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 Metupalaiyam to Ooty (Udagamandalam) via Coonoor in the Nilgiri Hills. The 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 Metupalaiyam 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 Metupalaiyam to Ooty takes 4 hour 50 minutes due to steep climb but return journey takes only 3 hour 35 minutes. There are total 7 passenger stations named Udagamandalam (Ooty), Lovedale, Ketti, Aravankadu, Wellington, Coonoor and Metupalaiyam on this route.
Other than these passenger stations, there are 5 water stops between Coonoor and Metupalaiyam.
This toy train railway is widely regarded as a marvel of engineering and is steepest one in whole Asia. The Nilgiri mountain railway is the only rack railway in India. To climb the steep gradient between Metupalaiyam and Coonoor, the line uses the Abt rack and pinion system to climb.
When I decided to travel to Ooty and Coonoor, traveling by Nilgiri mountain railway was my first in the list of things to do. I could not get confirmed ticket from Metupalaiyam to Ooty in FC but I got a return ticket in 2S class for the return journey from Ooty. I tried to book a first class ticket in “Tatkal booking” from Ooty through IRCTC’s website and fortunately, I got a confirmed ticket. My train from Ooty was at 02.00 PM and I reached station 45 minutes before the departure time. The train has 3 classes FS (First class), 2S (Second class) and General class unreserved. For unreserved compartment, booking opens 45 minutes before departure and tickets issued on first come first serve basis. When I reached there was a line of people standing for these tickets.
The Ooty railway station is small and there was only one platform for train’s arrival and departure. There is a canteen at Ooty station, here they serve thali and south Indian food at reasonable price. It was a clean place and I also got some food packed for the journey.
There were boards on platform indicating carriage number’s position and my carriage was last on the train. Nilgiri mountain railway has small carriages and there are no toilets on board. It is better to use waiting room’s toilet before boarding the train. The first class waiting room was closed with lock and I had asked stationmaster to open it. They opened it for me and told me to lock it & return the key to them 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. Very strange way.
The train arrived 20 minutes before departure and I boarded my carriage. Ticket collector checked everyone’s tickets before its departure. The train was in blue and offwhite color and it stood out when moving in green terrain. The wooden carriages of toy train were with large windows. The engine was a ‘X’ Class steam locomotive, made in Switzerland. There are twelve such locomotive engines survive even today. Before the departure of the train, everyone started clicking pictures with train, I also got few pictures clicked. The train departed from Ooty on time.
There was slight ascending from Ooty to Fern Hill point but after that, it was a downhill journey. It was a nice and comfortable journey until Coonoor. The scenery was beautiful on both sides with mountains, valleys and there were tea gardens on sides. The train stopped at different stations for 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 changed here to provide greater traction for the steep climb up to Ooty when coming from Metupalaiyam. Same way the engine is changed when coming back from Ooty to Metupalaiyam. When our train reached Coonoor, many small vendors came with their baskets to our carriage selling different snacks. There were food stalls at Coonoor railway station and many people from our train went to buy tea or snacks from there.
After a change of engine, the train started from Coonoor. There were water stops on the way to Metupalaiyam but these are not passenger stops.
The carriage of first class and the second class of Nilgiri mountain railway are 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 and there was no Abt rack and pinion system from here until Metupalaiyam. There were extensive rice fields around this 7 km stretch between Kallar and Metupalaiyam.
It was a beautiful 46 km journey by toy train from Ooty to Metupalaiyam. The train traveled through tunnels, curves, bridges and beautiful scenery. The Nilgiri Mountain Railway toy train from Ooty to Metupalaiyam was definitely a ride to cherish and will always remain special in my memory.
Important things to remember when traveling in Nilgiri Mountain Railway toy train –
There is a train every day from Chennai and toy train depart after its arrival.
Coimbatore is the nearest airport to Metupalaiyam.
There are few hotels in Metupalaiyam but for better options stay in Coimbatore.
Book advance tickets through IRCTC’s website, the train is small and there is always availability issue for FC tickets.
For current booking in general class arrive at least 1 hour in advance 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 Metupalaiyam then for joy ride book tickets from Coonoor to Ooty or vice versa.
Keep a camera handy because there is so much to click on the way.