This post talks about exploring the Toy Train ride to Ooty from the land of the Kurumbadis. If you’ve just arrived here, we’ve so far talked about how we arrived at Kurumba Village and spent some time with a naturalist exploring the environment at Kurumba Village.
Getting Ready for a Toy Train Ride
After a beautiful walk in the woods, I was planning a trip to Ooty just to show my son the Toy Train. I had previously booked tickets on the Toy Train knowing that I will be staying in ‘Kurumba Village’. The closest station is Hilligrove, but the toy train does not admit people there, even though it stops, so I had to drive in my car till Coonoor, which is about 14 kilometres. I had a train at 1630 IST which was to reach Ooty by about 1730. I thought the morning Toy train would take longer, but it looks like there are different trains with different speeds or maybe the trains have started to go faster since my last trips in 2010 and 2002. We packed for some biscuits, the Go-Pro Camera, my camera kit (DSLR and mobile with the smaller tripod).
Watch a video of my ride in the toy train
The Ride to Coonoor Railway Station
We passed by Kattery Park and Glendale Tea estate (from a distance) as we reached Coonoor. While I did not have enough time to stop over, for the fear that I may get caught in a traffic jam.There were some beautiful views of the mountains in the distance and we paused for a few moments at each place to take in the view, and then reached Coonoor by about 3:55 pm, and since it was a weekday, there seemed to be enough place to park my car in the railway station.
As we walked into the station, i noticed a train already waiting, and on checking with the TTE(Traveling Ticket Examiner), it was confirmed that this was my train, which had probably been advanced by about 30 minutes. I boarded the train in my little compartment that could house 6 people facing each other where 4 seats would have access to a window view.
From childhood, I’ve always fantasized being in a pocket sized train, which I can take anywhere I want. The cars of the early 19th century were like a small toy train compartment which had wheels on roads. Having got inside, I took the middle seat, and gave the window seat to Nandu, asking him to observe what he sees. We were to pass by tunnels and bridges (There are 250 of them on this route) and we were part of a beautiful blue carriage with large windows that was slowly chugging past a beautiful green landscape.
History of the Nilgiri Mountain Railways.
The Nilgiri Mountain Railway was thought by the British back in 1854 and it took about 54 years to plan and cut through the rocky terrain to make a train go through these mountains. The locals of this area frequently were used to find paths to walk between Ooty and Mettupalayam in an hour and still do. The Toy Train is used by migrant workers or for people who want a safer commute between little towns on the hills, but with the trains coming in 1908, it did make a huge difference to the way people could commute and transport materials.
The Steam locomotive that pulls from Mettupalayam(MTP) to Udhagamandalam(Ooty-UAM) stops over at Coonoor for a more powerful engine to pull through the hill side. The engines were using coal, but due to diminishing coal resources, the trains now fill water at each of the stations which gives enough fuel to get to the next station pulling a group of coaches.
The train has a rack and pinion arrangement for better grip on mountain paths, and as a result the maximum speed is about 13 km/hr on the rack path, and about 30 km/hr on the non-rack path. The metre gauge track runs for about 46 kilometres from Mettupalayam to Udagamandalam
The Cinema connection to the Nilgiri Mountain Railway
The beautiful and simple mountain railways in ooty has attracted many cinema directors to shoot on this iconic railway line. The Tamil Movie ‘Moondram Pirai’ also remade in Hindi as ‘Sadma’ was shot here in 1982.
The other famous movie shot here was the Mani-Ratnam directed Uyire/Dil Se’. There were many more movies, that were shot here, but I have included the 2 most visually appealing film-makers who have shot here. The complete list is shown below in the appendix.
Our Experience on the Nilgiri Mountain Railway
The train’s doors were bolted by the TTE at the start of the journey. The train did not allow passengers to get down and amble around, and stops for about 45 seconds in each of the stations enroute (Lovedale, Ketti). This was a slight bummer, since there was a fast pace vibe to sitting in a slow train. Our co-passengers and I would take turns to exchange views on windows. The train starts with views of betel trees, heads off into mild forests and then opens out into a valley view of tea estates, before passing by a lake by the side of the Udhagamandalam railway station.
We had booked our second class reserved tickets from Coonor to Ooty and had not booked our return tickets, since there was no train showing up on IRCTC. As a result, we had to get down and go buy tickets from the counter. The train stops for about 15 minutes at Udhagamandalam, and functions as a complete unreserved passenger train on the return journey to Coonoor. There is enough time left to go buy a ticket and find a place to sit, unless it happens to be a weekend, where there is expected to be a bigger rush.
On our return journey, the light started fading early, as mist started accumulating as the train slowly found its way into beautiful village with settlements built around railway stations.
Every time a tunnel came, it would automatically prompt the younger crowd of tourists to yell until the tunnel found light. The train ride in the evening was sleepy at best due to the fading light and we reached Coonoor, being happy enough to drive back to our resort, albeit feeling a little drained.
As much as I expected Nandu to feel entertained, he was falling asleep by the chill evening wind
Other Media on the Nilgiri Mountain Railway and Ooty
Here’s a big list of movies shot in Ooty, apart from the ones I have shared.
Ajay Jain of Kunzum, travels and shares his experience in a detailed photo blog, as part of his Arabian Drive.
Amit talks about a detailed road trip + Toy Train
Sam and Sheena actually managed to put their cycle on the train. I found some very useful info on the intricacies of booking tickets, from their blog.
Planning your Trip on the Nilgiri Mountain Rail Toy Train from Mettupalayam to Coonor/Udhagamandalam
- The Toy Train has about 5-6 coaches being pulled by an engine, which means there are very less seats that are available to book. Its advisable to book atleast a month ahead of your travel date on IRCTC
- The railway codes to know are ‘MTP’ [Mettupalayam] and ‘UAM’ [Udhagamandalam]
- The train numbers to know. There are passenger trains that also operate which dont show up on IRCTC. Do get the Southern Railways Timetable to know the complete list between Mettupalayam and Udhagamandalam.
- You could opt to book waitlisted tickets from a railway counter or on IRCTC, but that would mean uncertainty till the last minute.
- There are 21 tickets sold in person on the morning of the journey. So if you can get to Mettupalayam really early before the rest of the crowd comes in, you can find a hack to book your tickets. But do remember, that these are small trains, and if you are using them at the start of your journey with heavy luggage, then it may be tough. There is a parcel van for one of the trains, which has a separate office to book your luggage. Do come early to avail of this facility
- If you are with a large group, make sure every member of the group is with you during booking tickets, otherwise the ticket booking person is unlikely to book it since there is a huge demand
- Ooty/Coonoor are in Tamil Nadu, which for a large part is a very hot and humid state. People from various parts of Tamil Nadu flock to ooty on the weekend, to have better weather and to treat their kids to a toy train ride. If you are planning a weekend trip, do try and club it with a Friday or a Monday, and keep your train ride on weekdays, if you have not planned in advance. There are not more than 50 seats on the train, and its extremely tough to get reservation unless you book early or reach the railway station line on the day of the journey (being the earliest). Most people come here by the Nilgiri express train from Coimbatore, so you will need to make sure you are ahead in the line, by reaching earlier than them to get ahead on the line. The train reaches Mettupalayam at 6:15, so you need to beat them to be earlier than them. 4 am maybe to be first in the line.
- If you travelling from Bangalore, you would enter Ooty first and then come to Mettupalayam(unless you want to take the salem-avinashi-mettupalayam route longer by 100 kilometres but with pristine 5th gear worthy highways). It’s always better to arrive in the hills, and then keep the ride as an attraction, than to use the trains as a means of commute on your journey start or end, since there is not too much space for luggage.