The main stop on the train ride to Ooty is Coonoor, a major tea market town at an altitude of 1,858m (6,561ft). Lying at the head of the Dodabetta Ravine, its core is a messy bazaar of tin-roof shops and warehouses – the real interest resides in the town’s upper, leafy fringes, where pretty Raj-era bungalows are swathed in lush tea plantations with sweeping views over the valley.
Popular hiking trails follow the old British cart tracks to viewpoints such as Lamb’s Rock and Dolphin’s Nose, from where you can gaze down the mountain to the Tamil plains. One of our favourite places to stay in the area is the Taj Gateway, a smartly restored former planter’s residence high above Coonoor which would resemble a provincial British hotel from the early 20th century were it not for the exotic views, and the modern touches in the rooms. Original wooden floorboards and open fireplaces add homely touches to the property; hunting trophies hang in the lounge.
Our other preferred hotel hereabouts has a much more contemporary feel. Named after the indigenous inhabitants of the area, the Kurumba Village Resort is set amid dense forest on a tea estate outside Coonoor. Enfoldeld by spectacular, jungle-covered mountains at the head of a steep valley, its terraced gardens have wonderful panoramas – best savoured from the divine overflow pool. The rooms, with their lemon yellow and earthy brown colour schemes, are spacious and relaxing: French windows open on to balconies with their feet literally in the tea bushes.