Pretty recently, a very close friend of mine, who is also an avid traveller, went on a family trip to Ooty and Coonoor. "Hill stations have lost that old-world charm" - was his observation after the tour. He appeared to be quite upset by the level of commercialization that most of the popular hill stations have gone through in recent days. It's not only about him. I have heard the same complaint from several folks over the years. It was inevitable, though, - especially with the boom that Indian travel industry has witnessed over the past decade or so. While it's true that commercialization did have an impact on the serenity of famous tourist destinations in the Nilgiris and Western Ghat ranges, we can do nothing about it. Development will take its toll on the environment and cribbing is not going to change anything. It's a fact that Ooty, Coonoor, Kodai, or any other famous hill station that you can think of, are never going to be the same again. Reinstating the out of the world charm is beyond our abilities. However we can definitely explore the other possibilities to unearth a few all new hidden treasures. Trust me, there's a whole lot of amazing remote destinations surrounded by mountain ranges are waiting to be explored. It will be a series of travelogues; where I will bring you some of the lesser-known hill stations in Southern India that still have abundance of unspoilt greenery all around. We are unaware simply because none of them manages to get the limelight they truly deserve. So fasten your seat-belts and join me on a virtual tour off the beaten trails. The first part will cover Kotagiri - a scenic hill station in Tamilnadu located on the Nilgiri mountain range. My Favorite Offbeat Hill Stations in South India : Part 1 - Kotagiri I discovered this paradise on earth rather accidentally while on a family tour to Ooty. It was in the mid of 2011. Both of us (wifey and me) were accompanied by my best friend, Biplab and his newly-wed bride, Lipika. The initial plan was to catch the morning ride on the heritage Nilgiri Mountain Train right after checking in to our pre-booked accommodation at Ooty. However, a huge traffic pile-up near Guddalore caused us 2.5 hours' delay and by the time we could reach Ooty, the morning schedule of the heritage train had already departed. With nothing much to do till evening, we decided to explore the outskirts of Ooty town and landed at this amazing place named Kotagiri - completely unaware of its mere existence. In hindsight, I am glad to have missed the train. It turned out to be a real blessing in disguise. The route from Bangalore to Ooty goes through the reserve forest area of Bandipur and Madumalai Wildlife Sanctuaries. There is a restriction on travel at night, so all the vehicles that start from Bangalore after 3 PM, have no other option but to halt at the Bandipur forest gate overnight. My plan was to start at the wee hours and arrive at Bandipur gate at around 6 O'clock in the morning. Ooty is located at a distance of 50 KM from Bandipur, which is hardly another 1.5 hours drive. So it was quite feasible to catch the heritage train on arrival at Ooty - which was scheduled to depart from Ooty railway station at around 9 AM. To avoid wasting time in picking up Biplab and Lipika from their home on the D-day, it was decided that they would be staying at our place on the previous night. We took an early dinner and the ladies retired to the bed well before their usual schedule, while we - Biplab and me - both die-hard Red Devils (Manchester United fan), glued to our TV set to catch the Champios League second leg semi final between Manchester United and Schalke. Finally when the game ended in favor of United, we hardly had any time left to catch up with sleep. It din't matter though, as the thumping 4-1 win was a reward enough to forget all the weariness. We set out on the journey at 2:45 AM. Our drive was a 2005 model Maruti 800 STD Non-AC vehicle - which was incidentally the first car of my life (though second hand). The distance between Bangalore and Bandipur via Mysore is 236 KM. Given the near-empty road in great condition, I was confident to make it to the forest gate by 6:15. It took us around 2.5 hours' non-stop driving to reach Nanjangud, from where the ghat section begins. Bandipur was another 54 KM ahead. As I had predicted earlier, we managed to arrive at the Bandipur forest gate by 6:15 AM. I was enjoying the lonely drive in a chilly weather. 'Lonely' because all my co-passengers had already landed on their respective dreamlands shortly after take off from Bangalore. All was going according to the plan till I encountered a traffic pile up on the ghat section near Gudalur. I was not concerned much, as we had ample time in hand to catch the heritage train ride at 9 AM. But it turned out to be much worse than I had anticipated. We were stranded there for near about 2 hours without any information on the cause of the traffic jam. Finally, the long trail of traffic started to move, albeit at the snail's pace. Few minutes later, we found out the cause of the pile up. A huge Ashok Laylend truck had broken down at a narrow stretch while ascending, leaving no space for the larger vehicles to pass by. Anyway, it had already spoilt our plan for the toy train ride on the first day. It was 10:30 when we arrived at Ooty. Before checking in to the hotel, we went to the railway station to enquire on the next available schedule of the heritage train. We were informed that due to some maintenance work on the narrow-gauge line, the evening schedule was discontinued. The earliest we could take the ride was on the following morning. So we checked in to our hotel rooms, freshened up and had a light breakfast. With no other plans for the day, we decided to explore the outskirts of Ooty town to catch the greenery of tea estates. I did not plan to take any specific route and just followed my instincts to roam around. We had no idea that the leisurely casual ride would lead us to such an amazing spot! Here's introducing you to the mesmerizing Kotagiri - a little paradise on earth. Place - Kotagiri Category - Hill Station Elevation - 1793 m (5883 ft) State - Tamilnadu Nearest Town - Coonoor (17 KM), Ooty (29 KM) Distance from Major South Indian Cities: Coimbatore - 65 KM Kochi - 278 KM Mysore - 180 KM Bangalore - 323 KM On the backdrop of lush green landscapes and bright blue sky, Kotagiri offers a splendid view of the picturesque Nilgiri mountain range. Surrounded by quiant tea estates and swaying pyne trees all around, Kotagiri is an ideal place to rejuvenate yourself in its peaceful serenity. Regular buses ply to Kotagiri from Ooty, Coonoor and Mettupalayam. You can also hire a cab from Ooty/Coonoor to explore this beautiful place. If you are interested to stay away from the usual horde of tourists, then it's best to book an accommodation at Kotagiri and spend a leisurely vacation. There are a few decent staying options at Kotagiri, but do not expect lavish luxury. You may also consider the home-stay options offered by the local tea estates and farm houses. If you are looking for some adventurous trekking and rock climbing activities, then you are going to fall in love with this tiny little hill station. A 15 odd kilometer track to Kodanad View Point through the tea estates and shrub lands of evergreen forests can lead you to a panoramic view of the Nilgiri Hills. You can also indulge in some fun in the water on the lazily meandering stream of Moyar river. The beautiful Elk fall is another excellent attraction at Kotagiri to spend a few hours with your loved ones.