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PHOTOS: Chugging downhill from Ooty

Last updated on: January 20, 2012 13:53 IST

PHOTOS: The Nilgiri Mountain Railway

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Ajay Jain

When you ride the Nilgiri toy train you roll past old-world charm towns. It's a historical journey on a heritage train that never leaves on time and changes engines midway

Wheeeee! I am on a toy train ride. Starting from Ooty or Ootacamund (now officially renamed Udagamandalam) going downhill all the way to Mettuppalayam in Tamil Nadu. And the Nilgiri Mountain Railway now figures in UNESCO's World Heritage List.

The train passes through some picturesque tea estates in the Nilgiris mountains as well as past villages and towns many of which retain their old world charm -- and skies with changing colours towards evening especially when there is a cloud cover. The train negotiates 208 curves, 13 tunnels and 250 bridges.

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Ajay Jain is a leading travel writer and photographer and shares his travel experiences at http://kunzum.com.


Photographs: Ajay Jain

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PHOTOS: The Nilgiri Mountain Railway

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A brief history of the train

You could refer to it as a toy train, but it is a real one. The work began in 1886 when the Nilgiri Railway Company started laying the line between Mettuppalayam and Coonor, eventually completing it in 1899. They used the 'Alternate Biting Teeth' technology in the 'Rack and Pinion' arrangement between rails.


Photographs: Ajay Jain

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PHOTOS: The Nilgiri Mountain Railway

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Its gradient of 1:12 is the steepest for any rail network laid down by the Indian Railways. The government bought the company in 1903 and extended the line to Udagamandalam (Ooty) by 1908.

The 46 kms (29 miles) journey takes the train from 6,159 feet (1877 m) altitude in Mettupalayam to 7,228 feet (2,203 m) in Ooty. You could plan a marathon along its tracks -- a full course is 42.195 kms (26 miles 385 yards).


Photographs: Ajay Jain

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PHOTOS: The Nilgiri Mountain Railway

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Changing from steam to diesel engines

A few years back, a diesel engine was introduced for the leg between Coonor and Ooty -- it is a treat watching the process of changing to a steam locomotive at Coonor or vice versa. Watch out for the water spraying from the engines.


Photographs: Ajay Jain

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PHOTOS: The Nilgiri Mountain Railway

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The schedule

Trains have an official schedule, but they rarely stick to these. Mine left Ooty 30 minutes late, while the return leg got delayed in Coonoor by a couple of hours! To kill my boredom, I walked on the tracks to the next station, Wellington, and still had to wait a while there.

If you decide to walk on the tracks, be sure to be wearing thick-soled shoes. The stones between and along the tracks can be quite a bother. It may be warm in the day, but do carry a light jacket -- can be a bit chilly in the evening especially with open windows.


Photographs: Ajay Jain

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PHOTOS: The Nilgiri Mountain Railway

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Getting the best seat

It is best to book a first class seat in advance on the net. You may not get tickets on the spot, and the other classes are too cramped to fully enjoy the views.

The upper class is also at the end, giving you views from the end of the bogey too. And the bigger windows here add to the joys of looking out. Try to get a window seat. But the computerised booking may not allow you to pick and choose.

Suggestion? Block a few extra seats. Tickets are cheap.


Photographs: Ajay Jain

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PHOTOS: The Nilgiri Mountain Railway

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Travel tips

  • If you are putting your head out to take pictures, be careful you don't take a knock against mountain sides, trains and poles. You may fancy the idea, but I don't think you can walk / jog along the train and keep up with it.
  • Carry water and some snacks with you -- you may not be able to get any if you are just going for a ride and back.
  • You could just do the Ooty-Coonor segment or go all the way down to Mettuppalayam -- or the other way round. And do the return leg by road which would be much quicker.

Do book tickets in advance at www.irctc.co.in.


Photographs: Ajay Jain

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