Hilltop cottages overlooking panoramic landscapes, neat bends and magical waterfalls—all make up for the quintessential hill station experience. But down south in Tamil Nadu, undulating scapes of the Ghats, Deccan foliage, aromatic plantations and a cultural burst add to the hilly charm, offering unique escapades in nature. From road-trippers to cultural geeks, honeymooners to naturalists, there’s something for everyone.
A sojourn up this 7,000-feet high point, located in Dindigul on the upper Palani hills, is for the offbeat traveller. Take three days to explore Kodaikanal on foot and you will be rewarded with emerald beauty. Traverse the sweet-scented pine forests to snap some nature shots or step into the Devil’s Kitchen—the Guna Caves—where the roots of the shola trees sprawl across the forest floor. Attractions include Coaker’s Walk, Silver Cascade, Bryant Park and Bear Shola Falls for a nature fix, Pillar Rocks for exploration, Kodai Lake for boat adventures and local bakeries for artisanal and home-made chocolates.
If spiritual solitude, nature spotting and celestial slumber are the highlights of your travel wish list, spend a weekend at Yelagiri. Located in the Tirupattur district, it is a 4.5-hour drive from Kempagowda International Airport in Bengaluru and 228-kilometres away from Chennai. Fourteen hairpin bends along the winding Ghat road will offer spectacular misty landscapes, which are nothing short of a painting. At the hilltop, unwind at the Punganur Lake, walk through the fruit orchards of Athanavur and Nilavur or trek down to the Jalagamparai Water Falls. Grab a slice of history at Moksha Vimochana Temple and schedule a stop at the Vainu Bappu Observatory to sear through the cosmos on a Saturday evening.
The colonial summer capital is a cult favourite for its botanical wonders, manicured tea gardens and glistening lakes. Perched atop 7,349 feet on the Western Ghats, Udhagamandalam is ever inviting for peaceful getaways. Allow yourself to be pleasantly surprised by the scenic hikes of the Nilgiris—do not miss the Doddabetta Peak—perfumed Rose Garden, quaint waterfalls and locally produced shawls, tea and essential oils. Soak in the glory of the colonial summer retreat by walking across church-lined streets and snack at walk-ins serving rich salads and soups. Wildlife spotters may head to Mudumalai National Park and chance upon golden jackals, Indian leopards, Bengal tigers and Asiatic elephants.
Bikers may pave their way through 18 hairpin bends to the last mountain range of Eastern Ghats—Sirumalai. Presenting itself as a hidden gem for naturalists and off-beat travellers, Sirumalai stands as a 60,000 acre-wide reserve forest. As the pleasant air seeps into your lungs, any traveller is bound to find solitude in the calming zone. The road trip will be dotted with peaceful churches and temples through the thick green cover of the Sanjeevni hills and offer panoramic views from cliff points like the Observation Tower on the seventeenth bend. For an immersive visit, try to spot medicinal plants along your trek to a small waterfall and soak in the 360-degree view from the centre of the Sirumalai Lake in a boat.
If discovering places and scouring through the wilderness gives you a kick, take the chance and head to the High Wavy Mountains. Megamalai, also known as Paccha Kumachi or green peaks, is an unexplored cloudy paradise nestled 126 kilometres away from Madurai. Expect enticing nature walks, birding zones and large tea and cardamom plantations. Slow down your travels by cycling through the bright green fields, visit the Manalar Dam, Suruli Falls and Iravangalar Dam and pin Megamalai Wildlife Sanctuary for the thrills of wildlife spotting.
Tucked away in the Nilgiri hills, Conoor is a great alternative to the crowded streets of Ooty. Immerse yourself in the subtle charm of the magical tea-growing valley. While still a popular tourist destination, one walk through the agricultural estates and winding roads perched with colonial bungalows will wash off the city blues. Hike to Dolphin’s Nose, check out the sweeping views from Ketti Valley, enjoy a swim in the shimmering Catherine Falls, revel in the history of Droog Fort and snack on artisanal bakes at the Indian Bakery. For a quintessential Coonoor trip, make sure to book a tea-tasting experience and relish the aromas from farms to your cup.
Allow yourself to add an additional day at Kotagiri to your itinerary if you’re visiting Coonoor or Ooty as this destination rests under an hour’s drive from the two popular pitstops. Get your coffee fix here as the Nilgiri hills specialise in arabica and robusta varieties and head to the local bakeries to satiate your sweet tooth cravings. Spend the day hiking the Longwood Shola Reserve Forest or conquer the Kodanad Viewpoint at 5,882 feet for a captivating sunset. Elk Falls and Rangaswamy Peak are two other attractions, equally alluring.
Head to this stop in the Salem district and traverse the best of Eastern Ghats’ wilderness with a short nature retreat. The best way to savour its natural scapes is by driving through a 32-kilometre loop. Once stationed, amble through the coffee plantations and fruit and spice orchards of oranges, bananas, pear and pepper. For an offbeat experience, learn all about the history of the silk trade at Silk World situated between the Rose Garden and the Lady’s Seat View Point. Yercaud gets the reputation for being one of the most wondrous hill stations for its flora diversity, however Killiyur Falls, Pagoda Point and Kaveri Peak—three scenic spots—are not to be skipped.
Head to this treasure trove of landscape beauty in Coimbatore for a short weekend getaway. Resting 4,495 feet above sea level, it shares boundaries with two tiger reserves—Anamalai and Parambikulam. Zip 64 kilometres from Pollachi to Valparai touching Indira Gandhi Wild Life Sanctuary to sight residing lion-tailed macaques, the Nilgiri and the common langur, Malabar giant squirrel, spotted deer, gaur and sambar. Head to the Solaiyar Dam for a picnic, Balaji Temple for a pilgrimage and kick back at Monkey Falls to rejuvenate yourself.
Muskaan Gupta travels with a camera that doesn't fret to capture touristy pictures and believes visiting local markets is the best way to unearth a city's gems and jewels. She is Junior Writer (Native Content) at National Geographic Traveller India.