Nilgiri mountain railway

A journey in the Nilgiri mountain railway

Months back, I was scrolling the feeds of a travel group in facebook which I regularly follow, there was a discussion going on about the Nilgiri mountain railway. I had already experienced the beauty and charm of this heritage mountain railway when I was a kid.  The memory of that journey flashed through my mind.I was on a vacation with my parents. I remember myself eagerly looking out of the windows of this train along with hundreds of tourists packed in the compartment to get a glimpse of the views outside. It was very crowded that time. I could say that the journey would have been more beautiful if it was at least a little less crowded.

So now without any second thoughts, I decided to go again. Checked the availability of tickets for a weekend. To my least surprise, I got tickets for a day four months later. Well, that’s the interesting part of Indian railways. If you want a ticket in a train which is preferred by most, then you need to book it months in advance. Otherwise, the only option is to try your luck in the event called “Tatkal booking”, where millions of people in India desperately try to book tickets for their journey next day. I was happy to have the tickets.

After four months, on a weekend I started from Chennai, this time alone, to Mettupalayam. It is a small town located in the foothills of Nilgiri mountains. I reached Coimbatore early in the morning and then Mettupalayam an hour after. The train was waiting in the station, encasing the small station by steam  in the occasional whistles. The train was full but not crowded.

Nilgiri mountain train
Mettupalayam

A few minutes later, I was on the Nilgiri mountain railway whistling and moving through the beautiful mountains of Western Ghats,  towards the most charming hill station in South India, Ooty. The train moved slowly in its own old rhythm. Everyone on the train was very excited and looking out to see the spectacular vistas ahead.

Getting into some history, the Nilgiri mountain railway was built by the British in 1908. It is a meter gauge railway line which uses the rack and pinion mechanism to help the train climb the steep hills. And the only railway track in India using this mechanism. It is the train which climbs the highest elevation in Asia. In the first stage, the railway was only built up to Coonoor. The track till Ooty was added later. The Darjeeling Himalayan railway in West Bengal is similar to Nilgiri mountain railway. In 2005, UNESCO has declared both as Heritage Mountain Railways of India. There are about 250 bridges and 16 tunnels on the 46 km journey between Mettupalayam and Ooty.

Ooty mountain train
short break on the way

Travel in the Nilgiri mountain train itself is a history lesson. It still uses the old steam engine to climb the hills exactly like what was it before. We will hear the sound of the steam engine, that we still imitate holding our palms spread over our mouth. Currently, the steam engine is used between Coonoor and Mettupalayam. From Coonoor, a diesel engine will take us till Ooty. 

Most of the passengers are tourists on the way to Ooty. The train slowly climbed the mountains leaving us completely immersed in the beauty of the mountains. I was sitting in the first compartment and there was nothing more I could wish. I had the best views from all sides. The bridges and tunnels on the ways are spectacular,  stands elegantly showing the excellence of British engineering of that period.

Ooty train
Hillgrove station

There are few stations in between Coonoor and Mettupalayam but they are literally in the middle of the jungle. The stations are very old. There won’t be any passengers waiting for the train in those stations but few workers who do the maintenance checks for the engine. The steam engine has to fill water at regular intervals to keep it going. So the train stops for about 10-15 minutes at these stations.

I can say, the Nilgiri mountain railway is the best way to enjoy the beauty of Nilgiri mountains. The views of deep valleys and the mountains are stunning. These mountains are colorful everytime, the flowers which cover the canopy are vibrant.

I think instead of writing about the beauty of the mountains all the time, it is better to ask you travel in the Nilgiri mountain railways once and experience it.

Nilgiri mountain train`

Booking tickets for Nilgiri mountain railway

To have a comfortable and peaceful journey in the Nilgiri mountain railway, you need to book your tickets well in advance. Generally, the train will be full all the day and super crowded during weekends and public holidays. You can book tickets from the official website of IRCTC ( Indian railway catering and tourism corporation). The tickets will be available on the website 120 days before the journey. So you have to plan your journey four months in advance. The number of seats available in the train is very less. The train has one first-class compartment, two second-class compartment and general compartment. Since the number of seats even in the general compartment is very less, the chance of getting a seat without advance booking is very narrow.

The train (no: 56136) from Mettupalayam (MTP) to Udagamandalam (UAM) starts at 7.10 AM and reaches Ooty by 12 noon. The return train (no: 56137) starts by 2 PM from Ooty and reach Mettupalayam by 5.35 PM.

The ticket price for the first class compartment is INR 205 and for the second class is INR 40.

In case, you don’t have advance tickets, there are still chances to travel in the train. Try to reach the station very early, there will be a queue for the spot booking in general compartment. You will definitely get tickets if you are in front of the queue.

Nilgiri mountain railway

Few things to know about Nilgiri mountain railway

Coimbatore is the nearest city to reach Mettupalayam. From Coimbatore, it is just an hour journey in a bus.  You will get buses to Mettupalayam every time from Coimbatore.

If you are planning the journey by train. The Nilgiri express is actually a connection train for the mountain train. From Chennai, the Nilgiri express will reach Coimbatore by 5.15 AM and Mettupalayam by 6.15 AM. If you can reach Coimbatore by the time the train reaches there, then it would be more easy to reach Mettupalayam station on time.

The Nilgiri mountain trains have service throughout the year. The mountains are beautiful every time of the year. Usually, the time after the monsoon, from August, is said to be the good time.

During summer months of April and May, there will be additional train services, starting from Mettupalayam at 09:30 AM and from Udhagamandalam at 12:15 PM.

Though the train journey is just 46 km, it will take almost 4-5 hours to reach your destination. So be ready for a long journey.

You can start from Ooty side also. Catch the afternoon train and reach Mettupalayam by evening, then to Coimbatore and back to your place.

Even though the train stops at many stations in between, there won’t be anything available there. So if you need something to have on the way, it is better to buy from either Mettupalayam, Coonoor or Ooty.

Ooty mountain train

So that’s all about the Nilgiri mountain railway. Fix one date well in advance, book your tickets and just experience this beautiful train journey. 

Also, read about the Nilgiri road trip, a trip you can plan which covers major destinations in these mountains.

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You can put your suggestions, feedbacks or queries in the comment box below.

Have a great time…

Keep traveling…

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nilgiri heritage train

42 comments
  1. Great going brother…Loved the article and the detailed way in which all info is presented

    1. Thanks Mohit

  2. Brilliant article. Superbly articulated by a very generous dose of information in every written line. ❤

    1. Thanks brother

  3. This is an interesting and rather unique way of traveling. I’ve always wanted to do long distance train travels as it’s a great opportunity to find amazing views.

    1. Thanks Noel

  4. Very cool little article here! I hadn’t actually heard of this experience before, but I’ve definitely bookmarked it now. I’ll have to get myself to Nilgiri!

    1. Thanks Christopher

  5. Darcee & I rode several trains in india but none had the amazing windows that yours did on your Nilgiri mountain railway journey. What a great adventure with such beauty to see! Darcee loves steam engines too so we will definitely need to add this to our adventure list when we return to the western Ghat region of India next time!

    1. Eric,
      Glad that you liked the post. The Nilgiri mountain railways will definitely be a great experience for those who like the train journeys. It is the best way to explore the Western ghats.

  6. I’d love to ride an old-fashioned train like that. I believe in Romania it’s what we call “mocăniţă”, and there are very few places you can ride one. It’s so special we have a whole New Year’s party centred around one 🙂

    1. Mirela,
      Hope you had a lot of fun traveling on those trains in Romania. Nilgiri mountain railway is a UNESCO heritage railway. There are three such railway lines in India.

  7. Looks like a beautiful trip. I love travelling by train, the ticket booking does seem a little tricky though. Glad you enjoyed it – happy travels!

    1. Thanks Lori,
      It was a great experience traveling in the Nilgiri mountain railway.

  8. What a beautiful journey, perhaps made even more lovely by the effort it takes to secure a ticket. Traveling at that speed in the mountains must make it so easy to enjoy all the views. I love train travel, and this is such a spectacular trip.

    1. Thanks Bernie

  9. That looks like a such a beautiful ride! Definitely worth taking. Also love how much practical information you included in this write up.

    1. Thanks Luke,
      Am glad that you liked the post. Hope you will enjoy the Nilgiri mountain railway journey on you visit to India.

  10. I would love to do this course. It seems to be a tour with a lot of history and authenticity.

    1. Thanks Kate

  11. I love train travel and this looks like a lovely trip! I especially love the idea of train stops right in the middle of the jungle. I can’t believe you have to book the ticket so far in advance though! You’ve really got to plan ahead for this one it seems.

    1. Erica, It is little difficult to get tickets in Nilgiri mountain train. Most of the days, it will be full. So you need to plan well ahead.

  12. I find it super-sweet that you did this journey that you have done already as a kid. It indeed looks nice – it’s a way of experiencing a/this country I would simply love: meeting the people, seeing what it looks like, feeling how it feels…just a wonderful experience. I have to do this once I make it to India. Very nice story!

    1. Thanks

  13. Definitely looks like the best way to enjoy the beauty of the mountains! I love your photography, what did you use? If I could travel by train all the time, I would 🙂

    1. Thanks Carmen,
      Am glad that you liked the post and the pictures. I use only Gopro for photography, it is the best for traveling. Nilgiri mountain railway is a must do thing if you are in South India.

  14. We love taking the train because it is so easy. Everyone gets to admire the scenery and not worry about the roads and the map. This looks like quite an adventure since some of it is so rural.

    1. Hi Natalie, The journey in the Nilgiri mountain railway is a great experience. You should definitely travel in this train next time in India.

  15. your post made me think about doing more like this trips. Loved the post thanks for sharing

    1. Thanks,
      Glad that you liked the post.

  16. Sounds like fun! I do love a good steam train and the mountains looked lovely. But it looked hot in the train! Was it? Very informative post! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hi Amy, the mountains of Ooty are pleasant throughout the year. It is not that much hot in the train.

  17. Wait! You booked a ticket and got it for traveling in the next four months? That’s crazy! Is it because Indian people like to travel or it’s the only choice of transportation to the destination?

    1. Hi, It is very difficult to get a reservation in most of the trains. We have to book tickets well in advance to confirm our seats. There are only a few seats available in the Nilgiri mountain train, which will get reserved well in advance.

  18. This is a great and informative post on these mountains. I’m a real fan of train travel and know I’d really enjoy this trip! I like the history you give behind the train too; it puts it into context.

    1. Thanks Rivera, the train journey is a great experience. Don’t miss the Nilgiri mountain railway on your visit to India.

  19. I love train rides and this one sounds magnificent! Thanks for sharing! If I ever visit India I will definitely try to get on that train!

    1. Thanks Katto

  20. Ahh this looks so beautiful! I’ve heard a lot about this journey and would love to experience it! Thanks for sharing! Great post and images!

    1. Thanks Snita, am glad that you liked it. You should not miss this train journey on your next trip to India.

  21. What an amazing train journey, it must have been wonderful to relive the childhood memories!

    1. Thanks Perri

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