No amount of dreamy clouds sitting on your window in a turbulence-ridden aircraft can replace the surreal, foggy mountain view with lush-green tall trees in the Shola forests waving for your attention. 

Added to this view, the mesmerizing rhythm of the train’s movement and that describes your journey from the town of Mettupalayam to the hill station of Ooty, short for Ootacamund, on the Nilgiri Mountain Rail.

Nilgiri Mountain Railway, also acknowledged as Toy Train in Ooty is one of the key charms of the popular hill station. The ‘toy’ train snails at a speed of nearly 60 km per hour hauling passengers on the rack and pinion track to Mettupalayam and Ooty traversing a distance of 46 kilometres in the formation of 108 curves, 16 tunnels, and 250 bridges. 

And the best part is that it got the heritage status in 2005, just three years before it achieved 100 years offering joy journeys to millions of passengers.

What is the history of Nilgiri Mountain Railway?

The concept of the toy train was conceived of in the year 1854, which took about forty years to be finally fulfilled. The initial line was built by a Swiss inventor Riggenbach who served on it and designed a lineup to Coonoor by the year 1899. 

The line was later lengthened up to Fernhill and then Ooty in the year 1908. Ooty was the place where the Colonial Officers visit to wash off the depletion of running the prestigious East India Company. 

Earlier they practised horses to ride through the Nilgiri Mountain. Later, Nilgiri Mountain Railway was built to avoid steep climbing and falling off the cliffs on the way to Coonoor while travelling by bullock carts or ponies. British ordered Switzerland made the steam engine and the tricky engineering; of course, the track is truly a gift from Great Britain to India!

Do you know how the engine of Nilgiri Mountain Railworks?

Interestingly, this is one of the heritage trains in the nation that runs at such a high altitude in Southern India. Being very steep, the Nilgiri Mountain Railway Toy Train works on a single system called ABT (Alternate Biting System), also recognised as the rack and pinion system

The method of pulling the train in this technique is quite distinct. Instead of an engine, there are two rack bars out of steps with each other between the rail lines that support in pulling the train. It’s the steepest track in Asia, progressing from 1,069 feet to 7,228 feet above sea level.

On this rack section trains are run by ‘X’ Class steam rack locomotives manufactured by the Swiss Locomotive and Machine Works of Winterthur in Switzerland.

These steam locomotives can be utilized on any part of the line either with or without the rack section. The brakes are four in number two handbrakes, operating by friction and two actings by restricting the free escape of air from the cylinder and thus using compressed air in hindering the progress of the engine. 

The former is used for shunting whilst the latter for falling steep gradients. One of the handbrakes performs on the tyres of the wheels in the ordinary manner and the second acts on grooved surfaces of the pinion axle but can be applied in those places where the track is laid.

Experiencing the joy ride of Nilgiri Mountain Railway?

It’s all about the experience. The unique experience you won’t receive on a normal train. A century and a decade-year-old but still operational toy train to board & build memories. A joy for the child or a wish for middle-aged. The heritage toy train is all on having the best experience of your lifetime.

 

The expectation of entering a tunnel when the lights get switched on and screaming as you pass into a tunnel is a childhood joy that needs to be experienced as an grown-up too who’s a local tenant from Coonoor and takes the train to Mettupalayam constantly, even though the train ride feels much longer than a bus or taxi.

From Mettupalayam, the train passes five stations (i.e)., Kallar station, Adderly station, Hillgrove station, Runnymede station and Kateri Road station to reach Coonoor and then stops at Lovedale just to go uphill towards Ooty. 

If it weren’t for the mountain railroad, you wouldn’t have noticed  Shahrukh Khan or Malaika Arora dancing to the song “Chaiya Chaiya” tune from Dil Se sitting on a truck. Now that would have been fun to watch.

But the song isn’t the only motive why mountain rail is immensely popular. This hill railway is one of the three railway tracks inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India, the other two being The Darjeeling Himalayan Express and The Kalka-Shimla Railway

This year, all the three trains, including the Nilgiri Mountain Railway celebrates the 10th anniversary of their heading to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list.

If you’re travelling to Ooty for the very first time, the toy train ride is the most ravishing way to know what’s in store for you. Whether it’s your debut visit or not, the mounting rail will give you an astonishing twin heritage track that steadies on the hillside as the train chugs along with the all-embracing tea estates, misty peak tops, bubbling brooks and waterfalls to get you back to an era gone by.

You must halt at the quaint Hillgrove station and feed the monkeys that fill the railway tracks. If you’re blessed enough you might see an elephant in front of your train, holding your journey for as hard as it wishes.

What more? Experience it yourself. Plan a visit to Ooty this year and take a ride on the Nilgiris Mountain Rail for a nourishing experience of nature, heritage and wildlife.

Note that the train has limited potential and reservation is necessary to get in. Reservation begins 120 days before journey date per IRCTC booking can be done on irctc.co.in

Although the train commences from the foothills and the ride ends at Ooty, you might think to take the ride between Ooty to Coonoor if you are bare of time and simply want to experience the train ride.

What are the regular train services and fares?

One toy train service functions on the Nilgiri Mountain Railway from Mettupalayam to Ooty per day. There are seven stations on the route.

The timetable is as follows:

Both first class and second class seats are offered on the toy train.  If you’re concerned about convenience, it’s worth getting a first-class ticket to have a more amicable and less cramped journey away from the crowds. 

A small number of unreserved tickets is also made available for buying at the ticket counter before departure. However, they normally sell out within minutes. A fourth carriage was affixed to the train in 2016, due to rapidly increasing demand. The train still books up instantly though, particularly in summer.

Fares for the regular train services:

The first-class ticket is 290 INR from Ooty to Coonoor and 85 INR for a general. From Mettupalayam to Ooty, it is 470 INR for first-class and 145 INR for second-sitting.  Do note that the area gets rain from both the south-west and north-east monsoons, and this usually disrupts services.

How to make reservations for Nilgiri Mountain Railway?

Reservations for travel on the Nilgiri Mountain Railway can be done at Indian Railways computerized reservation counters or on the Indian Railways website. It’s better to book as far as possible, especially during the peak summer season from April to June, Indian festival season (notably around Diwali vacation), and Christmas. 

The train fills up months in advance for these occasions. The station code for Mettupalayam is MTP, and Udagamandalam (Ooty) UAM.

 

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