We just couldn't come to the Nilgiri Hills without riding on the narrow-gauge train that connects the plains with Ooty. We decided to take the train down to Coonoor, a one hour trip and then ride up again after spending the afternoon seeing Coonoor. It was one of the best decisions we have made on this entire trip!
There are a few trains each day from Ooty, only one goes all the way down to the plateau. We chose the noon train that terminates in Coonoor because we knew it would not be too crowded and we would have a more relaxed trip. In the end, there were only three other people in our second class compartment. The fare was six rupees (CDN 0.15). I was able to move around the train car and sit where ever the view was the best as we descended. I couldn't believe how different the scenery looked from the train. For most of the trip we were well above the road and there were few buildings along the track. We passed a few small stations but didn't stop at them all as there were few passengers to alight or board the train.
The hour passed all too quickly and before we knew it, we were in civilization again. The station at Coonoor looks much like it must have during the British times, it was like stepping back in time. We walked around the town for awhile and then took an autorickshaw to the Taj Garden Resort for lunch. It's at the top on one of the highest hills and the lunch and the view were lovely.
For the journey back up to Ooty, we "splurged" and purchased first-class tickets. With the reservation fee included, the costs was Rs 101 (CDN 2.50). What makes this ride so special is that the engine pushes the cars up the hills to Ooty, instead of pulling them. I believe this is for two reasons. The engine has more power this way and there is no way to turn the train once it reaches Ooty. Therefore, it's "push up" and "pull down". They arrange the cars so that the first-class car is at the front of the train on the way up and we had seats facing forward. I cannot begin to describe the panoramic view this provides. I hope the photos I have taken help.
A trainman stands on the platform at the front of the train and signals the engineer using a red and a green flag. The engineer must rely on the trainman as he is driving the train without being able to see the track ahead. As we went around curve after curve, the trainman would move from right to left so that the engineer could see the green flags and know the way ahead was safe. The small windows of the train car can be raised or lowered depending on the weather, I opened them all for the first part of the trip but had to close some of them before we reached Ooty because the sun was about to set and the temperature was dropping rapidly.
The trip on this "toy train" was the highlight of our time in the hills, and surely made the detour from the coast worthwhile. If you are a train buff too, you should really consider the Nilgiri Express for a trip you will never forget. We will return one day and make the entire run from Mettupalayam to Ooty, it's a promise I have made myself, I hope I can convince Anil to come along for the ride!