Of tea, rolling hills and so much more

Rolling hills of Ooty

On hearing the name Ooty, several things are likely to come to your mind- rolling hills, cold weather, hot tea and of course, remnants of a British occupancy. For centuries now, Ooty has been a frequented destination, especially during the summers. Over these years, the town has changed beyond recognition in ways both good and bad. However, it remains a coveted holidaying location for youngsters and families alike. Some of us, though, are lucky enough to call this beautiful place home! So if you are planning to visit this ‘Queen of the Blue Hills’ as it is fondly referred to, here are some of my favorite things to do as a resident, that will hopefully help make your trip a memorable one.

The drive to Ooty from Bangalore itself is a great one. Take the Mysore-Bandipur-Masnagudi route, and you will be blessed with some great views of forests and valleys. You are also very likely to spot several wild animals including deer, wild boar, and elephants as you drive through Bandipur-Masnagudi. As you start nearing Ooty, chances are high you will drive through and over massive clouds, especially if you come in around the evening. Once you are here, you will be tempted to drive or walk around a lot more even if nobody expressly recommends it.

Take the roads on the outskirts- far away from the hue and cry of the town, they also offer stunning views of the surrounding valleys and tea estates. One of my favorite driving routes around the city is the road through Chamaraj Tea Estate. There is also an artistic little tea stall here where you can sample all the tea flavors that Chamaraj produces in its factory a small way down. Beware of the bison population in this area though; they don’t usually do any harm, but be careful nonetheless. Do take a walk to Valley View in Lovedale- you will be able to look into the valley for miles around, and if you’re lucky, you can also catch the famous toy train emerging from an old tunnel.

Speaking of which, if you have a day to spare, take a trip on this train. It goes all the way to Mettupalayam, but you can take it to Coonoor at least if you can’t make it the whole way. The Nilgiri Mountain Railway is renowned all over the south for the route it takes- through forests, plantations, beautiful terrace farms as well as some springs and waterfalls. The going will be slow because the route has a lot of twists and turns, but the views will make it worth your while.
True to its tourist-destination name, Ooty has several attractions on offer for visitors- the Rose Garden, the Ooty Lake, Doddabetta (which is the highest mountain peak in Tamil Nadu), heritage schools and properties among others. Two of my favorite places to visit the town, however, is the Government Botanical Garden and the Ooty Main Market.

The Botanical Garden is one of Ooty’s oldest establishments, and it attracts lakhs of people during its annual flower show every summer. If you are okay with such massive crowds, this is something you shouldn’t miss. If you’d rather avoid that though, I’d suggest visiting just after the flower show. A lot of the more exotic specimens will still be on display, and you can enjoy the place in peace sans crowds. To be honest, visiting the place any time of the year would be worth the effort. It is a massive property with several winding routes lined with trees and flowering plants of every kind imaginable. You can spend hours here just walking up and down these paths. There are also several artistic displays within the park, as well as a museum dedicated to the Todas, the local tribe of Ooty.

The Ooty Market, on the other hand, is a whole different world. Every time I visit, I am overawed by the sheer visual appeal of the place. Ooty and its surrounding areas are blessed with fertile soil and the kind of cold climate that best suits vegetable farming. Ooty is particularly famous for root vegetables like carrots and potatoes. Farmers from all around bring their produce to the market every day and the colors you will see here make this place a photographer’s dream come true. There are whole alleys dedicated to selling just fruit, or only bananas or even just dozens of varieties of garlic. Speak to the shopkeepers as much as you can- they are purebred locals and can tell you so much more about Ooty and how it’s changed over the years. If you like broccoli, stock up on it while you’re here- you’re unlikely to find it being sold so cheap elsewhere in South India!
If you want to venture a little further outside of town, it’s a good idea to drive down to the Avalanche Lake and Wildlife Sanctuary. While it’s unlikely that you will actually spot much wildlife during the daytime, the safari offered by the park officials takes you through some very lush forest areas and you will be able to stop by the crystal clear Avalanche lake as well as see plenty of the shola forests that formed the original landscape of the Nilgiris before the British more or less eradicated them with their tea and eucalyptus plantations. Luckily for us, however, several organizations are now involved in proper reforestation of these areas using indigenous species.

When it comes to food, Ooty has something for everyone. If you’re looking for something old that Ooty is famous for, look no further than Shinkow’s- it is Ooty’s local Chinese establishment that has been operating for several decades and has even been featured in movies like Kapoor and Sons. The Culinarium and the Frugal Gourmet are some of the more high-end options that are recommended by locals. The Culinarium is the place for you if you’re looking to sip on some beer and indulge in some to-die-for desserts (for craft enthusiasts, there is a Pony store attached to the restaurant that will take care of all your needle-and-thread needs). Nahar is another local favorite, whether you’re looking to eat some good old South Indian breakfast or a sumptuous North Indian thali for lunch. You could also check out Pankaj Bhojanalay- though its prices are much higher than what they used to be decades ago, it is still rated one of Ooty’s best restaurants on TripAdvisor and is excellent for its unlimited Jain thalis.

My favorite restaurant in Ooty however, would have to be The Place to Bee. An initiative of the Keystone Foundation in nearby Kotagiri, this place operates along a “slow food” philosophy. As the term suggests, it stands for everything that fast food doesn’t- healthy, clean food that is locally sourced. And the cherry on top is that the taste of the food will blow your mind! They serve mostly Italian cuisine, and you will not go wrong with any of their pizzas or pasta. I also strongly recommend the cheesecake and the pannacotta from their dessert menu that is served with a seasonal sauce (I am quite partial to the mango in summers). The restaurant also has a bee museum of sorts as the foundation is heavily involved in working with native honey-collectors. It will also be worth your while to visit the well-stocked store under the restaurant that offers you several organic, locally sourced food, cosmetic and cloth products.

Even after so many years of continuous tourism, there is a lot more to discover in Ooty. The place is a different shade of beautiful each season, so except during the rains when landslides make it entirely inaccessible, you can actually visit anytime; just make sure you have plenty of warm clothes and sunscreen regardless of the season (it is actually unbelievably easy to get sunburnt during the daytime here, especially in winters).

Ooty, ultimately, is a melting pot of cultures- Tamilians, people from other parts of India who have been settled here for generations and of course, descendants of the native tribes. There is so much more to this place than what it has become famous for. See for yourself, put in that extra effort to peel back the layers and look at what you might find. Interacting with locals will help you here. Above all, be a responsible traveler- do not litter and respect the privacy and culture of the residents.

Do let us know what you like best about Ooty in the comments below!

Solo Trip to Hampi

By Nirupama Rajan

One of the dreams of almost every young Bangalorean is to travel solo to at least a few of the places that Karnataka is famous for attracting tourists to. While choosing one option from this seemingly unending list of places is no small feat, if you have managed to narrow it down to Hampi, here are a few pointers that I hope will make your trip an even better one.

Solo Trip to Hampi

Whether you are a history buff looking for answers in the intricate stone carvings of this rocky wonderland, a writer hoping to find your voice in the stories that have unfolded here or merely someone looking to experience solo travel and see what all the fuss is about, everyone who visits Hampi is sure to find something very valuable to take back with them. While it is humanly impossible to detail all the places to visit and things to do while you’re there in one article, here’s my pick of the lot. Remember always when traveling, that it is never about how many boxes you check off of your ‘list of attractions’, but about what you take back from the ones you do experience, even if they are just one or two.

Getting there

The easiest option by far is to take a bus from Bangalore to Hospet. Both KSRTC and private companies offer plenty of these in sleeper, seater, AC and non-AC versions that cover the approximately 350 kms in 7-8 hours. Alternatively, you could take one of the several trains running from Bangalore to Hospet Junction. Hospet to Hampi is a distance of less than 15 kilometres and there are several government buses, private operators and autos that will help you cover this last bit of your journey there. You could also make a road trip of it and drive there in about 8 hours from Bangalore.


If comfort is a priority, I’d recommend staying in Hospet and making the trip from there to Hampi every day. I, for instance, stayed at Hotel Malligi in Hospet and I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. They have great rooms, several culinary options for vegetarians and non-vegetarians and a great spa to top it off. If you are looking for something a little more rustic or if you’re on a tight budget, Hampi itself offers several quirky albeit simplistic hotels near the main temple and on Hampi island (known as Viruppapura Gaddi locally, it is accessible by a quick boat ride across the Tungabhadra river). A favourite among many travellers is the Mango Tree hotel near the main Virupaksha Temple.

Travel while there

In getting to Hampi and traveling while there, I used almost every conceivable form of transport- government buses, private buses, taxis, private autos, share autos, scooters, mopeds, motor boats, coracles, bicycles and even one of those golf cart-like battery cars! Autos will always be around and I can’t stress this enough. Hospet to Hampi can cost you between 200-300 rupees by auto depending on the time of the day, and travelling from one spot to another inside Hampi will cost you roughly the same. For about 700-800 rupees, autos will drive you to several prime locations one after the other. You could also rent bicycles for as little as 150 rupees a day- this I figured is most efficient as it is inexpensive and also lets you navigate the many narrow mud roads. While on Hampi island, you can rent scooters and mopeds for about 200-300 rupees a day to cover the large distances from one spot to another; keep in mind though that you won’t be allowed to take these across the river. The river can easily be crossed using the ferry service or on coracles- an experience you definitely shouldn’t miss while there.

However, even with all these options, I would personally recommend walking as much as possible. Walking elevates your travel experience to a whole new level and nothing – no, not even cycling – can give you that feeling. Hampi is the kind of place where you can look closely at a random rock lying at the side of the path and chances are, you’ll find a centuries-old carving on it; there’s just so much you miss out on when you’re not walking. Moreover, walking encourages you to veer off the beaten path, once again leading to several wonderful discoveries on the way. With every step you take, Hampi tempts you into taking one more, drawing you further into its intricate web of ancient stories.

Beware of the monkeys
Beware of the monkeys

Now this is a tad problematic. While you’ll find bananas and tender coconuts all over, finding actual, reassuring food in Hampi can be a little challenging. Of course, there are several restaurants both on Hampi island and near the Virupaksha temple, and while locals are highly likely to offer to share their food once you befriend them, if you are a fussy eater, it’s highly advisable to carry fruit or packed food with you. Beware of the monkeys though, they’re everywhere and will do anything for a few morsels!

Major historical sites

Where does this one begin and where does it end? Suffice it to say there are well over a hundred historical landmarks in Hampi and even if you stayed for a month, you wouldn’t be able to spend as much time as you’d want to in each of them. The most prominent one would be the Virupaksha temple, originally built well before the Vijayanagara Empire that brought Hampi its fame. It’s a great idea to start exploring Hampi outwards from this focal point. Around this temple, you’ll find the Jain Hemakuta temples and the Ganesha temples, as well as the Krishna Temple and Krishna Bazaar. A long walk along the river from the Virupaksha temple will take you to the Vitthala temples, which is also the site of the famous stone chariot, hall of musical pillars, king’s balance etc. A little distance away is Kamalapura, and in and around this area, you will stumble upon the Zenana Enclosure, the Lotus Mahal, Elephant Stables, the Queen’s Bath, the underground Shiva temple and so on. The Hazara Rama Temple is also a short walk from here. There are information boards at almost every site, but carrying a book along won’t hurt. You could also cross the river and visit the temples on Hampi island (note that the distances here are fairly large, so it’s a good idea to rent two-wheelers). All of these only form the tip of the iceberg that is Hampi; there are many sites that you will discover only once you go there and several others still being excavated and explored. Anyone can find something new and valuable in Hampi!

Other things to do

My favourite things to do in Hampi by far were to just keep walking or riding and stumbling upon great views unexpectedly in places that are completely off the tourist path. Mathanga hill near the Virupaksha temple and Anjanadri Hill (supposedly the site of Kishkinda, the monkey kingdom in the Ramayana) on the island provide unbelievable views of the sunrise and sunset and people flock to these points at these times. The museum at Kamalapura is full of artefacts and information boards- this one is a must for history buffs. There are several, chilled out restaurants with a shack-like feel on the Hampi island that you could unwind in towards the evening. Also visit the Daroji Bear Sanctuary and the Tungabhadra dam if you have any time left. Talk to locals, and they’ll probably give you ten more things to do and if you have an extra day, take a cab and visit Badami, Pattadakal and Aihole- these sites are several hundred years older than Hampi and offer a whole new perspective of history.

Other things to keep in mind

Fending off guides and autos will probably be your biggest challenge, especially if you want to explore all by yourself- remember that it’s perfectly okay to do so, even if the guides insist that you won’t understand anything without their guidance. Talk to locals wherever possible without intruding upon their privacy- they will let you in on so much more information than you would get otherwise. Make sure you have one of those guide books, maps or postcard packs; it makes navigating and asking for information much easier. Wear comfortable shoes to make walking easy. There aren’t many places where you’d have to take them off anyway. Visiting Hampi during the off-season is just as much fun as the December-January period. Consider the rain and the heat though- the heat in Hampi can be really taxing. The sunrise and sunset views may also be elusive during the monsoons. Remember to carry water and food, but beware of monkeys. Most importantly, lose the phone and the headphones- it’s the only way you can truly lose yourself here.

Solo travel is what you make of it. It goes beyond the place you visit or your form of transport; no amount of reading up will prepare you for the actual experience; so sure, read up on all the articles you can find, or read none- the important step is to actually take that leap. Solo travel gives you the freedom to discover things on your own terms- that is the most enriching bit, so gift yourself the courage to do that.

Feel free to email me at contact@simplyguest.com if you have any queries regarding solo travel to Hampi, especially as a woman.

Solo travel to Hampi