The Nilgiri Mountain Railway was declared UNESCO’s world heritage site in 2005. British built it in 1908 and train runs on 1,000 mm track known as meter gauge and also known as a toy train. Nilgiri mountain railway runs from Mettupalayam to Ooty (Udagamandalam) via Coonoor in the Nilgiri Hills. Though it takes longers to travel by train to Ooty as compared to by road still it’s worth every minute. The landscape on both sides of the track is beautiful and it was the highlight of my Ooty trip.
Basic information about Nilgiri Mountain Railway
The Nilgiri Mountain Railway track is 46 kilometers long and passes through 16 tunnels and over 250 small and big bridges. There are 108 curves in this journey. The train starts from Mettupalayam at 325 meters and ascends to Ooty at 2203 meters, Fern Hill at a height of 2,218m is the highest point on this railroad.
The uphill journey from Mettupalayam to Ooty takes 4 hour 50 minutes due to steep climb but the return journey takes only 3 hour 35 minutes.
There are total 7 passenger stations named Udagamandalam (Ooty), Lovedale, Ketti, Aravankadu, Wellington, Coonoor and Mettupalayam on this route.
Other than these passenger stations, there are 5 water stops between Coonoor and Mettupalayam.
This toy train railway is widely regarded as a marvel of engineering and is steepest one in the whole of Asia. The Nilgiri mountain railway is the only rack railway in India. To climb the steep gradient between Mettupalayam and Coonoor, the line uses the Abt rack and pinion system to climb.
My experience of Ooty toy train’s advance booking
When I decided to travel to Ooty and Coonoor, traveling by Nilgiri mountain railway was my first in the list of things to do during this trip. I booked my tickets one month before the travel date. Even than I could not get confirmed ticket from Mettupalayam to Ooty in First class (FC) and second class (2S). I traveled from Delhi to Coimbatore by air. It didn’t make much sense to go to the railway station and book the tickets from the railway station.
I checked the ticket for a return journey and got confirmed ticket in second class (2S class) from Ooty to Mettupalayam. So, I decided to travel to Ooty by bus and return by Nilgiri mountain railway.
A day before my return journey, I tried to book a first class ticket in “Tatkal” through IRCTC’s website and fortunately, I got a confirmed ticket.
The train has 3 classes FS (First class), 2S (Second class) and General class unreserved. First class and second class tickets can be booked in advance through IRCTC’s website. For unreserved compartment, booking opens 45 minutes before the train’s departure. These tickets are issued on a first come first serve basis and one person can buy a maximum 4 tickets.
The first class train ticket fare for Mettupalayam to Ooty (Udagamandalam) is 250 INR and second class ticket cost 30 INR.
Read my experience of Kalka Shimla toy train
My travel experience from Ooty to Mettupalayam
My train from Ooty was at 02.00 PM and I reached station 45 minutes before the departure time to explore the area. When I reached Ooty station there was already a queue of people for unreserved class tickets.
The Ooty railway station is small and there is one platform for the train’s arrival and departure. There is a canteen at Ooty station, where they serve thali and south Indian food at a reasonable price. It was a clean place and I also got some food packed for the journey.
There were boards on the platform indicating carriage number’s position and my carriage was last in the train.
Nilgiri mountain railway has small carriages and there are no toilets on board. It is better to use the waiting room’s toilet before boarding the train. The first class waiting room was locked and I have to ask stationmaster to open it. They opened it for me and told me to lock & return the key before boarding the train. It was very strange but it solved my purpose. They informed me that they keep it locked to stop unwanted people from using it and to keep it clean.
My train arrived 20 minutes before departure time and I boarded my carriage. Ticket collector checked everyone’s tickets before its departure.
The wooden carriages of toy train have large windows. The engine was an ‘X’ Class steam locomotive, made in Switzerland. The twelve such locomotive engines survived even today. Before the departure of the train, everyone started clicking pictures with the train, I also clicked a few pictures. The train departed from Ooty on time.
The train was in blue and offwhite color and it looked beautiful when moving in green surroundings.
There was slightly ascending from Ooty to Fern Hill station but after that, it was a downhill journey. It was a nice and comfortable journey to Coonoor.
The scenery was beautiful on both sides with mountains, valleys and tea gardens on sides. The train stopped at all stations for a few minutes before arriving at Coonoor.
Coonoor is more or less halfway point in this journey. The train stops here for the longest duration because the engine is changed here.
The more powerful diesel engine is used from Coonoor to Mettupalayam. This engine provides greater traction at the steep climb and descends between Coonoor to Mettupalayam. The engine is changed in Coonoor when coming back from Ooty to Mettupalayam and vice versa.
When my train reached Coonoor, several small vendors came with their baskets of goodies to my carriage selling different snacks. There are food stalls at Coonoor railway station and many people from our train bought tea or snacks from these styles.
After a change of engine, the train started from Coonoor. There were 2 water stops on the way to Mettupalayam but these are not passenger stops.
The carriage of first class and the second class of Nilgiri mountain railway are the same, the only difference was of space allocated to each passenger. The first class carriage has more space and less cramped due to less number of people.
In my carriage there was a group of middle-aged local women, they sang songs on the way. Most of them have a melodious voice and I enjoyed their company.
After Kallar station, its flat track with no ascend or descends. The Abt rack and pinion system are between Coonoor to Kallar station. There were rice fields on both sides of the railway track. The train speed was highest on this 7 km stretch between Kallar and Mettupalayam.
It was a beautiful 46 km journey by toy train from Ooty to Mettupalayam. The train traveled through tunnels, curves, bridges and beautiful scenery.
The Nilgiri Mountain Railway toy train from Ooty to Mettupalayam is definitely a ride to cherish and will always remain special in my travel memory.
Read more about train travel in India and safety tips
Things to know before traveling in Nilgiri Mountain Railway toy train
* There is a train every day from Chennai to Mettupalayam and toy train depart after its arrival.
** Coimbatore is the nearest airport to Mettupalayam.
* There are few hotels in Mettupalayam but for better options stay in Coimbatore.
** Book advance tickets through IRCTC’s website, the train has limited seats and there is always availability issue for FC tickets.
* For current booking in general class arrive at least 1 hour before the train departure because sometimes queues are longer and it’s difficult to get a ticket.
** The railway runs extra trains in peak season from April to June.
* There are no toilets on the train, remember this.
** Food and water bottles are available on stations on the way.
* If you don’t get a booking from Ooty to Mettupalayam then for joy ride book tickets from Coonoor to Ooty or vice versa.
** Keep a camera handy because there are so many beautiful landscapes to click on the way. Here are some useful tips for photography.