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Ooty in Tamil Nadu - Queen of India's Hill Stations

With a population of a bit over 88,000, Ooty (its full name is Udhagamandalam) is one of South India's top summer destinations thanks to its mild, eternally springlike climate and myriad attractions. An all-day train ride or road trip (and just over 4½ hours by plane) from Tamil Nadu's state capital Chennai (formerly known as Madras), it's known as the  "Queen of the Hill Stations." These are the towns that during the Raj - the period of 1858 to 1947 when India was a British colony - were developed as refuges from the heat of summer, and in fact Ooty was the summer capital of the colonial-era Madras region.

That legacy has left it with a number of Its appealing attractions amidst its rolling green and pine-clad hills, such as Ooty Lake, a botanical garden, a lovely rose garden, Wenlock Downs, Doddabetta Peak, Emerald Lake, Avalanche Lake, Pykara Dam, and Pykara Falls. And its annual Tea and Tourism Festival in January and Summer Festival in May attract visitors in huge numbers. Here are five of Ooty's essential attractions:

Ooty Lake

A manmade lake (above) whose construction was spearheaded by colonial official John Sullivan in 1824, this beautiful body of water, fed by mountain streams, is 40 feet deep on average. There are various boating facilities such as rowboats, pedal boats, and motor boats, as well as a "mini garden" with an amusement park for children, including a toy train.

Doddabetta Peak

At 8,650 feet, Doddabetta is the highest point in the Nilgiri Hills as well as South India's second highest peak after Anamudi near Munnar. From its position at the junction of the Western and Eastern Ghats, you can drive up and take in magnificent panoramas of the surrounding landscape from the Telescope House observatory at the top (complete with, yes, telescopes for even better viewing).

Pykara River, Lake, Falls, and Dam

The Pyrkara River is considered sacred by the region's traditional Toda people, and runs over a series of majestic waterfalls, the last two of which are 180 and 200 ft. high. At one point it's also dammed to form a lovely reservoir amid dense forest and with a boat house, rest house, and a restaurant. Boating in Pykara Lake is a memorable experience with breathtaking views!

Wenlock Downs

This vast expanse of grassy meadow, a favorite picnic spot in the outskirts, spread across 20,000 acres of rolling lands, perfect for strolling and hiking, with Doddabetta Peak offering breathtaking views of the mighty Nilgiris and Pykara Lake.

Government Botanical Gardens

In 1847, the Scottish Marquis of Tweedale laid the foundation of what is today one of India's best botanical gardens, 55 acres of lawns which are home to around a thousand species of flora. The highlight is a fossilized tree that is believed to be 20 million years old. A grand festival and flower show is held here every year May. Another popular place not to miss in your visit to Ooty!

More information: Ooty.com.

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