South India’s most famous hill station was a realm of tribal people and shola forests till the British annexed the Nilgiris in 1799 and John Sullivan, Collector of Coimbatore, made the first stone house here in 1823. Over the years, Ooty – hardly ever called by its original name, Udhagamandalam – took its place as a Nilgiris tea plantation hot spot, served as the summer headquarters of the sahibs who ruled from Madras and got its own churches, bungalows and picinic spots. Much of which now makes it one of the most popular holiday destinations in India.
In season, Ooty can be a crush of tourists. But the secret to getting the best out of this ‘Queen of the Nilgiris’ is: spend time in the periphery of the town and visit in low season. You will get a heady cocktail of rolling hills, tea plantations, villages, unbridled greenery, and unexpected lakes. And in the low season – when every comfort is still on offer, and an umbrella and a change of socks can see you through much – look out for the sharp fragrance of ghostly pines lining misty roads; the sun lighting up a hill even as the one beside remains shrouded in dark velvet; ponies chomping grass by the kerb; acacias in full bloom; the bright gold of witches broom dotting every hill; the aroma of hot filter coffee and even hotter sambhar.