6 Hidden Gems in Ooty: The Road Less Traveled
Ooty, developed by Britishers during the colonial era as a place to escape from the heat in the plains, is one of the most popular hill stations in South India. Its main attractions—such as the Ooty boat club, botanical gardens and rose garden—are well known. But it also has a lesser-known side with beautiful valleys, lakes and meadows that are not frequented by regular travelers. This part of the mountain is known as the Blue Mountain or Nilgiri.
6 Wonderfully Offbeat Sights in Ooty
- Nilgiri Toy Train
- Bison Valley, Belikkal
- Pykara Lake
- Sim's Park, Coonoor
- St. Stephen's Church
- Lawrence School, Lovedale
Continue scrolling to learn more about each of these off-the-beaten-path destinations.
1. Nilgiri Toy Train
Ooty is connected to the plains by road and a railway line. An old meter-gauge line connects Mettupalayam town in the plains to Ooty, and the train is still pulled by a steam engine! This outmoded form of transport has such a great legacy value that UNESCO has assigned it World Heritage status. Our love for heritage keeps this steam engine running.
The toy train leaves every day from Mettupalayam station at 7.30 AM and is scheduled to reach Ooty by 12.00 noon. This usually gets delayed as the old steam engine struggles to maintain its stamina on its way up.
If you plan to take the Nilgiri Toy Train, be prepared to arrive in Ooty a little behind schedule. The train stops whenever the engine loses steam (pun intended), and it takes a bit of time to get its breath back and restart its upward climb.
Numerous Bollywood movies have been shot on this train, including the famous "Chaiyya Chaiyya" song sequence in the Hindi movie Dil Se (Uyire in Tamil).
It is one of the most picturesque routes amidst the surrounding greenery and the blinding mountain tunnels. Along the way, you come across small stations with exotic names such as Hillgrove, Wellington and Lovedale. These names may not be so uncommon in a European country, but in Tamil Nadu, village names like these are special.
Bison Valley, Belikkal
Bison valley is located in Belikkal, about 26 km from Ooty, and it takes about an hour and a half of drive time to get there. This place gets its name from the wild Indian bison that can be spotted at ease in this area.
In addition to bison, other animals like monkeys, elephants, tigers and leopards can also be seen here. It is very rare, however, for someone to spot a big cat, and I am very unlucky in this respect. We once spotted an Indian giant squirrel in this vicinity, an impressive specimen because of its color and speed. There are also different species of birds such as bulbul, drongos, doves, shrikes and woodpeckers in this valley.
This place is suitable for adventure activities like rock climbing and trekking. The Mudumalai wildlife sanctuary is not very far from here and can be visited on the same day if one is prepared to travel the extra mile. We went on a vehicle safari in Mudumalai on one of our earlier trips and spotted elephants in the wild for the first time. A true elephant safari, which takes you deeper into the jungle, is now on my bucket list!
3. Pykara Lake
It takes about an hour of drive time to reach this heavenly place. There is usually very little traffic on this route, almost leading one to wonder if the road leads to the very end of the world. Luckily, it only means this place is usually less crowded than other attractions in Ooty.
The lake is fed by the Pykara River, and there is a dam at the other end. Located in a valley surrounded by majestic mountains and with very little human inhabitation, we experienced blissful solitude there. It is one of the quietest places we have found in all of India.
Boating facilities are available at this pristine lake, and one should not miss the chance to take a vessel out onto the water if for nothing other than the many photo opportunities it provides. It is the perfect place to spend an hour or so soaking in nature.
4. Sim's Park, Coonoor
Sim's Park is located in the middle of Coonoor town and can be reached in half an hour of drive time from Ooty. The park has a total area of 16 hectares with a small body of water in the middle offering boating services.
The park is known for its thick green cover, with tall trees competing against each other and reaching out to the skies. The park has many species of trees, such as camellias, pines, tree ferns and phoenix trees. One can also spot a number of birds inside the park, including Indian blue robins, common rosefinches and Nilgiri wood pigeons.
This park usually has a moderate crowd compared to the more famous and crowded Botanical garden in Ooty. On any given day, the Coonoor town has far fewer tourists than Ooty. Being less commercialized, this park offers a better connection with nature.
5. St. Stephen's Church
Ooty was the summer capital of the Madras Presidency during the British rule. British officials used to spend a lot of time in Ooty during the summer months, and they felt the need for a church in Ooty. The foundation for St. Stephen's was laid in 1829 by Stephen Rumbold Lushington, the then Governor of Madras. It was opened to the public in 1831.
It is believed that some of the materials used in the construction of the church were taken from Tipu Sultan's palace. The church also features many paintings on the walls and the stained glass windows. Apart from being a place of worship, this is an important heritage structure from the colonial era—just one of the many traces of the colonial legacy in India's mountains.
6. Lawrence School, Lovedale
Sir Montgomery Lawrence founded this school to benefit the children of British soldiers, and it was rightly named after him. The main building is a heritage structure built in the nineteenth century using Gothic architecture. Lawrence School continued to operate with the same name even after India attained independence.
To this day, it is one of the most prestigious schools in India, and children from all over the country are enrolled. The school boasts a famous alumni list that includes names such as Anand Mahindra, Arundhati Roy, Ram Charan and Sanaya Irani. One can visit Lovedale on the way to Coonoor to take a look at the school.
Are there only six offbeat places to visit in Ooty? Probably not! I'm sure there are more gems to discover in Ooty. If you discover more surprises during your next visit, I would be happy if you shared them below.
More on Ooty
Having read about the hidden gems in Ooty, would you like to know about its major tourist attractions? Read my article about the most popular places to see in Ooty.
Questions & Answers
© 2019 Mohan Babu