Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Oothu: The quaint little hill station of Tamil Nadu

Entering the hill station of Oothu in KMTR

There is this tiny hamlet in Southern Tamil Nadu where the mist and sometimes even the clouds descends every evening and stays in till the early hours of the morning. The weather here is a far cry from the hot plains, just 30 kms below. It happens to be one of the wettest places in India during the North East Monsoon and it happens to be an integral catchment area of the Thamirabharani river and its many tributaries. This quaint little hill station is located at an altitude of 4,500 feet above MSL in the Western Ghats of Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve in Tamil Nadu. This place is called Oothu and this hill station is home to less than 100 people.

The road that connects Oothu to Kudrevetty

Access to Oothu is tough, but the natural beauty of this place and its surroundings will make it worth the trouble many a time. The people of Oothu either work in the tea estates surrounding their village, the Tamil Nadu forest department or any of the other jobs that are needed to run this village like shops, schools, buses, etc. The tea estates in this region were created by the British by leasing land from the Singampatty Zamin. In another five years or so, the lease gets over and the place will fall completely under the control of Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve and the Tamil Nadu forest department. Hopefully then, more native trees will take over the tea estates and ensure that this pristine ecosystem stays as untouched as ever for years to come.

Tea estates, tropical forests and dense mist - All on the forest road between Oothu and Kudrevetty

A visit to Oothu will give you a peek into the tea culture of this region, a laid back culture of a mountain hamlet and last, but not the least, it will show the rich diversity of a pristine forest ecosystem called Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve. There are only 10 outside vehicles allowed here every day, which leads to extremely low levels of pollution and given the extreme remote location, Oothu and its surroundings are an example of how Western Ghats should be and not what it has turned into the rest of our country. Do visit this place only if you are a nature or wildlife lover and not if you are looking for a hill station to play loud music and enjoy your alcohol parties. Let’s preserve this place for our future generations.

Tea estate workers take a break at Oothu estate

Best season to visit:

Oothu is open all year round and can be visited in all seasons. Summers are incredibly pleasant here and are a far cry from the hot plains below. The rainy season between October and December is magical here and this is when close to 3000 to 5000 mm of rain precipitates in three months and dresses up the surroundings in fresh green and full water bodies and waterfalls. January and February offer clearer weather with low humidity and this allows for clear views of the spectacular landscape that includes the tea estates, forests, mountains and the many dams.

The tea estates of Oothu in KMTR

How to reach there:

If you are traveling from Tirunelveli, head towards Cheranmadevi and Kallidaikurichi. Just before Kallidaikurichi railway station, turn left and take the road leading towards Manimuthar. You will cross Golden nagar, Thekku Pappankulam, Tamil Nadu Special Police IX battalion and Manimuthar village. If you head straight from Manimuthar village, climb the narrow road and you will reach the forest check post at Manimuthar Dam. You will have to get your permits checked here, pay the necessary fees and then drive onwards towards Manimuthar Falls, Manjolai, Kakkachi, Nalumukku and then onto Oothu.

How to get permits for this place:

To travel to Manjolai, Kakkachi, Nalumukku, Oothu and/or Kudrevetty, you will have to get permits in advance from the forest department office at Ambasamudram. The permit costs INR 200 at Ambasamudram and you will have to pay the vehicle fee and per person charge at the Manimuthar check post. The forest check post opens at 7 AM and closes at 6 PM.

If you book a room at the forest guest house at Kudrevetty, then that booking is good enough and you don’t need to get the permits in advance.

Tea estate workers in action at Oothu

Where to stay:

If you wish to stay within the tiger reserve, you can book the forest rest house at Kudrevetty through the Kalakad Mundanthurai tiger reserve website.

If you wish to stay in traditional agraharam houses, you can try the home stays and guest houses at Kallidaikurichi village.

If simple, yet modern hotels are your thing, you can try Hotel Ambai Grand at Ambasamudram.

If you wish for a wider variety of hotels, you will have to try looking at Tirunelveli.

Where to eat:

There are a few family run home restaurants at Oothu where you can get local meals along with some tea and coffee. However, you need to order your meals at least a day in advance so that the people can arrange the rations and vegetables.

There are a few tea shops at Manjolai where you can find basic snacks along with tea/coffee, but if you order in advance, you can get some food.

There are a few small shack-like restaurants at Manimuthar before the forest check post. Here, you can get basic meals and a decent array of tiffin items.

The picturesque hamlet of Oothu in Tamil Nadu

Other tourist attractions inside Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve:

1) Manimuthar Falls: The herbal waterfall inside a tiger reserve

2) Agastyar Falls: A gorgeous waterfall on the Thamirabharani river

3) Manjolai: The offbeat hill station of Tamil Nadu

4) Kakkachi: The highest point inside Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve

5) Kudrevetty: The remote and windy hill station of Tamil Nadu

6) Nalumukku: The wettest place of India during the North East Monsoon

7) Scenic Iron Bridge of Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve: Pristine nature overloaded

8) Karaiyar Dam: Offbeat wildlife and nature holiday destination in India’s deep south

9) Cycling through the backyards of Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve

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