The mellow morning sun playing hide and seek with the snow-white gossamer clouds made the balmy weather only more pleasant…As I walked down the road towards the little town station I marvelled at the wild flowers swaying eagerly from the hill-side along the road to paint it in their individual hues; purples, blues, yellows and oranges peeping out of varied shades of greens…. Enchanted I could feel a relaxed silly smile spread on my face directed at no one in particular and yet at every passing tall eucalyptus, every flitting butterfly, a stray goat, a small child, a military vehicle… I had not felt as fresh in months and had heard no music sweeter than the uninhibited chirping of birds.
Elated, I did not realise the fifteen minutes it took for the stroll on the steep incline.
The quaint little station of Wellington, my boarding point, still has the old British charm with brightly painted smallish building, a low platform and a smug skinny station master in oversized black coat who suddenly found himself to be the sole authority in courting my inquisitiveness….With an air of self-importance he proceeded to display his annoyance for my request to click pictures and then relented as if doing me a great favour!!
The home to Defence Services Staff College which imparts training to officers of Army, Air Force and Navy, Wellington is a small town on the route of Nilgiri Mountain Railway.
I awaited eagerly for the famous toy train which would take me to Lovedale station for Lawrence School Go UNESCO Heritage Walk.
Expecting an age-old steam engine choo-chooing its way to the station, I was slightly disappointed to see the loud honking diesel engine pull up all the five blue carriages back from Ooty. Only later did I come to know that owing to the steep gradient of slope between Coonoor and Ooty, the steam engine is replaced everyday at Coonoor with bio-diesel YDM4 engine.
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Nilgiri Mountain Train is one of the three mountain railways of India which have been given the status of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the other two being the Darjeeling-Himalayan Railway and Kalka-Shimla Railway. Constructed by British in 1908, Nilgiri Mountain Train is considered an engineering marvel with the steepest track in Asia.
The train starts its uphill journey at Mettupalayam (1069 feet) at foothills of Nilgiris to reach Udhagmandalam(Ooty) at 7228 feet traversing roughly 46 km in five hours through 108 curves, 16 tunnels and 250 bridges.
Besides Mettupalayam, Coonoor,Wellington and Lovedale are the major stations en route to destination Ooty. Usually it is advisable to get seat reserved beforehand on this five carriage train, it being the one most popular touristy things to-do while in the hill station.
Aboard the mountain train
Since my destination Lovedale was only two stops from Wellington, I chose to buy an on the spot ticket. The station master was discouraging me from travel as the chances of availability of seat were slim….but my travel to Lovedale could not have been cancelled or delayed and I decided to try my luck any ways.
Sure enough, when the train from Mettupalayam reached my stop at 10:40 am, it was stuffed with tourists but I boarded the train nevertheless. Packed as we were, I still managed a place near the door with a glass panel.
Slowly the train pulled away from the station at snail’s pace. Verdant hills studded with tea plantations rolled past lazily…cotton candy clouds floated along matching the pace with the train…clusters of hutments with red baked mud shingles perched atop many hillsides saw the train chug past from a distance….forest on the higher hills waved us off with swaying trees…
Most times the train laboured along the steep slope but seemed to hurry at times with a distinct clicky-clack on tracks. We crossed a few bridges and the train groaned slightly and then came a long tunnel….encompassed in darkness, I let my aching arms, which juggled with a backpack and camera capturing the mesmerizing scenery outside, rest till we cleared the tunnel.
I wasn’t complaining about standing cramped in the carriage just because the glass panel of the door allowed me to drink in the breathtaking display of nature.
As the train bid me farewell at Lovedale station, the children peeped and waved at my camera. The guards probably accustomed to being photographed held on to the green flags and allowed me to click away….amused I stood grinning, waving and shooting.
Adieu at Lovedale
A R Rehman’s Shahrukh-Malaika starrer “Chal chhayian, chhayian chhayian…” song which was shot atop this train, inadvertently escaped my lips as I saw the hooting train snaking away.
By the time I disembarked at Lovedale, the fluffy downy clouds had totally eclipsed the sun…I couldn’t have asked for a better weather and I promised myself a tour of the city as well.
The fresh breeze recharged my aching feet as I stepped out of the train and I walked down the road to Lawrence school to register my participation in Go UNESCO Heritage run.
Nilgiri Mountain Train Trivia
- The toy train as it is popularly known, leaves from Mettupalayam around 7.10am. The last train leaves Ooty at 3pm.
- Private rail excursion tours are available.
- It is advisable to book tickets much in advance on the train to enjoy the entire journey and avoid unnecessary travel hassles.
- Coimbatore is the nearest big city accessible to Mettupalayam. It is better to travel by road from Coimbatore to Ooty /Mettupalayam as train services may not be time suitable.
- The nearest airport is Coimbatore connected by direct flights from Chennai, Kozhikode, Bangalore and Mumbai.
- I stayed at Wellington at Army establishment. however Ooty and coonoor have many high-end as well as budget accommodations available.
- May June being the peak tourist season, the hotels overflow with tourists and hence pre booking of rooms is advisable.