We boarded the quaint NilGiris narrow gauge train at 2 p.m. for the 46 km ride between Udhagamandalam (Ooty) and Mettupalayam in the foothills.
It was in 1854 that the first plans were drawn to build a mountain railway from Mettupalayam to the Nilgiris Hills and 45 years later the first train chugged through the hills carrying liquid cargo to the British (think gin!) it was later used as a tea train, and only afterwards for passengers. PSeeing the terrain, this was quite an engineering feat. The train itself is a charming blue and cream with wooden coaches and bench seats. Lovely trim work is now somewhat dilapidated, but the impression remains. The carriages are hauled up hills by diesel steam engines, designed and built by the Swiss Locomotive Works, and a brake-man travels at the back of the last carriage – the first class carriage we rode in.
There are five stations between Mettupalayam and Coonoor – Kallar, Adderley, Hill Grove, Runnymede and Kateri – and four between Coonoor and Ooty. It was in Kallar that we stopped to add water to the engine and the engineers lubricated the camshafts and levers that turn the wheels.
The diesel train journey is quite magical as you meander through eucalyptus and tea plantations to subtropical vegetation and the views of the NilGiris.