People usually crave about holidaying at Ooty and I don’t find fault with their desires. During public holidays and weekends, the number of vehicles that enter Ooty from the two access points, one from Coimbatore and the other from Bangalore, number approximately around 1000 per hour ( I can say this since my father-in-law is in the Police). However, as a native of the Nilgiris, and having had reason to visit Ooty atleast twice a month after I permanently shifted out of there, I find that it is the off-beat routes that offer pleasure in abundance than the regular tourist points, which are often overcrowded and polluted. Ooty is so commercialized nowadays, that I feel that it is no more a tourist attraction except for a few treasures.

One of such off-beat routes is the Ooty-Masinagudi-Bandipur one. This road cuts through two National parks designated as Tiger reserves. One could lap up the thrilling drive through dense forest by a visit to Mysore. I am just back from such a trip and would like to share with you the thrilling experience.

And hey, before I forget – I’m Fred and with me in the pic above you see my wife Reema.

If you are starting from Ooty, then the best time to start is at 5:00 AM on a Saturday morning.

The check post which is halfway into the ghat road towards Masinagudi opens at 6:00 AM. This road has 36 hair-pin bends and has a very steep gradient which can be crossed only in first/second gear with constant break applying. Brake drums are sure to get heated up so caution should be exercised while braking and later on while speeding on the plateau downhill. Watch out for lone tuskers, as they are very dangerous. They are know to topple cars.

On reaching Masinagudi, head straight towards the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve Reception center at Theppakkadu.

The Forest department organizes Jungle safaris in the morning and evening at nominal costs. If you have already booked it, an elephant ride is a thrilling experience, although it is very short.

Bookings can be made at the Forest Office at Ooty. Also, you can book your stay at one of their guest houses. I chose to stay at the Log House at Masinagudi. They have another guest house near Gudalur town, which is on the National Highway 67 – the main route to Bangalore from Ooty. Both have their own attractions and its up to your choice. After the safari, you may drive the length of the road towards Bandipur.

Gopalswamy Betta is one of the highest peaks in the Bandipur National Park and location of an ancient (13th century) fort of the Palegars of Terakanambi . The view from top of this hill is truly breath-taking. It is one of the highest peaks (1454 meters above sea level) in the Bandipur National Park, Karnataka, India. It is also called Himada Gopalswamy Betta, as it is covered in mist (hima means mist in Kannada), for most of the months. (Betta means hill in Kannada).

Another attraction at this peak is the fabled perpetual wind, that greets anyone who cares to climb it. Herds of wild elephants are seen regularly near this peak. A lake, a few hundred feet below the peak serves as the local watering hole for the other wildlife. After you cross Bandipur, take a left turn at Hangala village. (There should be a big Karnataka Tourism arch welcoming you). From this point, the hill top should be 15 km. 4 km further, there is a forest department check post at the base of the hill. It is a 10 km winding, steep road, with a few hairpin bends that take you to the hill top. There is an entrance fee that needs to be paid at the forest department check post.

After this you may head back to the Log house for a well deserved siesta. Around 4:30 PM start again and head towards the Elephant Camp at Theppakkadu. This is again close to the Reception center.

Every evening, Elephants in the camp are fed their individual diets and it is amazing to watch how these gentle giants line up for their food. Saturdays are especially fun since they have a bath in the river and bring water from there for the deity at the camp’s temple and do a sort of pooja. Then they begin their feeding. This ritual gets over by around 7 PM. There is a museum attached to this camp and is quite an attraction.

Several private jeeps offer (illegal) night safaris for INR 800 or so. You get to see some wild animals like elephants, bison, barking deer, hares etc. You may spot a tiger if you are lucky. The ride in itself is thrilling with the silence of the jungle broken up with the occasional shrill cry of a deer being attacked by a tiger. When I was there, there were wildlife photographers capturing the scene of a tiger killing a deer but I couldn’t see anything they said they were capturing! Probably because they had night vision cameras!

Next day morning, its time to pack your bags and head towards Mysore. Mysore is a city of Palaces and has something to offer for everyone. If you have accompanying children, then head straight towards the zoo. You might want to reach there before 10:00 AM and spend at least 4 hours since it is huge! The walk-through aviary is a spectacle specially when huge storks fly over your head! There is a butterfly park behind the zoo and it will entertain the children.

The afternoon can be spent at Ranganthittu bird sanctuary. It became a national park in 1940 due to the efforts of Dr. Salim Ali, the well known ornithologist. Ranganthittu is on the river Cauvery, about 13 km away from Mysore. The part that visitors are allowed to see is a slow section of the river, with many little islands which form nesting sites for sorts of migratory birds. Low hanging branches, small rocks with crocodiles sunning themselves are easily found, so don’t be surprised if you look around to see a crocodile within arm’s reach. Some of the birds seen at Ranganthittu are the white Ibis, cormorants, egrets, herons, river terns and darters. In addition, the place is also home to a large number of crocodiles.

Next head towards Brindavan gardens. The main gate is designed on the model of the India Gate, New Delhi. Rose gardens on either side of the gate are worth seeing. Attractive lawns, annual flowerbeds, perennial flowering plants, ornamental hedges are maintained. Distinct styles of terrace gardens can be seen here. Bougainvillea and Allamanda plants are grown on the slopes of the terraces. A lawn is maintained in the terrace garden with annual and perennial flower beds and ornamental hedges in the periphery. Cypress plants are found in the centre. Dwarf statutes are found aplenty in the terraces and many fountains are also located. The fountain always sprinkles water and this is maintained by the water pressure when the dam is in its full capacity. The garden is made more attractive with different coloured lights for illumination. This garden is most spectacular in the evenings when the area is illuminated with the fountains on.

The Musical and dancing fountain, is the main attraction of the visitors. The water, colored lights and music are harmonized in the fountain to create a water ballet controlled by an aquatic organ operated through a controller. Water is pumped to the fountain and the operation is computerized. All the other fountains run due to the water pressure from the dam. A laser vision has also been developed for visitors’ attraction The illumination timing is the same as that for the garden. The musical and dancing fountain is located in the North Brindavan Garden. A gallery and rain shelter are provided for the viewers. The Garden is open to the Public from 6.30 A.M. to 9.00 P.M. Illumination is around 6:30 PM.

While getting back, do not miss the illuminated Mysore palace. On Public Holidays, the palace is lit up with a million lights and is a site to behold. Again, it depends on your interest. If you want to spend time inside the palace, then stay back for the night. You could head towards Chamundi hills in the morning, go around the palace and then head back to Ooty or proceed towards Bangalore to continue your tour in the garden city.

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