I have been planning a solo trip to Ooty for quite some time. It was right after the monsoon, last year, and it seemed like perfect timing. And like most of my solo trips, this was an impromptu one, which means, I didn’t do any prior bookings for anything, well, except for hiring a cab from Coimbatore. The Coimbatore to Ooty taxi fare is cheap and this route is one of the best for a drive. However, when I landed at my destination, it turned out to be a nightmare. The town was overflowing with tourists, and as luck would have it, I couldn’t find a place to stay within my budget. But then, I couldn’t just turn around and head back home, after driving for nearly four hours! So, I started thinking of alternatives. That was when I thought of heading to Coonoor. It was only an hour drive from Ooty. In fact, it’s on the way to Ooty from Coimbatore. It was much less crowded and with a little help from Google and my driver, I managed to find a nice and cozy homestay near a tea estate. I fell in love with the place instantly and decided to spend the next few days in this beautiful hilly hamlet.
My hosts were an elderly couple who had retired to their home town after serving in the Indian Air Force for years and were owners of a colonial style bungalow overlooking the hills. I would happily trade a lavish resort against waking up in a homely environment with amazing views, great food, and warm people. They welcomed me with a cup of hot tea and the locally famous hot-cross buns. It soon started drizzling, and we resorted to more tea and long conversations for the rest of the evening.
The morning after looked as bright and clean as fresh linen, with the sun soaking the hills and the sky- a clear blue. It was a perfect day to take a walk and explore this quaint little colonial town. Coonoor is at least, if not more, 100 years old. The British army officers and businessmen had their summer houses, some of which still stood as heritage properties. The rain-washed hills and tea gardens, and the colorful houses on terraced land along the hills made for a perfect photo frame.
A walk around town
My homestay was a little outside the main town, and I thought of walking as far as I could. There’s nothing more rejuvenating than walking down the mountain roads, as the sun smiles upon you. I reached the town right in time for the local shops and eateries to open for business. I had heard and read a lot about Coonoor’s traditional confections and the classic bakeries which have been standing tall for generations. Like the Crown Bakery, for instance. They make this iconic Ooty Varkey Biscuit, which I am sure is found only in this town. Crown Bakery has been serving the town since the 1800s and is a confection lover’s paradise. I needed my morning grub after the long walk, so I helped myself with a cup of tea and honey buns and packed some goodies to go.
Energized with caffeine, carbs, and vitamin D, I was ready for another long walk to the Sim’s Park. Although it’s only 2 Km, it feels more on hilly terrain. As I walked through the town, I observed and absorbed the local vibes and realized that although this town has a very distinct culture of its own, isolated from the rest of Tamil Nadu. Surprisingly, I found it to be far less commercialized than Ooty and more serene.
Sim’s Park turned out to be a wonderful public area with manicured gardens, coniferous trees, and nature trails. There was a small boating lake at the center and rides for children. I kept walking all the way till the northern end of the park where it opened into a nature trail. The views of the mountains from this point were nothing short of breathtaking.
The tea gardens of Coonoor
Later that day, my host offered to take me on a tea garden tour, because a trip to Coonoor is incomplete without visiting a tea plantation.
Did you know, Coonoor is called the Darjeeling of the Nilgiris? The second largest hill station of Tamil Nadu, Coonoor has a plush coverage of tea gardens. My host was a friend with a tea estate owner, who was more than happy to show me around. We spent almost an entire day walking through the terraced gardens, watching the planters working nimbly at the leaves. There was also a small workshop where the leaves were cleaned, sorted, and crushed. I got also treated with tea made from raw leaves, something I had never tasted before.
Beyond its pristine natural beauty, I found Coonoor to be a place that is steeped in history, heritage, and stories of its people. And those stories became a part of my life- a keepsake that I will have with me forever. I was glad that I didn’t end up staying in Ooty, or I would have never discovered the charm of Coonoor, the way I did.
To experience Coonoor at its best, visit between September to December.