Ooty Toy Train - Nilgiri Mountain Railway - Trip Report

The Nilgiri Mountain Railway (NMR) line built in 1908 is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as of July 2005. It runs between Mettupalayam and Coonoor, a distance of 41.8KM. It takes almost five hours to cover the stretch when going uphill and around 3.5 hours when going downhill - Mettupalayam Station at 1,069 feet above sea-level is the starting terminal when going uphill and Udhagamandalam (Ooty) Station at 7,228 feet above sea-level is the terminus. Between Mettupalayam and Coonoor Stations, the line uses a rack and pinion system to climb the steep gradient. Even between Coonoor and Ooty, the locomotive is always located at the Coonoor end even-though the rack-and-pinion system is not used for that section - the gradient is still steep at 4% near Coonoor compared to a maximum gradient of over 8% in the Mettupalayam-Coonoor section. The line has the steepest track in Asia and features over 200 curves, 16 tunnels, and 250 bridges (some are midget sized!).

There is a general compartment in the trains on this line but your best bet is to go with a reservation. Normally, tickets are open for reserving three months in advance. Pricing is very cheap compared to international standards. There are four daily trains in the Coonoor-Ooty section compared to just one in the Mettupalayam-Ooty route. Special trains are sometimes added in the Mettupalayam-Ooty route seasonally. We decided to do just the Coonoor-Ooty round-trip this time and reserved as soon as tickets were open in the IRCTC web-site (IRCTC's tourism by Rail site is an alternative for booking) and as luck might have it, got the first four seats in the first class coach. The coaches are not that different, independent of class but the first class coach has the advantage that it will generally be less chaotic. Also, on the Ooty-Coonoor trip, you get to open the front windows for a wonderful view of the valley, if you are among the first six seats. Ticket pricing was around Rs 100 one-way compared to Rs 20 for a second-class ticket. We did not have plans to stick around in Coonoor and so reserved for the next available train back - the timings were 9:15AM from Ooty (UAM) to Coonoor (ONR) on Train #56139 (UAM-ONR) arriving at 10:25AM and 10:40AM departure from Coonoor (ONR) on Train #56136 (MTP-UAM) arriving at noon in Ooty. This worked very well as the return train from Coonoor waits for the arrival of the 9:15AM train from Ooty. There is a lot of chaos at Coonoor but the idea is to get over to the other platform to catch the return train.

On the day of the trip, we arrived at Ooty railway station around 8:30AM and already there was a good crowd. There is a terminal (kiosk) just outside the entrance to the platform where you can check the status of your reservation - this can be handy, if your original reservation was wait-listed (W/L). There is limited parking in front of the station for around Rs 20 per day. If you need to kill time, walking across the railway track to the area around the railway guest houses is a good option. For Train #56139 (UAM-ONR), the coach order was as follows - the locomotive followed by the only first class coach, followed by a second class coach, and several general coaches. The tickets for the general compartments can be purchased from the railway counter on the day of the journey, but one will have to deal with the big line (queue) - also there is no guaranty that tickets will be available by the time you reach the front of the line. 

The journey itself was fantastic. The train moves at snails pace and you get to relax while taking in the wonderful natural views along the way. Some stations have snack and tea service although you will need to hurry if you decide to go to the shack to get what you need as compared to waiting for a vendor to come by. Highlights include several tunnels and bridges, beautiful tea plantations along the valleys, and several churches dotting the area. To complete the UNESCO World Heritage experience, one option to consider is to purchase general compartment tickets at the counter, even if you do not plan to use it - they still issue the old Edmondson style tickets as opposed to the computerized print-outs that are used in the railway ticket counters in the rest of the country.
The Mountain railways of India are a prime tourist attraction in the country and consists of seven lines - four in the Himalayas in North India, two in the Western Ghats in South India, and one in Assam in the Barak river valley of Cachar Hills. Of these, the Nilgiri Mountain Railway line, the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway line, and the Kalka-Shimla Railway line together are designated a UNSECO World Heritage Site.


Traveller said...

A wonderful report! Thanks.
Would like to have a suggestion from you, if I have to travel only one way by the toy train, will it be good to go from Coonoor to Ooty or vice versa?

ks said...

Ooty-Coonoor is better, but not by much.

As mentioned in the article, if taking First Class tickets, there is an advantage if you get one of the first six reserved tickets - there is a window in front of that compartment and so the views are much better.

Hope this helps,

Traveller said...

Thanks John. Will be booking the tickets well in advance, hope to get the first line tickets!!

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