Its been only couple of months since our last family holiday to south of Maharashtra.But then i had mandy scheduled in November during Diwali.It was good opppourtunity for yet another family outing.We discussed and concluded to go.After a few deliberations, we zeroed out on Ooty & Mysore.Main reasons were seasons of the year.We wanted to experience the best winter of the season one can get in India and whats better than Nilgiry Mountains.Since air fare contributes maximum to your travel cost, we fixed that first well in advance.The route was Mumbai-Coimbatore-Bangalore-Mumbai.In fact there is no alternate if you are visiting ooty & Mysore from Mumbai.Post that i searched for the stay and after a lot of research using Trip Advisor and other travelportals, picked up below 2 which were slated as The Best in respective locations.
SUn Valley HomeStay - Conoor
Jade Gardens - Ooty
I booked in advance by making some advance payments.Both proved to be right choices at the end!!After celebrating Diwali in first week of my mandy with family and Friends, we started packing for the travel.But something untoward happened that we have never thought of.Local political party - Shiv Sena Supremo - Balasaheb Thakrey was
declared dead on Saturday evening..1 day prior to our departure.Given his influnence on Mumbai, it was but expected that everything in Mumbai will close down including taxies.I somehow managed to get the prints of our air tickets from Swapneel but till end of day there were questions on our local commute from home to airport.We called up Nikhil & Mai to help us.They incidentaly have just returned from their family holiday but in spite of that they offered their help to drop us to airport in case taxies are not running.Next day morning they came to our place but fortunately the cab driver called up and said he is ready to drop us to airport.We were relieved!!We safely reached the airport in time.We paid extra tip to the driver for his timely help.Affairs at the airport were running as usual but we had quiet a few passengers who were stranded at the airport for lack of ground transport!!Our flight was too on time.We had some snacks at the airport Cafe and boarded the 1150 am flight bound for Coimbatore.It was Sai's 3rd air travel.Last time she was bit restless so we were little nervous as to how she will react
but she co operated really well.We kept her engaged on various things and she had a smooth ride..so did we.Coimbatore is a small town in State of Tamilnadu so the aiport was as expected small one with just 1 terminal.We got refreshed and contacted the taxi driver that we have booked with the Sun Valley Homestay.He was already there.In less than an hour after leaving Mumbai, we were on our way to Conoor on the road.Coimbatore airport to Conoor is almost 3.5 hrs road distance.We picked up some bakery products as we decided to skip the lunch.Conoor is almost 4-5 thousand feet above sea level.Hence the road on top was thru ghats.Sai has tendency to vomit on turning roads but luckily for us, she was sleeping.And good she was b'use these ghats have the most turns ..what they call as "Hairpin bends"..almost in excess of 35.I dont know where else in the world or in india, you have those many curves to reach a hill station!!
By 430 pm we reached the Sun Valley Homestay.Last phase of the road there is undone hence approaching it in last stages raised questions about Sun Valley's stay.But all our doubts were put
to rest when we got down at their property.Actual property was no different & as picturesque as in their profile pictures.They greeted us with warm welcome and after quick check in we stepped into our room named "Clarke Quay". All the 12 rooms there are named after places/monuments in Singapore. May be Singapore is favourate place of owner.Rooms were big and had balcony.Plus they have made very clever use of mirrors so the rooms appears bigger than actual.Balnocy offers fantastic view of the surrounding mountains which appears like layers of cones.Tea planatation is what you see all around on nice slopes of the mountains. This to my memory is one of best views that i have had in india so far!!That day evening we spent in getting refreshed.Had breakfast, explored the property & made plans for next 2 days in consultation with attendats there at Sun Valley.They can arrange for local site seeing plus car etc. We leveraged them and decided to explore Conoor & its suuroundings on day 1.After a good south indian breakfast,we left at around 1030 am.Minimum itinerary was Dolphin's nose,Sims Park & Tea factory.Dolphin's nose is a basically a view point on Nilgiris.One can see beautiful
views of Nilgiris and some waterfalls if you come in Monsoons. Prominent among them was Katherine's waterfall which has a height of some 250 odd feet.One can see that from Dolphin's nose point.Road to Dolphin nose is pretty.Tea platations,mist..you feel like you are in heaven.Plus decent cold in the air.Unfortunately for us,that day there was lot of smog so we could see beyond a few feet for most of the time.Even view of Dolphin Nose was limited.But journey to & from there is one to remember!!By the time we finished those view points, it was noon.We decided to break for the lunch.Our driver took us to one of the better place around.We had lunch at leisure and it was important so that Sai has some time to digest and is ok during the travel.POst lunch we stopped at Sims Park.Its the Botanical garden of Conoor and is less famous than its Ooty's counterpart but after being to both the places, i would rate Sims Park higher simply b'use its better maintained than Ooty.I believe too much commercialisation deteriorates public places.Sims park is designed on a slope with trees & flowers from all over the world.It also has a mini pond
with boating facilities.There is a nice little children play area.It offered us good relaxation after a good afternoon lunch.Tea factory was just a few minutes drive from there.Apparently its the only operational tea factory in the area which allows visitors inside for a tour.We took one which is offered as free by some of the volunteers there.That Volunteer took us the the whole tea making process from start to end with quiet a bit of details which were news to us.Like there is also something called "White Tea"which is most premium form of tea & costs as much as INR 18k per kg in international market!!You can get it cheaper at the factory of course.They have a shop where one can buy all their produce at reasonable prices.At the end, they allow you to explore their plantation and if you want can also click some pictures of you with your family that too in tradtional costume wore during cutting tea leaves!! Nice..isnt it!!On the way back, driver drove us thru Wilington area which is basically the area occupied by Indian Navy as its training base.Like any other military area,it was tidy, clean and well maintained!!That was the last stop.We reached
Sun Valley by 630.Had some freshly cooked snacks with hot tea before retiring to our room for relaxation.Dinner order was booked as soon as we arrieved that evening.And thats the norm at Sun Valley.They dont serve you stale food. They cook by order..fresh and delicious!!
Sunvalley management has also kept a local guide book in each rooms for help of visitors.We leveraged that extensively along with what we have researched.It has good info..somethings which you wont find on internet at times.Next day target was Ooty and surrounding area.It was not difficult to decide on that.You would visit 2 best places if you have only 2 full days there!on Day 2 we decided to give ourselves more time and asked if we could try the World famous "Toy Train" for one side journey.We were not hopeful as basis what we knew its schedule was not in our plan but thats where asking locals helps.There is a daily up-down service between Ooty & Conoor only of the same train.Last train from Ooty for Coonorr leaves at 6 pm.After realising this, we altered our plans accordingly.We decided to cover key places in such a way that we can reach Ooty station by
530 pm.And it worked very well!!Ooty is apporximately 1 hr drive from Conoor but our first stop was "Pykara Lake" which is another 1 hr from Ooty.So it took us some while after leaving hotel to reach there.Pykara is a fairly big lake to be situated on mountain hill.Whats more it man made.Surrounded by moountain ranges all across a 20 mins boat ride can be great fun with family.In our case Sai is afraid of waters so we were not keen but luckily we got a co traveller from Mumbai who were running short by 1 person for a family package.The lady invited 1 of us sensing that both of us wont be able to make it with Sai.I went ahead.Meeting co passengers like her on travel is good!!From Pykara it was journey back to Ooty.On the way we stopped at 2 interesting places.One is called "Shooting Hill".A hill top with a valley view.Apparently preferred by many directors for film shooting.and its indeed beautiful!!Only pain is you have walk 15 -20 mins uphill so it can be tiring!!Next stop was "Nilgiri Jungle walk"You can see Nilgiri trees all across while travelling in Ooty/Coonooro but tourist taxis will stop at this
place b'use may be its along the main road.Leads to a small lake where excess water from Pykara Dam is released.Contrary to Shooting Hill, this one as reasonably steep slope.But best thing about this place is the tall trees and dense forest.Sun rays trying to space thru..beautiful..!!Here walking down was easy but coming back was difficult especially with Sai.But we somehow managed it.Now Sai was hungry too and was showing signs of that.So next we stopped for lunch at a city hotel.Was not a good choice.Exorbitantly expensive for not so delicious food.we just had sandwiches and left.That also costs us 200 INR which was definitely not worth it! Good thing was we saved some time on lunch and utilised it in our next stop which was Ooty Botanical Garden.More or less this features on each one's itinerary in Ooty and its good as well.Spacious..Some redeveloped structures at the entrance.But after exploring, i found more hype than substance in there.Sims Park is anytime better.But had i not been here, i would be able to compare!!Nam clicked best pics of me & Sai here..It was around 3 pm.We had couple of hours in our hand.Driver offered us few choices.His suggestion was Ooty
Lake but we went for "Thread Garden".Reason was simple we have already been to Pykara.So instead of visiting another lake we picked up a place which showcases biggest variety of handmade flowers from all over the world made with thread.Its a unique museum of its kind in the world and has been pioneered by a Keralite.Using the services of some orphanges, he has been able to put up a good show of man's skills which amuses you.Definitely recommended for all!!It doesnt take more than 15-20 mins there so we still had time.Thus we decided to make the most of it by visiting "Rose Garden".Good thing in small towns is all places are nearby.It was hardly 10 mins drive.We were not very optimistic about this place but they surprised us.Designed on slope like Botanical, it houses rose varieties from all over the world including "Black Rose"Fairly well maintained, its good to visit in early evening as sun sets.Here again Nam took some beautiful pics of Me & Sai!!We had nice time and manage to finish exploring it just in time to reach Ooty station for catching Toy Train.Reguler class cost peanuts at INR 5 and first class ticket will cost INR
85 we took first class to ensure that we have good seats and better comfort.Some folks even suggested against it but after boarding the train we realised we have made righ decision.Reguler class was full of locals & student returning from their school.In first class we had only 5 passengers including 3 of us.Sun was about to set so we didnt enjoyed the beautiful views from the train for too long but whatever we could was good enough memory to take back.Lot of tunnels on the way.hats off to engineers who consructed this line in such a difficult hilly area and that too in early 1900's!It was dark by the time we got down at Conoor.It was good 1 hr journey.Driver met us at Station parking and he dropped us to hotel.
Two days in Sunvalley went really well and we were really pleased with the kind of stay & service that we got there!Sunvalley had a lasge tea estate adjusent to the property and since its co owned by the same guy who owns the homestay, as a guest you are allowed to explore it any time..even cut some tea leafs and staff will make instant tea of
it.So on the day of check out, after packing out stuff we decided to experience the same.It was pleasant morning.Property looks nice from the estate too!Unfortunately Sai was not comfortable in the middle and hence we spent very short time there, clicked a few snaps and came back.Staff of sunvalley was as courtious for our farewell as they were when welcoming us 2 days back.we clicked a snap with the staff and started our journey towards Mysore.we have hired their car services only for that.It costs us INR 3000.We left by 1030 am.Route was interesting!! First climb down from Ooty..then enter Mylapuram Forest before entering Bandipur, both of which are known as Tiger Reserves.We were hoping for sighting some, but only saw some deers and elephants who were omisticated.There are as many as 36 hairpin curves while climbing down from Ooty towards Mylapuram.Luckily for us, this time as well Sai was sleeping!!State highway from TN to Karnataka was good.We instructed Driver to be slow & stable so journey was good except the food.Driver stopped at a roadside hotel which we didnt find good for food.This is the 2nd time, it was happening with same driver.Caution for all is to ensure
that you give clear instructions about your food preferance to driver's boss so that you get disappointment!It was around 415 pm when we stopped in front of Jade Garden hotel which we have booked for our stay in Mysore.Again thanks to tripadvisor.com.On the back of homely Sunvalley we were expecting similar experience at Jade but it turned out to be very commercial.No doubt hotel was good from food,hygene,facilities perspective but staff was not as people centric as we expected.May be language is a barrier!!Who knows? Check in was quick as i have booked in advance.Since it was early evening & we were still fairly fresh...plus nothing planned, we decided to explore the neighbourhood.Ask for some guidance at reception and were told that there is Big Bazar few hundered meters away.There was no better shopping oppourtunity than this!And we capitalised on that.First we had some snacks at the entrance of Big Bazar and then went inn.To our luck, we also met some localites of Mumbai who was serving there as staff and he helped us pick up some really nice clothes for Nam.Store was as big as you can get anywhere in Mumbai.Shopping was good and so was time spent.That night
we ordered food in the room which we realised is the best option considering nusance Sai would cause if we have to go down to the Restaurant.We tried it first time on our travel there and felt it gave us what we should do going forward while travelling.Jade Garden had a travel desk attached to it.We made some basic inquiries with them and considering that there are autos which run thruout the city,we decided to opt for that instead of expensive car hire for next day.
Next day ie Day 5 of our tour & first day in Mysore, we decided to visit top attractions ie Mysore Palace & Zoo at minimum and if time permits then few others.Palace was hardly 10 mins auto drive from the hotel.Fare INR 20.Mysore palace which boasts of being Mysore's identity is a heavily visted tourist spot especially for foreigners.And why not!Its a grand place and very well maintained too for all these years.Safety & basic arrangements were good.They also have battery operated cars for old/kids if anyone wants to hire them to explore the palace.Inside as well very well petroled by the guards, Mysore palace has been the home of Mysore Dynasty
for over 100 years.Its the clan of Vodiyaar's who has been ruling as Kings of Mysore till it became part of India during independance.Inside the palace you will see pictures of their family/their royalty ..typical of any King's palace anywhere.The Diwan E Aam & Diwane E Khas..their temples, private rooms etc.And at the end it does makes an impression but folks like us who came from the land of Shivaji, didnt found it anythinking g better than a grand old palace of a king b'use in the land of Shivaji, Kings spent money on people & their welfare than their own.Good visit for enjoying the architectre of the old time as well!It took us around 90 mins to explore that.From there zoo was also hardly 10 mins drive.We hailed a auto & got down at the zoo.Now this was something intersting for us as its been years since we visited a zoo and Sai was also with us.We have read that Mysore Zoo is one of the best maintained in India so our hopes were elevated.We purchased the tickets ..some INR 30 per per person i think and got inn.After the entrance only you first get to see the tallest
mammals ie Jiraffe's..from there you proceed to birds section before getting to see wild cats and other animals.Except birds,all animals enclosures are cage free which is what you see abroad as well.Idea is to offer as natural view to visitors and also without compromising on safety ie they have big ditches between animal area boundry and visitors pathways.From all types of colourful parrots to Royal Bengal tiger to Rhino, you have everyone here.Whats more they also have Cheetah and India's only Gorilla there.Its wonderful.Some enclosures no doubt need upliftment like the one for Rain forests animals..It sticks badly in there.Canteen also was ok.Few areas were under constructions but all in all it didnt let is down.Only problem was Sai was reluctant to walk hence we felt tired earlier than expected while exploring the zoo.Towards the end one can also see kangaroo's, turtles, crocs which was amuzing.It also has big anaconda enclosure which was crowd puller in snakes section.Black Swan is something we saw for the first time there.It was almost 3 hours + that we were walking and were dead tired.All 3 of us hence took a small nap on one the benches there for some time to revitalise.Overall it was nice experience to see all those wonderful animals and in a fairly well maintained zoo!!We left from there by around 430 pm and wondering what to do when we noticed the plaque advertising Wax museum nearby.Wd didnt had a clue about it but it sounded intersting.Karanji Lake was original choice but when we learned that visiting hours for Karanji Lake were only upto 5pm and Was museum is on the same way, we decided to give it a visit.Its around 15 mins drive from Zoo towards Chamundi Hills area.we were little excited but all that excitement was washed away when we went thru that waz museum.It was nowhere close to what we expected.Its nice attempt.In fact somewhere inbetween guide also shares their disappointment over not getting recognised by Karnataka government but having recognition of Goa administration.May be we anticipated more!In some 20 odd rooms that wax museum mainly showcases musical instruments from many part of the world.Its a ok visit for ticket which is expensive than palace & zoo.Definitely worth a skip!!On the way back, we were little unlucky to have met couple of wrong auto drivers.First one left us midway citing gas issues and 2nd one charged us little above.But at the end we reached safely back to hotel which was more important.That night also dinner was in the room.Like last few days we finished around 10 pm, pattern away from what we have at home and went to sleep.
Itineraty for next day involved places which were little far from the hotel, namely Chamundi Hill and Vrindavan Gardens.A bird sanctuary on the way was also on the list.Musical fountains at Vrindavan were main attractions and it starts only around 7 pm so considering time & distance we hired a cab for the day for rent of INR 1000.First up was Chamundi Hills..Considered to be one of the most sacred places in India, its believed that demon Mahishasur was killed by Goddess Amba on this hill.Drivers will also tell you some more local stories about the place & its legend on the way.Must say that roads to the top are steady and good.On top you get to visit Goddess Amba temple and see big stautes of Mahishasur & Nandi.These 2 along with Palace are often potrayed as iconic symbols of Mysore.There is car park few meters away from the temple.On the way you have small shops to pick up some local stuff.Temple on Friday is typically overcrowded but we were lucky to get only a few in the queue.We offered our prayers to local god & seeked her blessings.Temple is old but well maintained and has imprint of Karnataka style architecture.We left but not without clicking few snaps of iconic Mahishasur & Nandi.Our driver for the day was also a good guide and family friendly person.He was keen to share some local knowledge which helps us enjoy the day better.From there we stopped at Government recognised shop called "Kavery Emporium" in main city.Purpose was to buy "Chandan".Every second name of place/shop in Mysore will have "Kavery" in it for obvious reasons that its their main river and which is also in the news over dispute over its water sharing with neighbouring Tamilnadu.At Kavery we bought another dress for Nam & a small stick of Chandan.Its always better to shop Chandan from Govt shop over anything else.Crossing thru the roads of main city, we then halted at "Pizza Hut".We have learned from our mistake in Ooty and have made it clear to Driver that we only wanted to eat at Pizza Hut if they have it there and our local professional knew where it was.He also took a halt at locally famous "Mahalaxmi Sweets" shop where we picked up local favourate "Mysore Pak" and some chivda.Chicken Pizza Meal at Pizza hut was stomouchfull so from there we continued our travel towards bird Sanctuary.Its a little off from the main Mysore-Bangalore highway but definitely a good stop over for those who enjoy being close to nature.Surrounded by farms & perched a little high, this bird sanctuary has a small lake within and that lake has handful of islands which hundreds of birds have made their home.Small pathway to walk along the lake offers nice views and cool breeze in the shadow of high trees.It also has couple of observation decks for bird watchers.We could not locate as many varieties of birds as one would expect but it was nice lazy stopover post lunch in the lap of nature!Lot of butterflies to watch as well!It was around 4 pm now & per driver we were on time to visit world famous Vrindavan Garden.It was around 45 mins drive from Sanctuary.Its easily the biggest crowd puller in Mysore and you can make it from the parking area there.It reminds you of parking spaces in US.Can easily accomodate more than 2000 cars i believe.Tickets are reasonably priced at INR 50 in spite of being such a big crowd puller.Designed beautifully using the waters of Kavery Dam,Garden hosts number of eyepleasing fountains which creates wonderful impressions on our mind.Water brings life & energy and when that energy springs from a fountain its a sight to watch!You have not 1 or 2 but atleast more than a dozen fountains all creating different designs in the air.There are 2 sides to the garden.One of the left is a step like structure which takes you on top of level of the gardens.There is a beautiful Krishna statue.View from top is simply amazing.Hats off to those who designed this.One has to be really fortunate not to have too many visitors there so as to have nice clean pics and we were sort of lucky.We were ahead of the group which consist of mostly school children.Only mistake that we did was to allow a starnger , who was also slightly drunk to click our pictures.Not only his clicks were bad but we also ended up paying him 50 bucks for nothing.Lesson learned - Never give your camera to stangers!!
In the early evening people start gathering by the musical fountain area which is on thr right hand side of the garden.It had high expectations from us but when we saw it actually, it didnt turn out to be anything that exciting.Firstly the show didnt started on time and due to lack of commentary, people were uncertain what to watch out for as novelty.We stayed for some time and then moved on as it was getting dark and it was out in open.By around 8 pm we came out and within an hour or so we were back at the hotel.That night as well we ordered the food in the room.Had food and went to sleep.
Next day was the day of return journey to Mumbai.We packed our bags,had breakfast and left Jade Gardens around 11.15 am.Our flight was from Bangalore which is around 4 hour travel by car from Mysore.We left aiming to reach Bangalore airport by 4 pm, couple of hours ahead of our scheduled departure of 630 pm.Journey was long but Mysore-Bangalore state highway is good road.We kept the same driver as previous day so it was safe as well.This time we stopped at places of our choice for food and breaks.You have Mac & CCD on the way.We stopped there.Sai as well had a decent time.By 430 we reached airport.Checked in.There was lot of time.Me & Sai explored the airport playing around.BOught some books for self & Nikhil at Airport book shop.Fortunately the flight was on time as well.After a decent 60-70 mins, we landed in Mumbai.Hired Meru at the airport and back we were in our sweet home.
This was our 4th tour of the year 2012.We were indeed making up for the lost year in 2011.We are now really settling down in our own pattern of travel.Good stay,good food, leisure , safety and comfort over anything else.Most importantly no rush for sightseeing.These changes were really making our travel a story to remember for long long time in our lives.Top experiences of this tour were -
1) Stay at Sunvalley Homestay - I doubt you will get a better choice in Ooty/Conoor.
2) Mysore Zoo visit - Its defenitely one of the better kept zoo's in India.
3) Toy Train journey from Conoor to Ooty in World Heritage sight.If possible make it in day time to enjoy surroundings.
4) Vrindavan Gardens - It can be better maintained but still has enough charm of its own.
5) SIMS Park in Conoor.Scores over Ooty Botanical Gardens.Both are same concenpts but Conoor's is better.
6) Walk in the Bamboo jungle in ooty.
7) Pykara Lake
8) Krihsnadevrai Bird Sanctuary in Mysore.
9) Chamumdi Hills Area in Mysore
10) Shopping in Mysore.
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