South India Day 6: Doddabetta, Botanical Gardens, Fernhills Palace, Arboretum
We were out early on this day, after our breakfast of fruit, toast, sambar and idli. It was a nice walk down the hill and into town to catch a tuk tuk to take us back up the mountain to Doddabetta peak, at 8650 feet. This was probably the bumpiest, pothole ridden road I've ever experienced in a tuk tuk, or a car, for that matter. The views at the top were worth the ride to the summit. We explored the gardens and sampled some not so delicious chocolate candy and finally made our way up the circular staircase in the Telescope House. After exploring the gardens and taking in the beautiful views of the valley below, we found our same driver waiting patiently and made it down the jaw-rattling road and to the Government Botanical Gardens on the outskirts of Ooty. These gardens were incredibly well kept, relaxing and serene. There are some interesting historical buildings on the grounds, including the 1894 McIvor Fern House. After a relaxing hour long stroll around the botanical gardens, we met our trusty driver and had him drive us to our final destination, Fernhills Palace.
Fernhills Palace is a huge mansion that has been converted into a hotel and I believe the closest thing I've experienced to walking into the past. I felt as though I was on the film set of an Indian Downton Abbey. Everything is original inside and out and apparently unchanged, as evidenced by the numerous black and white photos of the place showing eras past. One thing that has changed from the photos, however, is that we three seemed to be the only three living beings in the place, other than a few hotel workers milling about. Where were the guests? It almost felt like The Shining. We spoke with one of the waiters and ordered tea and had a nice time just sitting in the grand hallway sipping tea and taking in all of the amazing decorations and woodwork. After our tea, one of the workers gave us a tour of the ground floor of the building, including the 1920's Fox Hunt Bar. He then seemed perfectly fine with us wandering around the rest of the building and exploring on our own. We went upstairs and outside and all around the grounds. I would highly recommend Fernhills Palace to anyone traveling to Ooty. The actual hotel website and booking information is here.
Fernhills Palace was only about a 20 minute walk back to our hotel. We were feeling a bit hungry and went to get a snack at a strange restaurant I chose. Only the paneer pakora was good and afterwards we walked back to the hotel to rest before dinner. I couldn't sleep, of course, so I walked a block down to the Arboretum, which we had passed many times but had never entered. It's fairly small but well kept. The best part was the creepy rabbit and penguin shaped trash receptacles that simply say 'Use Me' (photos below). Our last dinner at the Bouganvilla was very good, as usual. The main course was aloo gobi, my favorite. After dinner, we played a few rounds of Uno and all of us off to bed by 9 to get a good night's rest for the long travel day ahead.