Mercedes-Benz GLC takes in Ooty
We’re behind the wheel of the lavish Mercedes-Benz GLC, making our way to the capital of the Nilgiris. Follow us as we road trip in style from Mysuru to check out Udhagamandalam (Ooty) and then head to our HQ in Pune
verybody needs a vacation once in a while. Whether you’re a sharpsuited businessman, a jeans-and-tee college kid, a sari-clad scientist, or anyone who’s stuck in the daily grind really. A change of scenery is almost always a great way to get centred, release some of that stiffness in your shoulders that comes with carrying the weight of your own personal world and crystallize your thoughts. We call them getaways for a reason, after all. We embarked on one such getaway as well, heading towards the scenic beauty and calm repose of Udhagamandalam or Ooty, as it is more popularly known around India.
Our journey didn’t quite begin there, though, for we started from the city of Mysuru. Leaving the comfort of the hotel bed in the early hours of the morning for a long day’s drive isn’t always fun, but when you have the plush cabin of the Mercedes-Benz GLC to look forward to, the cobwebs tend to dispel rather quicker than usual. Climb in, set the two-zone climate control just so, adjust the electronically controlled seats for optimal reach and comfort, enhance the latter with four-way lumbar support, and strap in. The ambient lighting sets off a diffused glow that catches the beige leather and the wood accents on the dash, and the seveninch display with Garmin-powered integrated navigation points me in the right direction. The right direction is, of course, Ooty and we would be taking the scenic route via Masinagudi and the famous 36 hairpins of the Mysuru-Ooty road, a 120-odd kilometre drive all told but one with many stops along the way.
It didn’t take long for us to pull over either, as just a scant few kilometres from our hotel was the famous Cathedral of St Joseph and St Philomena. More commonly known as St Philomena’s church, this massive cathedral was built in 1936 and is modelled after the famous Cologne Cathedral, fitting then that we should take a vehicle built by one of Germany’s biggest car-makers to go see it. The Cathedral’s massive presence, many towers and neoGothic architecture all combine to create an impressive structure and one that is only slightly marred by the fresh coat of paint it’s getting, which, to my eyes at least, detracts from the church’s rustic charm. Those twin spires stretch a massive 175 feet into the air, making it one of the tallest churches in all of Asia. I had also read that some of the statues in the church, including one of Mother Mary, has been draped in a traditional Mysuru sari in an effort to blend cultures. I couldn’t go in and verify for myself, though, as morning mass was in session.
Having had my fill of the church’s majesty, it was time to move on. The highway beckoned and allowed me to flex the GLC’s considerable 2.2-litre turbo-diesel muscle. With 170 PS and 400 Nm to tap into, the going was fairly expeditious and soon we arrived at the gate to the Bandipur forest reserve. I had to force myself to keep my foot off the pedal here, as, within forest limits, the right of way belongs to the many animals whose natural habitat it is. And we happened to spot a few of these exotic local residents, too, before we turned off towards Masinagudi, getting our first glimpse of the majestic Nilgiri Hills, and headed out on to the hairpin riddled road up to Ooty.
The twisties were so much fun to drive on in the GLC, especially since I had used the Drive Select toggle to set the SUV in Sport+ mode for maximum driving pleasure. This
firmed up the suspension, made the throttle more responsive, and adjusted the shift timing on the ninespeed auto ’box so that I could extract all the dynamism the SUV had to offer. As I was nearing the top, a blanket of fog rolled in, adding this mystical, ethereal quality to the surroundings.
It was from within the folds of this mist that the GLC emerged on to the plateau at the centre of which the town of Ooty is located. Before entering the hillstation proper, though, we stopped off at the famous pine tree forest here to take in the sight and distinctively pleasant aroma of this thicket of towering trees. You can even catch a glimpse of the Kamraj Sagar Lake as a sliver of shimmering blue in the gaps between the tree trunks.
By the time we were done taking in the sights, sounds, and smells en route and had entered Ooty proper, it was nearly lunchtime, so I turned the GLC towards Havelock Road and a restaurant I had heard rave reviews of: Earl’s Secret. The views offered in this resto were supposedly a highlight and it didn’t disappoint in this regard; nor, in fact, in terms of the deliciousness of the fare on offer. A satiating lunch later, we were off again, our first postmeal destination being St Stephen’s Church. This iconic place of worship is one of the oldest churches in the
Nilgiris, with its origin dating back all the way to the 1830s. Its light yellow exterior and stately aesthetic make it one of the prime attractions in Ooty.
From the church, we headed towards Doddabetta, which, at 8,650 feet, is the highest peak in the Nilgiri range, located barely nine km from Ooty. This meant driving through the heart of the hill station and on its narrow roads packed as they were with inclines and declines. The GLC’s silken nine-speed automatic gearbox really shone through. There were no jerks, loss of power or any similar issues that you’d typically face in a network of narrow and undulating roads.
Once we reached the entrance to Doddabetta top and left the tarmac for a mud-ridden path, the SUV’s 4MATIC all-wheeldrive system kicked in to ensure that things didn’t get slippery on the slick surface. On the way up, I noticed a bit of movement and the silhouette of a bovine animal of some kind grazing just off the path. What I initially dismissed as a common buffalo turned out to be a full-grown Indian Gaur! After stopping for some quick pictures, we high-tailed it out of there, so as not to irk the seemingly gentle giant and made our way further up. The vistas on offer from Doddabetta Peak are quite spectacular and we spotted a hill covered in tea plantations on one side.
I just had to go take a closer look and so I quickly drove towards what turned out to be Kottagiri road and got up close to Ooty’s famous tea estates. If you haven’t seen just how spectacularly beautiful tea estates spread across the face of a valley are, then let me tell you they are completely and utterly spellbinding. As I sat there near the cliff, taking in the view, I started to feel a little bit of a nip in the air. On climbing back into the GLC and after I had turned up the heat, I noticed the temperature had dropped to the high single digits and it was only 5.30 pm. It was in that moment I realized just why Ooty was the summer capital of erstwhile Madras.
However, the bed I had only slightly reluctantly left that morning was beckoning, so it was back down the hill and back to Mysuru. No visit to Ooty is complete without buying some of the town’s famous bespoke chocolates, so, of course, we stopped at one of the many chocolate stores on the way out to take back
we stopped off at the famous pine tree forest to take in the sight and distinctively pleasant aroma of this thicket of towering trees
some cocoa-flavoured mementoes from our visit.
It was yet another early morning the next day, as a long drive back to Pune, the base of operations for Car India, beckoned. I opted for the route via Tumkur, for even though the roads are a simple dual carriageway, the surface is immaculate and there are a few interesting spots along the way. An oddly shaped hillock caught the eye as it blotted out a corner of the sky and because the GLC is a capable SUV with a generous ground clearance, I didn’t hesitate to deviate off the highway and into the rough stuff to go check it out. Again, the 4MATIC system kept things on the straight and narrow and stuff that would usually worry me — a large puddle of slush, for instance — was rendered insignificant.
From Tumkur, we linked back up to NH 48 and began powering through the highway again. Carrying triple-digit speeds, darting past trucks and absolutely haring down the highway, all the while ensconced in the luxury of that sumptuous cabin, with the droplets from the sporadic rain trailing along the length of that massive panoramic sunroof overhead. Despite the readout on the trip meter climbing from 100 to 200 to 500 kilometres and beyond, I didn’t feel any fatigue at all. This was helped by the fact that I once more deviated off the highway just before bypassing Hubli. This time I went off to check out a windmill farm that caught my eye and, in the process, found an ancient temple built in the Vijayanagara architectural style. No signboards, no nameplate, no information. Just an old, derelict temple at the edge of a village. A nearly forgotten remnant of a bygone era, just waiting to be rediscovered. It is amazing what hidden treasures you can discover across our country as long as you have a thirst for adventure and the right car that can access these difficult to reach places. We did make it to the windmills after all and took a breather as dusk slowly melded into the inky black of the night.
The remainder of the drive home was smooth, fun, and not at all hampered by the darkness, as the GLC’s LED headlamps lit the path ahead. And despite the 920 km I had covered that day and the constant flurry of activity that was this trip was as a whole, I still came back invigorated, recharged, and with a renewed force of energy. Both the vacation and the vehicle I undertook it in played an equal part in that, I think.
the spectacularly beautiful tea estates spread across the face of a valley are completely and utterly spellbinding
Earl’s Secret is nestled in greenery and offers delicious food
The 36 hairpins are a must-drive in India
An adult male Indian Gaur watches us with a weary eye
( Below) One can’t visit Ooty without getting some homemade chocolates
( Above) Tea estates are an Ooty staple