The Nilgiri hills have a history going back a good many centuries. It is not known why they were called the Blue Mountains. Several sources cite the reason as the smoky haze enveloping the area, while other sources say it is because of the kurunji flower, which blooms every twelve years giving the slopes a bluish tinge.
It was originally tribal land and was occupied by the Todas around what is now the Ooty area, and by the Kotas around what is now the Kotagiri area. The Badagas appeared here much later from the Mysore Plateau, the unconfirmed date being 1550. Although the Nilgiri hills are mentioned in the Ramayana of Valmiki (estimated by Western scholars to have been recorded in the second century BCE), they remained all but undiscovered by Europeans until 1602. This was when the first European set foot into the jungles. A Portuguese priest going by the name of Ferreiri resolved to explore the hills and succeeded. He came upon a community of people calling themselves the "Toda." This priest seems to have been the only European to have explored this area. The Europeans in India more or less seem to have ignored the ghats for some two hundred or more years.
It was only around the beginning of the 1800s that the English unsuccessfully considered surveying this area. Around 1810 or so the East India Company decided to delve into the jungles here. An Englishman Francis Buchanan made a failed expedition. John Sullivan who was then the Collector of Coimbatore, just south of the Nilgiris, sent two surveyors to make a comprehensive study of the hills. They went as far as the lower level of Ooty, but failed to see the complete valley. The two men were Keys and Macmohan (their first names seem to be lost to the annals of history) and their mission was significant because they were the first Englishmen to set foot in the Nilgiri hills which soon led to the complete opening up of the area.
The original discovery however,is attributed to J.C. Whish and N.W. Kindersley, working for the Madras Civil Service, who made a journey in 1819 and who reported back to their superiors that they had discovered "the existence of a tableland possessing a European climate."
The first European resident of the hills was John Sullivan, the Collector of Coimbatore, who went up the same year and built himself a home. He also reported to the Madras Government the appropriateness of the climate; Europeans soon started settling down here or using the valley for summer stays. The complete valley became a summer resort. Later on the practice of moving the government to the hills during summer months also started.
By the end of the 19th century, the Nilgiri hills were completely accessible with the laying of roads and the railway line.
The district has an area of 2,452.50 sq.km. The district is basically a hilly region, situated at an elevation of 2000 to 2,980 meters above MSL. Almost the entire district lies in the Western ghats. Its latitudinal and longitudinal dimensions being 130 KM (Latitude : 10 - 38 WP 11-49N) by 185 KM (Longitude : 76.0 E to 77.15 E). The Nilgiris district is bounded by Mysore district of Karnataka and Wayanad district of Kerala in the North, Malappuram and Palakkad districts of Kerala in the West, Coimbatore district of Tamil Nadu in the South and Erode district of Tamil Nadu and Chamarajanagar district of Karnataka in the East. In Nilgiris district the topography is rolling and steep. About 60% of the cultivable land falls under the slopes ranging from 16 to 35%.
The altitude of the Nilgiris results in a much cooler and wetter climate than the surrounding plains, so the area is popular as a retreat from the summer heat. During summer the temperature remains to the maximum of 11°C to 15°C and reaches a minimum of 2°C to 5°C. During winter the temperature reaches a maximum of -2°C to 2°C and a minimum of -12°C. The rolling hills of the Downs look very similar to the Downs in Southern England, and were used for similar activities such as hunting.
The district usually receives rain both during South West Monsoon and North East Monsoon. The entire Gudalur and Pandalaur, Kundah Taluks and portion of Udhagamandalam Taluk receive rain by the South West Monsoon and some portion of Udhagamandalam Taluk and the entire Coonoor and Kotagiri Taluks are benefited by the rains of North East Monsoon. There are 16 rainfall registering stations in the district The average annual rainfall of the district is 1,920.80 mm.
The principal town of the area is Ootacamund, or Udhagamandalam, which is the district capital. The town also has several buildings which look very "British", particularly the Churches. There is even a road junction known as Charing Cross. The other main towns in the Nilgiris are Coonoor, Kotagiri, Gudalur and Aruvankadu. The famous tourist spot in Coonoor are Lambsrock and Sims park. In Sims park, a "Fruit Show" is conducted during summer. All the varieties of fruit are displayed during that time. This park is situated on the way to Kotagiri.