BENGALURU: Taking a short break from sweltering Bangalore, my wife Judi and I motored up to Ooty, to spend some days with friend and author Shobhaa De and husband Dilip en famille. Ooty is still lovely, in spite of mindless tourist traffic. We were told that the end of the summer holidays had seen an influx of tourists camping out, and they even set up their kitchens on empty spaces and chuck their leftovers around. I seriously think the Tamil Nadu government should charge every incoming tourist a Trash Tax upon entering Ooty or Coonoor.
We checked into Taj Savoy. Two of Shobhaa’s daughters, Avantika and Arundhati, were with us. High-teas and sit down dinners followed, with the chefs showing off their Cordon Bleu talents in meals that ranged from silver thali services to barbecues and more. We often made the trek to Coonoor to sample the fare as we did at Culinareum, a trendy restaurant run by Vasanthi and Theo Devagnanam.
They make the famous Pony Needles at a high-tech factory in Ooty and the restaurant is their tribute to Ketti, where it sits perched on a hillside with glorious views. The salads were pretty with edible flowers creating a burst of colour. They are famous for their hot pot pies served in bowls of flaky pastry.
Another high tea took place at David Whitbread’s cosy cottage in Coonoor, where he lives with his sister, Leslye. David is an old fan of Shobhaa, and was thrilled to be hosting her.
Shopping in Ooty was surprisingly good, with Mohun’s being the store to discover everything, from stunning Company paintings in Tanjore style to all manner of bric-a-brac. Shobhaa acquired an unusual Chhatrapati Shivaji and a royal bridal couple. Judi settled for the delicate embroidery done by Catholic nuns – linen trimmed with handmade ecru lace and petit point tapestry, charming period pieces like sandwich wrappers and tea tray cloths, which one rarely sees now.
We spent hours driving around the hills and dales. The Staff College at Wellington was picturesque, with colonial bungalows built at points that afforded them spectacular views of the valley. Ooty has embraced Cuisine Moderne with a passion. Delightful restaurants like Cafe Diem run by Radhika Shastry and The Place To Bee offer robust flavours in unusual dishes and with organic ingredients that transformed simple dishes into feasts. We also tried the King’s Cliff restaurant, a lovely old cottage perched at the edge of a cliff.
Judi’s birthday dinner at the Savoy featured the ornate Badaga Thali.
Can any trip to Ooty be complete without indulging in the Ooty Chocolates? David got us a box of his homemade chocolates, which he labels as Kitty, Countess of Coonoor, named after a mythical Ooty hostess!
The sky is so blue in Ooty. The clear air and altitude make it a glowing cerulean blue that to us city dwellers is magical. The occasional showers made it even more so, and we should consider ourselves lucky to have these lovely hill stations so accessible. Even the drive up to Ooty is spectacular, with its hairpin bends and vistas of forested hillsides, tea estates and botanical gardens. We were lucky to spot the Nilgai, the massive blue bison of the Nilgiris. No tigers were spotted, but there’s always a next time!