Us desis like our freebies. The more the better. When we book hotels on the Continental plan, we’re the ones lining up for breakfast like the way “real estate agents” line up when somebody mentions SEZ. Or how we stampede into Big Bazaar when they offer 50% off on their 100% crap. Now thanks to The Missus, we lucked into gift vouchers to any Taj anywhere in India. Now based on empirical data, you could have a dinner for two at the Taj, Bombay (and shell out some from your pocket to settle the bill) or have a dinner for a family at Taj Westend in Bangalore (and shell out some from your pocket to settle the bill) or go to Taj Coonoor for a long weekend (and don’t shell out any from your pocket at all, gotcha there didn’t I!). I’m not implying this place is cheap, it is not by any means. But it definitely is worth the money we didn’t spend.
Its easy to see why people state that Coonoor is better than Ooty (or Udhagamandalam or Udhagai). It’s nice, its small, and if you end up staying in an expensive place, there are still a lot of places you can cover on foot that will not break the pocket. Coonoor is at a lower elevation than Ooty and hence not as cold as Ooty can get during the rains or winter. There are plenty of ways to get here from the Deccan plateau, one is the scenic route through Mysore, Gundulpet, Bandipura, Gudalur, Ooty and thence to Coonoor. Or take the other scenic route through Mysore, Gundulpet, Bandipura, Thepakadu, Kalhatti, Ooty and thence to Coonoor. Or the even more scenic route through Kanakapura, Kollegala, Sathyamangalam, Coimbatore, Mettupalayam and on to Cooonoor. Only, the last trip might do your vehicle any good, considering the state of the road. You could save your vehicle some trouble going via Krishnagiri, Salem, Coimbatore, Mettupalayam and directly to Coonoor. This last part can be done in the heritage railway as well. The actual distance by rail is about 28 km from Mettupalayam but it takes a long, gentle 3 hours to get you there. On the way it covers tons of tunnels and passes over some spectacular scenery before depositing you at the Coonoor station.
You then make your way to Upper Coonoor, past the bustling bus stand and end up at the Taj. The hotel itself was a priory earlier and unlike anywhere else I’ve been, the driveway into the hotel passes a cemetery. Now, that, you’ve to admit, is not exactly the welcome you’re looking for when you entering the gates of what is one the better hotel brands in the country. However, it’s not as if you go past acres of them, and the residence proper will ensure that morbid thoughts are immediately gone the moment you go lay eyes on the entrance. The whole place has a nice laid back feel to it and the red tiled roof and white washed walls with ivy climbing on to them give it a charm of its own.
Coonoor is a town best discovered on foot. If you’re staying anywhere in Upper Coonoor, Sims Park is not too far. It is a park laid out in a ravine, and over 12 hectares. It is worth the 5 INR and 30 INR that they charge for adults and their still cameras. Video cameras are charged extra. Over a holiday weekend, it will have it’s share of boisterous kids and adults who’re trying very hard to enjoy their vacation. However, like I mentioned it’s large enough for people to have their privacy. There are the other usual points that most hill stations in India seem to have. Vantage points of view of the plains below, where folks from the plains come to gawk at the very plains they’ve left behind. Dolphin’s Nose, Lamb’s Rock, Lady Canning’s Seat et cetera would, no doubt, keep you occupied the whole day seeing as they’re around 8-10 km all along the compass from Coonoor. There are taxis available for hire at Bedford in Upper Coonoor or near the bus stand. You’ll have to haggle depending upon when “season” is. For those inclined towards exertion, the Droog Fort, 15 km from Coonoor would be a good bet. Its also known as Bakasura Malai and the route to the fort passes through the Nonsuch Tea Estate.
The other direction you could go to would be towards Kotagiri and Kodanad. The Kodanad view point offers you a spectacular view of the Bhavanisagar dam’s reservoir and onwards to the Mysore plateau. During the monsoon, this view is obscured by clouds of mist and rain, but the whole experience is quite stunning. There is a trek that is conducted by local Forest department. You can contact them at 0423 2443968 or 04266 278020. This is called the Thengumarada Trek and leads down from Kodanad towards Thengumarada. The drive from Coonoor to Kotagiri is quite good with the drive from Kotagiri to Kodanad takes you through some wonderful landscape. About 5 km short of the view point, there is a small lay by where you can sit an take in the peace and quiet.
Another option is to take a bus towards Wellington and spend a pleasant couple of hours walking through one of the prettiest cantonments in the country. The cantonment is about 3 km from Sims Park and you can either walk the whole way or take the bus. When you come back, you can walk about 5 mins on the Kotagiri road and park yourself at Tranquilitea, a tea lounge where your host, Sandeep will help you choose the choicest of Nilgiri teas and even fill you in on the history of the Hills. [Update: As of 2011 Tranquilitea has moved from this address. For reaching them, visit the link above.]
The long weekend did come to an end too soon and we very reluctantly turned back. Even though we had some money still left on the freebie. Now, that, you’ve to admit is very hard for a desi to do.