Recently I took a trip to Coonoor and Ooty, two hill stations in Tamil Nadu which are nestled in the Nilgiris mountains. The Nilgiris are part of the Western Ghats mountain chain. These two hilltop towns are situated at 2286 metres (Ooty) and 1850 (Coonoor) metres above sea level. Because of the altitude, people like to go here to escape the heat, especially during the summer months of April and May.
The two hill stations are connected by the famous Nilgiri Mountain Railway, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Built in 1897 and completed in 1908, the railway climbs from an altitude of 326 metres to 2203 metres on its way from Mettupalayiyam all the way up to Ooty, passing Coonoor on the way.
This is one of the most scenic and unique railway journeys in India. I made the trip from Coonoor down to Mettupalayiyam.
We passed through lush tea plantations, eucalyptus groves and dense forests. We also passed through over a dozen tunnels and over many viaducts. The views were breathtaking.
There are many things which are unique about the Nilgiri Mountain Railway. It runs for only 45.88 km on a 1-metre gauge single-track.
The track is a ‘rack railway’, a 'toothed' railway track. The train has cog wheels which interconnect with the rack rail. This is how the train can climb and descend the sharp inclines on the way. (See an example of a cog wheel in the photo above - and spot the monkey.)
The locomotive is steam-powered. During the journey, we stopped at each station along the way so that the locomotive could be filled with water and the wheels oiled (see above).
The train stopped for some time at Hillgrove station, giving passengers the chance to disembark, stretch their legs, buy cups of tea at the station’s kiosk and feed the many monkeys.
This was a charming and picturesque railway station where time seems to have stood still.
Mr Maraiyan is the station master at Hillgrove station (he looks very serious in the photo but is actually very jovial).
There are two trains running per day between Mettupalayiyam and Ooty. The train travels at an average speed of about 10km/hour so the trip from Coonoor to Mettupalayiyam took almost 2.5 hours. The cost of the ticket was only 5 rupees. This was definitely one of the most unique and scenic train journeys I’ve taken in India.