Ooty was aptly named as the ‘Queen of Hill Stations’ by India’s first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. This hilly region spans over an area of 36 square kilometer and is seen with numerous tall buildings cluttering on its slopes.
Ooty is known by many names of which one is Udagamandalam followed by Whotakaimund, Wootacamund and Ottakalmandu. The names for Ooty were derived from a blend of Toda and Tamil words wherein the Toda Tribes are known as the indigenous inhabitants of Ooty who settled here long before any civilization was even seen in this hill station.
In fact, when you break down the Tamil word ‘Whotakaimund’, ‘Whota’ points to a species of dwarf bamboo found only the forest regions of Ooty, the word ‘kai’ points to a fruit or green stuff and ‘mund’ points to a village thus forming the word Whotakaimund.
During the British rule, they pronounced the name of this hill resort as ‘Ooty’ after which it underwent numerous name change up till the Tamil Government renamed it as ‘Ootacamund’ a few years ago. Though the etymology of this quintessential hill station remains unknown, it is still popularly known by the abbreviated name of ‘Ooty’.
Historically, Ooty was home to the aboriginal Tribes known as the Todas. The first instance of a visit by an outsider was recorded in 1602 when a Jesuit Priest named Rev. Jacome Ferreiri visited the ‘Todamala’ area in search of a Todas Syrian Christian branch, but could not locate it. Later, the next visit to Ooty mentions the arrival of John Sullivan in 1819 who was then a Collector of Coimbatore.
In 1822, John Sullivan acquired a plot from the Toda Tribes and constructed a house entirely from stone thus the name ‘Ottakkalmandu’ was derived which means ‘Village of a Single Stone’. Today, this Stone-house homes the Government Arts College of Ooty.
John Sullivan was a pioneer and instrumental in putting Ooty in the map of the world of Tourism and initially as the Summer Resort during the British Raj in India thus marking the years he stayed here as the most significant years in the history of Ooty.
John Sullivan is also credited for building ‘The Boat House’, known presently as a famous tourist attraction around which the Ooty town was developed. Ooty gradually began to gain popularity with local tourists and soon its fame spread across the globe thus becoming one of the most visited hill resorts in India.
Prior to Sullivan’s visit to Ooty, an Englishman by the name of Mr. Keys, who was then the Assistant Revenue Surveyor and Mr. Mc Mahon who was Mr. keys’ assistant were sent to visit Ooty by their then District Collector of Coimbatore. They were in fact the first two Englishmen to climb the Nilgiris and went through Dananayakan Kottai up to the lower sections of Northern Ooty. However, unfortunately they did not notice the natural and serene beauty of one of the most promising resort landscapes in South India.
In 1818, J. C. Whish and N. W. Kindersley also made a visit to Ooty; however, it was only during 1819 when roads were laid making a path to Ooty after which possibilities of this Hill Resort becoming one of the most sought after tourist destination was discovered and became a reality.
An important fact in the history of Ooty was during 1821 when the earliest route was laid from Coimbatore connecting to the Nilgiris and from Shirumugai to Kotagiri after which the first Coonoor Ghat road was laid in 1832 and later the existing metal Ghat road was laid in 1871. This latest Ghat road links Kallar and Coonoor by a distance of approx. 25 kilometers.
Another significant event in the History of Ooty is when Agriculture was introduced to this quaint hill station by Johnston who was then an English gardener that led to the earliest economic development of Ooty and its surrounding areas. This formed the foundation for being one of the main sources of income for major locals and residents residing around Ooty.
Today, with tourism at its peak in Ooty, The sceneries invite all locals as well as globe trekkers and travelers to witness the inherent beauty of this enchanting hill resort. Tourist get to witness the landscapes of Ooty as it unfolds during their trip with flashes of breathtaking, awe-inspiring and fantastic illustrations of majestic blue hazed heights almost touching the sky.
Ooty is beauty personified and this fact was reinstated by a mention of the captivating beauty of this impressive hill station in a letter written to Thomas Munro by John Sullivan. He stated that India is one of the finest countries he has ever experienced and Ooty’s beauty is synonymous with the beauty of Switzerland when compared to other towns of Europe. He makes a mention of the Ooty Hills being beautifully wooded and the presence of fine strong springs with gushing streams seen in every valley and one cannot experience such explicit beauty of Ooty by reading about it. It must be visited and felt to believe its existence and uniqueness.