Nestled in the Nilgiri hills, Kotagiri boasts of scenic views, interesting history and enviable natural treasures.

“This is the finest country ever. It resembles Switzerland more than any other part of Europe.” That was John Sullivan writing about Kotagiri in the Nilgiris , to Sir Thomas Munroe, then Governor of Madras, after his first visit in the first decade of the 19th century.

Sullivan later became the Collector of Ooty and it is he who first thought of developing the Nilgiri hills as a sanatorium for sick European troops in India.

Kotagiri is barely 20 km away from Coonoor. From Mettupalayam it is a half hour drive uphill with just seven hairpin bends.

John Sullivan took up the work of making the ancient footpaths leading to the Nilgiris into cartable roads. The very first improved tracks, the Kotagiri ghat road, was completed in 1819. He taught the Kothars, the local tribe, how to extract iron from ores occurring on the northern plateau.

The Ooty Collector was much loved as he held the local people as equals. He started the first Nilgiri school in 1821 in the Badaga village of Denadu. He introduced potato in the 1820s at Ooty near Stone House and it became the staple crop and diet of the locals. He referred to the Todas as “lords of the soil”.

The Sullivan memorial in Kannerimukku village of Kotagiri is certainly worth a visit.

During a recent trip to Kotagiri we got to watch the Toda women attached to the Manipura Toda Magalir self-help group do the intricate Pithukuli work on cream coloured shawls. The colours are always red and black, and the shawl can be used both sides. A worked- on shawl costs Rs 800.

There are three waterfalls in Kotagiri town. Catherine Falls in season lives up to its name of hulimindae, meaning roar of a tiger. Elk Falls is a gentle silver cascade and makes for a good picnic spot for the family. Rainbow Falls near Needle Point Rock boasts of virgin forest all around.

A walk down the winding gene pool garden path in Kotagiri was revealing. This Government-owned garden is a branch of the main one located in Gudalur. In the gene pool nursery, Shivlingam, the birdwatch expert, pointed to what he called the vellari-thalai leaves as the ones used in decorating wedding shamianas. He bemoaned how the orange trees in the hills no longer yield like before because of the rampant use of urea for growing tea.

Kurumbas are the principal honey hunters here. It is a dangerous activity as honey is collected from the honey combs of the Indian Rock bee (Apis dorsata )which makes its nests in cliffs or high trees. Honey is collected from a cliff with the help of a long rope ladder of forest vines which is tied to a tree or a rock above a cliff, risking limb and life.

In the song of the Kurumbas, besides pathos there is a big lesson crying aloud to be taken note of:

Such were the bounties of our

land

So fearless was our existence

Our forests gave us everything

Now tea has taken over our lives

Too much has changed

How can I speak of the old days –

without tears!