A driving holiday that cuts through three states and traverses a variety of landscapes.
If you’re lucky, you might spot an elephant family at Tamil Nadu’s Mudumalai National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary. Photo: Hema Ramaprasad
Get an early start from Bengaluru and head southwest to Mysore, stopping on the highway for filter coffee and thatte idli at one of the many joints around Ramanagara. As you drive past, take a glimpse at the rocks where Sholay (1975) was shot. Allow the languid pace of Mysore to set the tone for the remainder of the journey. The city’s delights include a dose of history at Tipu Sultan’s capital Srirangapatna, local colour and flavour at the Devaraja Market, and some peace and quiet at the Kukkarahalli and Karanji lakes. Get an authentic Mysore masala dosa at Hotel Mylari in Nazarbad (don’t be deterred by its exteriors).
Time your drive from Mysore to Bandipur—or further southwards to Mudumalai (the parks are contiguous)—to hit the forest stretches in the morning or early evening, when the light is soft and animal sightings are likely. The drive is spectacular: the dry deciduous forests that form part of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka’s national parks, shelter a wealth of wildlife. Your stay options range from upmarket resorts to basic B&Bs located on the fringes of the forest. Bamboo Banks, a 35-year-old farmstead in Mudumalai, is among the best and is run by a friendly, if quirky Parsi family.
From here the drive to Ooty, via the Kalhatti Ghats, is short, steep, and spectacular but requires a seasoned driver to navigate all the hairpin bends. The Raj-era hill station has now been comprehensively trashed by mass tourism. However, a handful of boutique accommodations like Destiny, a farm resort at the edge of Avalanchi Lake 25 km away, is far from the madding crowd. You can also pick Coonoor over Ooty, a leisurely two-hour’s drive southeast of Mudumalai. Stay either at Acres Wild, an organic cheesemaking farm stay, or Tenerife, a bungalow amidst a tea plantation. You can hike to nearby villages and walk around the plantations.
From Coonoor, drive to Mettupalayam, the start of the Tamil Nadu plains, and on to Pollachi, a verdant town two hours south. Surrounded by rice fields and coconut orchards, it has served as the backdrop for hundreds of south Indian movies. Be sure to fortify yourself with Kumbakonam degree coffee, a Tamil Nadu travel ritual. From Pollachi, take the longer and more picturesque route to Kochi via Marayoor and Munnar, Kerala’s postcard-ready hill station, full of waterfalls and rolling hills draped in mist.
Finally, drive down to the coastal city of Kochi. Set aside a day to explore Fort Kochi on foot, taking in its rich colonial history and architecture as you amble around its atmospheric by-lanes. Put all that weighty history behind you with a shopping spree and café break on lively Princess Street, and end the day with a sundowner at the water¬front Brunton Boatyard.
Day 1 Drive southwards to Mysore from Bengaluru.
Day 2-3 Head to the dry deciduous forests of Bandipur or Mudumalai.
Day 3-6 Navigate the hairpin bends of Ooty or settle for leisurely walks in the tea plantations of Coonoor.
Day 6 Take the longer, scenic route to Pollachi.
Day 7 Munnar, for some visual relief.
Day 8-10 Drive to Kochi to explore its colonial architecture and shopping.
★ The most convenient way to experience Mudumalai and Bandipur is to drive your own vehicle on permitted village roads through the forests.
★ There’s a high likelihood of spotting bison, elephant, and smaller mammals. Big cats are rare, but not unheard of.
Coffee and Craft
★ En route from Ooty to Coonoor, stop for a meal at The Culinarium in Ketti, a Euro-style café-restaurant.
★ In Pollachi, visit Ethicus Studio, a social enterprise that employs local weavers to produce stunning, high-quality organic cotton saris, fabric, and home furnishings.
Appeared as “Southern Vales” in the March 2015 issue. Updated in November 2017.
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