There are many routes that will take you to Ooty. Each more beautiful than the other. But, there is one trip that will be etched into your mind once you take it. A ride to Ooty on the Nilgiri Queen – the heritage train that chugs up without fail every day.
From Kerala, you can go to Ooty from Nilambur by road. Climb up through Natukani Pass, or from Gudalur, a choice of two routes. One past the spread of Pykara reservoir, where you can enjoy boating and fairly good food. The other route along the Mysore road is more popular. A ride that will take you past the charming Masinagudi, and Muthumala National Park. But nothing compares with this beautiful train ride
They still use rolling stock, including steam locomotives, imported from Switzerland. A charming ceremony of inspection and preliminaries by the railway officials attracts you. The premises are bathed in steam. The locomotive is attached at the rear. Coal was king of old; but now, furnace oil is the fuel. The first part of the journey, from Mettupalayam to Kallar, is along level ground. The Rack and Pinnion section begins at Kallar. Along the centre of the meter gauge, a rack and pinion line has been installed. A middle line of pinion wheels in the train engages the rack, and pulls the train up.
About the railway line
The Nilgiri Railway is more than a century old – completed in 1908; and is one of the three railway lines in India that has made it to the UNESCO listed World Heritage Sites.
The train covers 46 kilometers from Mettupalayam to Ooty, in 31/2 hours. The little old steam locomotives huff and puff over the hills at an average of 10 km per hour; plan accordingly
Need to know
The most enjoyable bit of the journey is from Mettupalayam to Koonoor, though the line goes on to Ooty. The Koonoor railway station has been preserved in its antique form. The interior evokes a place of ancient worship. All quiet when no train arrives; stay in the dormitory may be available if you arrive before 5 pm. Or you may stay in the dormitory at Royal Retreat nearby. If you are in a hurry to get back, you may engage a taxi early next morning and drive back to Mettupalayam, 36 km away.
Only two trains ply this route: departure at 7.10 am from Mettupalayam to Ooty; and return at 3.30 pm. Only after you queue long enough can you get into the waiting train; only after you secure a seat will a guard arrive and take a head count. There are only 30 seats in the general compartment; and standing passengers not allowed. The seats remaining in the other bogies (87 in all) are reserved months in advance. Prefer a seat along the left side of the train. Online reservation charges: Rs. 250/-; a seat in the general category costs Rs. 15/- (please check online for rates and time of trains)
We climb 1712 meters, along 208 curves, 13 tunnels, 27 viaducts traversing deep valleys, 133 culverts across mountain streams, along this 26 km stretch.
In the movies
The famous 'Chaiya Chaiya' song from the movie Dil Se was shot on top of this train. The train was painted brown for the movie and was repainted in its iconic blue colour after the shooting was over. But, trust us, you should not try to dance on top of this train. And do not put your hands out – the plants and the rocks are too close to the track.