The Nilgiris, which literally means ‘blue mountains’, are a range of at least 24 mountain peaks running through Tamil Nadu and bordering Karnataka and Kerala. The picturesque hill station of Ooty, short for Ootacamund and now officially Udhagamandalam, lies amid four peaks — Doddabetta, Snowdon, Elk Hill, and Club Hill. As you chug through the spectacular landscape in the toy train, the wonderfully uplifting smell of eucalyptus fills up the senses.
The pretty resort town of Ooty was founded by the British Collector of Coimbatore, John Sullivan, around 1820 to enable the sahibs to escape the searing heat of the plains. Sullivan's legacy is one of the most popular hill stations in India today, drawing everyone from families to honeymooners to wildlife enthusiasts. Ooty's rolling green hills, extensive gardens, lake and waterfalls make it a perfect setting for some invigorating R&R.
Situated 7,500 feet above sea level, the weather in Ooty is perennially pleasant. Eucalyptus trees and tea and coffee plantations abound, filling the air with a mild heady spicy fragrance. While tea and coffee are the town’s chief produce, essential oils of eucalyptus, lemon grass, geranium, clove, and camphor extracted from local plants are also highly valued.
Sullivan created Ooty Lake between 1823 and 1825, and introduced plants like potato and barley and the concept of horticulture in Ooty. The town gradually developed as the summer capital of the Madras Presidency of the British. However, the original inhabitants of Ooty are the Todas, a tribal community famous for handicrafts like shawls with their trademark red, black, and white embroidery.
The main attractions in and around Ooty are the Ooty Botanical Gardens, the Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary, tea and coffee plantations, Ooty Lake, the magnificent Doddabetta (highest peak of the Nilgiris at 8,652 feet), and miles and miles of conifer, eucalyptus, pine, and wattle forest.