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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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