Search out oases of quietude and colonial charm in Ooty
The only royal heritage experience in Ooty, Fernhills is a rare treat for other reasons as well. The nearly-150-year-old erstwhile summer palace of the Maharajas of Mysore, its transformation into a luxury hotel has taken almost a decade and considerable funds. The result is an all-suite property that is a class of its own — the 40-acre grounds (so sweeping that Fernhills makes its own vistas) are rich with woods, the entirely Burmese teak-and-glass-panelled corridors are lined with framed family photographs, and the suites are larger than most city apartments: each comes with a large sitting room, the bedroom is bigger still, and the private sit-outs have Mangalore tiles made entirely of glass. In all of this, there is such an abundance of antique furniture (my room had a huge mirrored wardrobe, a full-size dressing table, a crockery cupboard, a dining table that could seat four...) that what could have been a drafty place for its sheer size is instead quite the opposite. The overall effect is one of stateliness, somewhat diminished by the riotous excess of colour, especially on the over-embellished walls. The modcons are plentiful and, behold, all bathrooms have jacuzzis. Central heating is on its way but, with blazing fireplaces, it’s not missed.
Accommodation: 6 executive suites, 6 deluxe suites, 6 luxury suites, 1 maharaja suite Best rooms: 101 and 102, for their private terraces; 202 and 204 have grand views but no sit-outs. Service: Superb Food: Very nice; specialities are Anglo-Indian and fusion cuisine Tariff: Rs 5,700 (executive suite)-16,950 (maharaja suite), double occupancy, inclusive of all meals, taxes extra Contact: 0423-2443910-15, www.welcomheritagehotels.com
Not only is the Savoy one of the oldest buildings in Ooty, it is also possibly the Nilgiris’ first hotel. The main building, constructed 1829, was originally the Mission School, which became the Dawson’s Hotel or The Union in 1841, thence the Sylks, which remains the name of the road that leads to the property, and finally and since, the Savoy. Despite astonishing facts, like having some of its massive beams transported by elephants from Tipu Sultan’s palace in Srirangapatnam, the Savoy remains a comforting, rambling presence easier to imagine as a school than the historic choice of stay for the Prince of Wales in 1875. A bulbul suns itself in the corridor, a tomato-red Morris Minor remains contentedly parked under a tree, and the gardens are lovingly tended. No two rooms are the same and, indeed, I was told that some of the standard rooms are larger than the superior rooms — the view being the determinant of their superiority. The menu deserves a special mention for its excellent section on Nilgiri cuisine — try the sampler platters and don’t miss koo (local boiled rice) with mildly spiced kai kari (a vegetable dish).
Accommodation: 13 standard rooms, 10 superior rooms, 4 suites, 6 deluxe suites Best rooms: I liked the tucked-away charm of 212 (a standard), facing a secluded patch of lawn, with Vijay Mallya’s imposing property for a high backdrop. A family should ask for suite 103, which not only has two bedrooms (as do 102 and 308) but also a second bathroom. Service: Very friendly and helpful Food: Terrific Tariff: Rs 6,800 (standard rooms)-13,000 (deluxe suites), inclusive of all meals, on double occupancy, taxes extra Contact: 0423-2444142-7, www.tajhotels.com
The other remarkable offering from Little Earth, Sherlock pays homage to its namesake, a quality that becomes evident right from the start as visitors have to deduce its location from signages so diffident as to be easily missed. Don’t be misled by the unpromising beginning to the search, from the steep road that rises off the heart of Ooty’s cacophonous Coonoor Road. Quietude descends by degrees on the longish ascent, which finally cuts into a gravel path that hides Sherlock behind a bend. The main building is over 80 years old. The interiors are colonial but not ostentatious. Indeed, despite rooms with names like Copper Beeches, and memorabilia centred around the master of 221B Baker Street, Sherlock is really more Watson than Holmes: cheerful, comfy and fastidious.
Accommodation: 2 semi-deluxe rooms, 2 deluxe rooms, 5 luxury suites Best room: Black Peter, for its views. Service: Good Food: Interesting but less ambitious than King’s Cliff. Tariff: Rs 2,205 (semi-deluxe), Rs 2,575 (deluxe), Rs 3,275 (luxury suites), inclusive of breakfast, on double occupancy, taxes extra Contact: 9443052890, www.littlearth.in
The Bungalow Ooty
Nilgiris Leisure Holidays’ over-100-year-old property on Mount Pleasant Road stands out elegantly despite the haphazard development thereabouts. NLH’s founder-owner Sandeep Subramani worries so much about the lack of a view from here that he fails to mention The Bungalow would qualify as a bonafide heritage structure till I almost don’t make it. He needn’t have fretted. The Bungalow’s three cosy rooms are very nicely turned out: all antique wood and glass, sloping roofs and fireplaces. Rajan, the caretaker, doubles up as cook and is happy to serve breakfast at 11am, if that’s what you wish.
Accommodation: 3 rooms Best room: All equally good Service: Very friendly, homespun Food: Whatever you like, subject to Rajan knowing how. Tariff: Rs 1,750 for room on double occupancy, taxes extra.Contact: 9443841572; www.nilgirileisureholidays.blogspot.com/2006/12/responsible-tourism.html
The Savoy’s quaint neighbour, this homestay is likeable for its well-connected location and scruffy charm. Built 1856 and owned by one of Ooty’s oldest families, even the crockery is as antique as the furniture here. The original building has only been repaired, never refurbished or extended. The home element in this home stay is very prominent. The décor appears unplanned, the garden is not landscaped, the ornate fountain is in disuse, the driveway crunches with gravel and dust, and you may find a Dev Anand-style accordion pushed under a study desk. Bonfire (Rs 500) and barbeques (Rs 300 pax) in the garden, which also has attractive seating under a pergola, are arranged on request.
Accommodation: 3 rooms, 3 suites Best room: Unchecked due to full occupancy Service: Old-worldly Food: Lymond House’s Hyderabadi dum biryani is famous. Tariff: Rs 2,500 (rooms), Rs 3,500 (suites), inclusive of breakfast, on double occupancy, taxes extra Contact: 0423-2223388, www.serendipity.org.in
So this is what will happen if your batty grandaunt decided to run a hotel. She would take a fairytale bungalow set on a glorious land’s end and then insist on decrepit interiors, shabby carpets, TVs plonked on unhappy tables, ugly flower vases, signs that read ‘No Addmission’ and a ‘reading room’ that has no books. Long-suffering Glyngarth was built 1850 by a Sir Walter Mounde and once played host to Nehru. What an ignoble destiny for a property that still shows flashes of gumption: arched windows let in plenty of sunshine and the sweeping wooden staircase is quite marvellous. Outside, a ramshackle building labelled hazardous mars the garden but has been the site of ‘many shootings’. Be warned, ‘duplicate husband and wife’ are a no-no.
Accommodation: 2 rooms, 3 suites Best room: None Service: Considers bachelors trouble Food: ‘Continental, Chinese, all items’ Tariff: Rs 2,850-3,650, inclusive of breakfast and taxes Contact: 0423-2445754/115, www.glyngarthvilla.com