Half a Week in the Hills… Ooty!

My parents and I had a layover of about a couple of hours before our connecting flight to Coimbatore. Sitting at Chennai airport at 8am flooded back the memories of the last year. This was certainly one of the most exciting moments ever – being my last family trip as a student, I was had been looking forward to it. I had spent the Indigo flight from Mumbai working on one of my class assignments, and was glad that it was on the verge of completion.

Waiting for the boarding announcement we pondered about the course of action for the day. We planned to get to Udagamandalam (or should I say Ooty) from Coimbatore, and were brainstorming about how to get there. I was an advocate of renting a car – it would give us a good deal of flexibility while travelling, and would feel like the road trips we used to take when my sister and I were kids. My parents were more interested in hiring the services of a driver, as it would give my dad an opportunity to sit back and relax. After a brief discussion, we agreed on renting a Hyundai i20 from Zoomcars for the next 3 days and made the payment en route to the aero-bridge.

Having finished the remainder of my assignment during the connecting Indigo flight, I was relieved. It was heartening to see the coconut plantations from the airplane window as we began our descent at Coimbatore. A little while later we were greeted by the tropical South-Indian weather as we made our way to the baggage claim. Since the Zoomcars request processing time is approximately three hours (we had booked the vehicle at 9am), we found ourselves with a little less than two hours to kill. My sister joined us in the meantime, and we had a short breakfast comprising of ready-to-eat noodles and ice-creams from the general store outside the airport. Little did we know about the adventures that lay ahead of us!

After getting picked up by the Zoomcars representative, we headed to their nearest depot. Having completed all the formalities, we found ourselves driving to the Adiyogi Statue twenty minutes later. We had been looking forward to visiting since we saw the unveiling ceremony on TV, and our trip to Ooty was the best opportunity we could possibly think of. Google Maps had become our best friend, as the hour-long journey to the statue was really eventful – we found ourselves passing by fields of coconut trees, and small patches of land blooming with yellow and orange marigolds. A couple of bridges and a few narrow roads later, we found ourselves at the entrance of the parking lot.

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The Adiyogi looked majestic – the peace, coolness and serenity one feels after regularly practising yoga was clearly visible on His face, and definitely was a stark contrast to the punishing Coimbatore afternoon. We spent some time there, and after a pradakshina of the statue we were ready to head to the next place on our itinerary – a restaurant before beginning the journey to Ooty.

adiyogi

Getting the car out of the parking spot was certainly the most hilarious part of the trip. The gearbox of the car was slightly different from the ones dad had driven previously. Contrary to most other cars, the reverse was the leftmost gear, and one needed to press a button to activate it. Ignorant of the fact, we found it impossible to get the car out of the parking lot – it kept going ahead when we wanted to take a reverse! Ultimately mom, sis and I got off and pushed the car behind while dad kept it in neutral gear. We got stuck behind a vehicle and it was impossible to get out without reversing the vehicle – and that was when we decided to approach the driver of one of the vehicles parked there (who had been confusedly observing us ever since we began pushing the car). He found it difficult to contain his smile as he helped us out. I am sure those 5 minutes were the most entertaining minutes of his day, and that he must have laughed his heart out once we left. The next hour and a half was spent in searching for a decent restaurant that was not too crowded. The day being declared a bandh didn’t help us at all – we couldn’t find one restaurant that was open! We ultimately gave up on the idea of lunch by 4.15pm.

The journey to Ooty was by far the most memorable road trip I have had yet. And the fact that we rented a vehicle (and not hired one with a driver) made the experience so much better. From cruising on the well maintained roads to trying to find an inexistent road and retracing our path by about 4-5km, we experienced it all. We discovered during this experience that the people in the small towns here feel really happy to help others out – never before had I seen anybody so enthusiastic about guiding us towards our destination, be it a lady carrying vegetables home or a pan-shop entrepreneur! Our ascent to Ooty finally began at about 5.45pm after we finally found a small restaurant where we stopped for tea. I dreaded the ghat section because I was really prone to carsickness as a teen – however this time was something different. We rolled down the windows and took in the freshest air possible, sang along with the songs on the phone, cracked jokes, enjoyed the beautiful scenery outside, observed the fluffy clouds, looked out for monkeys, and finally witnessed the sun take the rest of the day off. The most interesting part of this journey was seeing the buses travel up and down the slope – for a bus, the speed at which the drivers drove was just insane, and the way they navigated at the blind turns was nothing less than a work of art. By the time we reached the Club Mahindra Derby Green Resort, it was dark. We missed a couple of turns and ended up adding an additional half hour to the duration of our journey.

I always look forward to staying at Club Mahindra – I love every bit of the experience, especially their hospitality (they go to extra lengths to ensure that our stay is comfortable) and the amazing food. On arrival we were greeted with hot towels, honey herbal tea, and sandalwood paste. The slightly-sweet hot tea complemented the chilly Ooty evening, and the untimely rain helped in quickening our journey from the reception to the 1-bedroom apartment (which also had a kitchenette!). The bandh interestingly proved to be beneficial for us – our room got upgraded owing to the fact that one of the guests cancelled at the last moment! We had a hearty dinner at restaurant Ascot. We were spoilt for choice when it came to dinner, as there was every cuisine we could possibly want. With minds full of eventful experiences, and tummies full of amazing food, we finally retired to our mini-apartment for the evening.

As there were no 1-bedroom apartments available for the next day, we were allotted a couple of hotel units (it’s essentially room + bathroom). We explored the area a bit in the morning before the amazing continental breakfast at Ascot. We reached the clubhouse after a bit of a climb and discovered a number of hidden gems there, including a 6-player Carrom board. The pencil sketches made by the previous guests were really interesting – it was almost homely.

We were torn between going for a trek nearby and attending the salsa class at the club – interestingly we ended up doing neither. We spent the afternoons chatting in our rooms, playing card games and relishing on the delicious alphonso mangoes that we carried with us from home. We were serious mango-vores, having consumed mangoes on almost every day of our stay.

We decided to explore the different delights Ooty had to offer us, and began with the Botanical Garden. We couldn’t even park the car the first time we went there owing to a HUGE group of  100+ people who had come to visit the garden. The next day was a similar story – we managed to get a parking spot, but couldn’t enter the park as the system was down. We gave up after waiting for more than half an hour in queue. We passed through the Tibetan market on the way back to the car park. Spotting an Ibaco icecream outlet brought the biggest smile to my face – I frequented it a lot during my stay in Chennai, and finally found an opportunity to share the amazing experience with my parents and sister. I made them the best possible ice-cream I could fathom, and we finally left the parlour feeling really full.

On the second-last day we wanted to experience breakfast at a restaurant called “The Earl’s Secret” in Ooty. Although the hotel “King’s Cliff” to which the restaurant is attached is at an enviable location, our experience was less than satisfactory. There was no coordination among the staff – we were told on phone that there would be a buffet (and even quoted the per-head price beforehand), there was none.

Dejected, we ended up going to the other Club Mahindra property: Danish Villa, where we enjoyed a nice buffet. The last night at the Club was the most eventful one – we enjoyed watching Herbie Fully Loaded and Impractical Jokers while savouring a pizza. The three days flew past us pretty quick – I only realized how much we had enjoyed only when our stay came to an end.

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The Reception

The day of our departure was another eventful one. Google Maps gave us a hard time – it showed us inexistent routes and we spent a good amount of time getting back to the normal road after being stuck somewhere uphill. We decided to stick to the advice of the local people until we reached the base of the hills. Having committed to returning the car at 10am, and did everything possible to reach the Zoomcar depot in time.

Google Maps bestowed upon us its benevolence this time, showing us routes with really smooth roads and negligible traffic. We made it to the depot in the nick of time and proceeded to have breakfast at a restaurant called Sree Annapurna near the airport after completing the formalities. Besides being affordable, the food was just amazing – the Thayir-wada (dahi wada) was the easily the star of the day, and the filter coffee was the most amazing one.

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The flight back home was interesting too. We had a three-hour long layover scheduled in Hyderabad, where we bumped into one of my cousins and his family. Coincidentally they were booked on the same flight as us, just ten rows ahead. We chatted for a while, discussing about our experiences since the last time we met (on Diwali last year), and how my cousin Yash seems to grow a couple of inches every time I meet him! Our trip to Ooty has certainly been one of the best memories of this year yet. From last minute bookings to weird Google Maps experiences, we had it all. A special thanks to the staff at Club Mahindra for making our experience amazing.

Well, for those who intend to plan a similar trip, here are some pointers that might help –

  • If you plan to go from Coimbatore to Ooty, I would highly recommend renting a vehicle if you don’t have one. We found Zoomcars to be a very good deal for approximately ₹6,500– A Hyundai i20 Elite for 70 hours and 350km (over which we would be charged ₹12/km). The fuel was included in the package as well. BTW the airport pick-up and drop service is available
  • Speaking of renting a car, ensure that you take photos of the car from all sides to make a note of any prior damage the car has withstood and share the photos with the representative.
  • Although we loved visiting the Adiyogi, it would be best if one visits the place after approximately a year or two. A lot of landscaping is going on at present, and once complete, the experience will be something different altogether.
  • Do research about the bandhs well in advance. We travelled through a number of towns, and not a single restaurant or shop was open until 5 in the evening. Carry enough food just in case.
  • Plan in advance, especially for Club Mahindra (unless you are a Violet Card holder). We were really fortunate to find a place at such short notice. The food there is just amazing, albeit slightly expensive.
  • Carry adequate warm clothes. It is always cool there. We experienced that summer afternoons in Ooty have weather comparable to Mumbai evenings in winters. Preferably carry umbrellas for the sudden untimely rain.
  • The Derby Green property of Club Mahindra overlooks the Race Course and has a number of activities for the guests. Make sure you experience at least a few of them. Avoid visiting the property in winters – it is really cold. The staff there mentioned that the guests hardly ever come out of their rooms during winter.
  • The Tibetan Market in Ooty has great fruits, if you are interested. Chocolates are also available nearby. And if you haven’t already, do give Ibaco ice-creams a try. I just love the experience.
  • Google Maps is not highly accurate in the hilly regions. Asking the local people for directions could be more helpful. We had at least three occasions where the Maps pointed us to inexistent roads.
  • On a lighter note, if you are a mangovore like us, avoid having mangoes before a road trip on an empty stomach.
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