Coonoor is a picture postcard town not far from Bangalore. With its tea gardens, the Nilgiri Mountain Railways and the salubrious climate, it is the sort of place I could see myself settling at. Of course, I am not the first one to have thought of that. The British established a major retreat here. The Army has a large cantonment here. And the horticulture department takes full advantage of the climate to grow exotic trees.
We stayed at the heritage property Wallwood Garden by Neemrana Hotels. It is a rustic property which has retained all of its British era charm. The furniture, the log burner, the high ceilings and the low doors, they all transport you back in time. It has a lovely garden to the side where the first rays of the sun hit. It is a fantastic place to have your breakfast, get some coffee or catch up on your reading.
We set out to explore Sim’s Park first. Although this is top of tourists’ must-visit lists (places that we normally avoid), Sim’s Park turned out to be quite interesting. Hundreds of years of horticulture history etched out in trees brought in from all over the world are set out in beautifully landscaped gardens.
For lunch, we decided to hit up a movie set. 180 McIver Villa was the setting for the movie Kapoor and Sons. With beautiful views and a sprawling lawn, I can see the attraction for the place. The food was decent and it would have been an overall lovely experience but for one snobbish and full-of-herself diner who was intent on making everything worse. Some people!
An interesting part of the trip was a visit to Infinitea, one of the many tea gardens offering tasting and tea purchase opportunities. This is one of the classier ones of the lot, working with smaller groups only in a family owned and operated estate. Sandeep took us through the procedures and tastings for 6 different types of teas. Definitely recommend doing the tasting as well as picking up some Oolong and the hand-rolled green tea.
It was time for the highlight of visiting Coonoor – the Nilgiri Mountain Railway. The train runs from Coonoor to Ooty and back. Most people stay in Ooty, come to Coonoor in a taxi and take the train back. We decided to take the train both ways. Within minutes of arriving, we had purchased first class tickets and settled into (literally!) the first row of the train with great views of the track ahead. If you are taking the train, I strongly recommend you take this row along with a shawl or sweater. It gets windy and cold!
The train moves slowly and deliberately through uniformly wooded areas interspersed with small, picturesque towns. The clickety-clack of the narrow gauge snaking its way through the hills and gorges can get to you after a while. And that’s a good thing because that is when you settle down into a contemplative mode admiring the vast swathes of beauty that surrounds you. The ride back was even better as we weren’t worried about missing the sights anymore. It grew dark and the winds had died down (we were now the last row in the train). The solitude from being in a moving train in the midst of distant flickering lights is something I hadn’t experienced in a long time. The blue mountains of Coonoor had earned a permanent place in my heart.