and I had not heard of Ooty. We had similar alcohol issues in Sri Lanka, but mostly because every 2nd day seemed to be Buddha's birthday

  6. I have heard such good thinks about Sri Lanka... definitely on the list!

    Why wouldn't Buddha want you to toast his special day(s)!?