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Tuesday, May 07, 2002

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Reaching Ooty — an uphill task

R.Y. Narayanan


REACHING the `Queen of Hill Stations' Udhagamandalam (Ooty) from Coimbatore by bus has become an ordeal for tourists, particularly on weekends during the April-May peak season when schools are closed.

The problem has been compounded by the fact that Coimbatore-Udhagamandalam route is a monopoly of the Tamilnadu State Transport Corporation (TSTC) and the absence of competition from the private bus operators has evidently made the TSTC rather smug.

It is true that private buses ply from Coimbatore up to Mettupalayam, which is at the half-way mark to Udhagamandalam. But wary of having to complete the rest of the journey standing in the buses from there to the hill station for about two hours, the tourists prefer to the board the buses at Coimbatore itself.

The distance between Coimbatore and Udhagamandalam is 91 km and the travelling time is three hours. Partly, this is due to the fact that nearly half the distance is in the ghat section, where the vehicles have to move at a relatively slow speed.

There is a regular train service available to Udhagamandalam from Mettupalayam. The journey by the mountain railway is a thoroughly enjoyable experience. But it is a time consuming journey and available only once in a day in the morning, that too with limited capacity.

There is a summer special train from Mettupalayam to Udhagamandalam but one has to switch over to another train at Coonoor making the journey time even longer.

The TSTC in its notice board at the Coimbatore bus stand claims that buses to Udhagamandalam are available every 20 minutes. But during the peak tourist season, particularly on weekends, the tourists going to the hill station have to wait for a long time in the queue, even up to 3 hours, for boarding a bus in the mornings.

This affected mainly those who would like to make a quick trip to the hill station, reaching there in the morning and returning by the evening. The long wait for the bus here and the tiring three-hour journey virtually saps all their energy and by the time they land at the hill station, they start counting the hours before they have to head home subjecting themselves to a gruelling journey again.

The tourists say the TSTC should augment the fleet of vehicles in the Coimbatore-Udhagamandalam sector at least on weekends during the summer season so that their waiting time for buses is reduced.

Capitalising on the problems of the tourists, private vehicle operators were seen luring waiting tourists at the queue-point itself. But their rates were hefty, Rs 100-125 per passenger whereas the bus fare was about Rs 28.

But still some tourists opted to shell out the cash to escape the tiresome wait in the queue.

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Reaching Ooty — an uphill task

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