A lesser-known town in the Nilgiris, Kotagiri has an ‘old world charm’ that will leave you feeling nostalgic
Words: Bindu Gopal Rao
Located in the picturesque Nilgiri Hills, Kotagiri in Tamil Nadu is known for its pleasant weather and vast stretches of green mountains. Situated in close proximity to Ootacamund, this quaint hamlet had long been a pending sight for me to explore. As I was driving to Kotagiri, the Nilgiri Biosphere threw up an unexpected challenge in the form of dense fog. While I was mentally prepared to navigate the ghat road that snakes up the Blue Mountains, the drop in visibility was something that was unexpected. I did manage to negotiate that bit and found myself stopping at a cherry blossom tree in full bloom inhabited by one of my favourite birds – the Oriental White Eye. After clicking several pictures, I reached the hill station that is over 5,800 feet above sea level. Surrounded by undulating views of tea estates and the sound of the bird song, Kotagiri is as calm and quiet as you would like a holiday destination to be. It was my quest to see what a non-commercial side of Niligiris would look like that led me here, which included learning about the five native tribes – Toda, Kota, Irula, Badaga and Kurumba – that still inhabit the area.
My first stop in Kotagiri was the Pethakal Bunglow, the old residence of John Sullivan, that has now been turned into a memorial for him.Known as the founder of the British settlement at Udhagamandalam, Sullivan was the first person to introduce horticulture in the Nilgiris. In fact, it was Sullivan who constructed the Ooty Lake as a source of irrigation between 1823 and 1825 and battled for the proprietary rights of the Todas over the Nilgiris. When I arrived at the memorial, it was shut but a local on the premises contacted the caretaker (an Irula) who came in quickly to open up the place. The two-storey, small, wooden structure has a collection of old photographs dating back to the 1870s, pottery articles, Toda art and a vintage typewriter and harmonium. The place is small yet packs a punch with a wealth of information. Also, the views from the windows of this building are lovely and the old, wooden staircase is sure to take you back in time. Do check out the stone house in the vicinity of the memorial where Sullivan lived later, which has now been turned into Government Arts College.
Sights & Sounds
One of the best ways to experience the scenic vistas of Kotagiri is to take a trek into the woods. The clear air and cool winds are the best an urban soul could want. It is normally very quiet here so you can enjoy some ‘me time’ with nature. Kotagiri is also home to a tea estate, which hosts the Kodanad view point where you can soak in the beauty of the Nilgiris Biosphere. Surrounded by the blue mountains are lush tea plantations, varied flora and fauna and natural vistas that will make you stare endlessly. Unless the weather is foggy, you can enjoy uninterrupted views of the landscape, easily one of the best things to do when you are here. The views can be enjoyed from both upper and lower decks and the sunset here is quite magnificent too. Keep an eye out for the resident bird – the Pied Bushchat – that is a tiny black bird that flits between the tea shrubs.
Continue further on to see the majestic, double cascade Catherine waterfall, which is another good place to spot the Pied Bushchat. A small walk through a tea estate will get you a view – the falls are quite far off but still it makes for a stunning visual – that will stay with you much after you have left the place. While you are here check out the St. Luke’s English Church that has a stone exterior facade and a polished wooden altar with beautiful stained glass imagery. Designed by architect Angus McEwan the church dates back to 1928. Another pit stop must be the 1867 St. Mary’s Church that has a pristine white exterior and was consecrated with a new shrine in 2004. If you are looking for a souvenir to take back home, check the local handicrafts at the Woman’s Cooperative of Kotagiri that houses many products made by the local tribes. There are several items that you can buy, but I particularly recommend a Toda embroidery shawl or stole that can be a very handy keepsake. And also, it is doing your bit to the local community – now that’s a win-win situation for sure. Do not forget to add Kotagiri to your next visit to the Nilgiris.