The sun shines, snow falls, mountains rise and valleys sink, night deepens and pales into day, but it is only very seldom that we attend to such things. . . . When we are grasping the inexpressible meaning of these things, this is life, this is living.
WHEN THE SUN SHINES ON THE MOUNTAINS
AND THE NIGHT IS ON THE RUN
IT’S A NEW DAY
IT’S A NEW WAY
AND I FLY UP TO THE SUN
I CAN FEEL THE MORNING SUNLIGHT
I CAN SMELL THE NEW MOWN HAY
I CAN HEAR GOD’S VOICES CALLING
FROM THE GOLDEN SKYLIGHT WAY
I know when I mention the Niligiri Mountains, none of the above seems right. We think of blaring horns and crowded city-like life in a colder climate! Fortunately, Ooty or Coonoor are not the only places on the hills worth seeing. I usually take the fastest driving route to get there, through a plethora of National Highways, the roads are beautiful, and the seenery is atypical of Indian highways. I usually leave Chennai early in the morning and reach our family home in the Ketti Valley, by early evening.
Taking photos on Sun Shines
I am a photographer, and my travels are always centered around pictures. So sunrise and sunset are the optimal times for me. On cold mornings, I head out in a car on Granduff Road (midway between Ooty and Coonoor, this is a left turn at Yellanhalli, which leads into Ketti Valley). Amble past the famous railway station, which by the way is a local celebrity, and cross the tiny village of Paladaand, head in towards the valley in the direction of Katteri Dam. As the morning mist burns off, tiny villages, well known schools, church steeples and the landscape that the valley is known for, comes alive. Katteri Dam is a tiny hydel project, which is surrounded by lush forests. It appears suddenly and is so cleverly disguised into the landscape that I usually miss the waterfall. Photography is not permitted here for good reason, but one can’t just drive by without marveling at the sight. If you keep driving down this road for a bit, there are plenty of terraced farms, tea estate and some parches of green to spread out for an impromptu picnic and lounge about, would urge travellers to stop by the farms and have a word with the locals; you will be able to lay your hands on some of the freshest produce the region has to offer and if you do witness swaying eucalyptus trees, do look up to see if there are men jumping from tree to tree. If there are, then you are in luck, stop and ask them where they extract the oil and you are bound to get yourself a bottle of unadulterated oil at a far cheaper price.
What will amaze you about this valley is the sound of birds. I’ve turned into an accidental ornithologist from my many trips here. If you can just sit down comfortably with your picnic, the birds will put on a great show for you. You will see like the red cheeked bulbul, which looks like the punk rock star of the birds’ species with his Mohawk. You will witness the pipits, sun-birds and the elusive Oriental White Eye. There will be drama over a worm and you will witness how size matters in the pecking order. Suddenly, you will realize that you haven’t switched on a television or checked your emails and the smile will spread wide! As evening approaches, head towards Avalanchilake. It is about 25 km from Ooty, but a sight to see either during sunrise or sunset. The landscape comes alive like a chiaroscuro.
A trip to Masinagudi and stay for a day at one of the many jungle retreats there is a must. Getting s well versed wildlife guide to take you on a trek or safari is a fun way to learn about a dying shoal forest that is in need of some conservation. Close by is Gauribara, which is home to a coffee estate and some ancient temples still used by the tribals. The place is an ornithologist’ and entomologists’ paradise. As you pack up to leave, you won’t feel bad that you didn’t get to hire a paddle boat at the Ooty lake. In fact you are about to embark on a drive that is about to leave a lasting impression on you.
Train Trip covers the sun shines on Mountain
On your way back to Chennai, take the Kotagiri route to Mettupalayam. Leave early, and watch the mist covered tea estates and deep valleys. At Mettupalayam, veer off and head towards Satyamangalam via Sirumugai. This road covers a gamut of small villages and farmlands that seem to have come alive from Tamil celluloid. Drive through Anthiyur and head towards Ammapettai, where are Cauvery river starts to flow parallel to the road up to Metur. ‘Picturesque’ would be an inadequate term to describe this route back to the grind.
Getting there on sun shines
One can take the Nilgiri Express from Chennai to Mettupalayam and drive up from there; or drive all the way from Chennai. Closest airport is Coimbatore for that available flights are IndiGo, Jetair,Spicejet
Try a home or farm stay in Ooty or Coonoor. One could try something like Destiny Farmstay, right on the brink of Avalanchi Lake. Or if you want to soak up the sights of a tea estate, Tranquilitea in Coonoor have several properties to pick from Or else prefer Hotel Combined search window to Book your accommodation.
Where to eat
Plenty of restaurants in Ooty or Coonoor.
The hills have an anti-plastic law, though it’s often ignored. But it pays to not litter. If you are packing a picnic please ensure you clean up after. Driving in the hills is dicey, obey the rules. Landslides are common, so check with the locals before you step out. If you are embarking on a road trip, don’t forget to do the one thing I always forget – check the pressure in your spare tyre!