The misty mountain air, with a whiff of eucalyptus is a sure indication that the town of Coonoor isn’t too far away . It’s a familiar route that we have traversed on over a number of years – in the past, to visit grandparents who had made Coonoor their home and now in the more recent years, coming back for a short break when the hills beckon.
The abundance of eucalyptus trees (which have a tinge of blue in this region) has given the hills the name `Nilgiris’ – The Blue Mountains. A picturesque drive along winding roads, around 14 hairpin bends from the plains of Mettupalayam brings you to the small tea planter’s town of Coonoor. Crossing the railway line you enter lower Coonoor.
Set in a valley, the town area is an urban mayhem – a mess of concrete structures with buses speeding up and down with ear splitting horns.It basically caters to the needs of the town folk. Amidst this chaos, lies the Crown Bakery. Inside the bakery a small sign says `Since 1880’ and the same family continues to run it today! They are famous for `varkeys’ and a variety of biscuits and cakes.
As you make your way to upper Coonoor, past Bedford and Sim’s Park, you start getting some postcard views – charming houses with beautiful gardens and estate views.
Coonoor, was once known as a tea planters town with a flourishing tea industry and private plantations. The town’s economy relied on seasonal tourist traffic during the summer months, and on the tea trade year around.
While the tourist industry continues to flourish with an increasing number of home and farm stays, the drop in tea prices has brought a closure to many of the plantations.
Coonoor today, has become a favourite location for many of the city folk to build a second home, a place they visit when they need a break from their life in the city.
As kids, the highlight of each trip would be walking down to the Coonoor station to take a ride on the Nilgiri Mountain Railway to Ooty. A 1 1/2 hour journey which takes you across tea plantations, valleys, tunnels, and bridges, passing through the quaint stations of Wellington, Arvankadu, Ketti and Lovedale before chugging into Ooty.
The train also does a daily trip between Mettupalayam and Ooty, a three hour beautiful winding ride. Today, am told it runs packed and you will have to book well in advance to get a seat.
Staying close to Sim’s park, we’ve taken many walks inside. The park is landscaped along the natural contours of the hills, showcasing a wide range of flowering plants and shrubs along with trees from different parts of the world, some being over a 100 years old!
If you have green fingers then stop by at the nursery inside the park. Though keep in mind that most of the flowering plants grow pretty effortlessly in this hill climate as apposed to down in the `plains’ – an observation we’ve made over the years. Outside the park is a good place to shop for locally grown fruits. Depending on the season, you could find pears, peaches and plums.
No holiday is complete without indulging in some retail therapy! We usually stop by at the Green Shop. Tucked away in Bedford, they stock a range of organic products sourced from the Nilgiris – such as honey, spices and local handicrafts made by the Toda tribes. At the entrance is a counter with a variety of Ooty chocolates – something that every visitor takes back!