Nilgiri Mountain Railway : Technically Ooty has a railway station. But the railway line to Ooty belongs to the mountain rail league. Means, the regular trains do not operate in this route. The Mountain Railway line to Ooty spans from Ooty to Mettupalayam ( Metupalaiyam / MTP ) , a town on the way to Coimbatore from Ooty. This mountain railway is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India .
Now we are left with two choices as far as the train connections to Ooty. That is Mettupalayam (MTP) and Coimbatore( CBE). Again between the two, Coimbaore is well connected by long distance express trains . In fact there is only one express train that extends to Mettupalayam , which is the Chennai to Mettupalayam Nilgiri Express ( also called the Blue Mountain Express ).
Once in Coimbatore you can hire a taxi to Ooty. The distance from Coimbatore to Ooty is about 90 km ( 56 miles ) Also there are plenty of private buses operate in the Coimbatore - Mettupalayem - Ooty route.
Mettupalayam is located mid way between Ooty and Coimbatore, that is about 45 km ( 28 miles ) from Coimbatore.
From Mettupalayam you can catch that famous Mettupalayam - Ooty mountain train (the Nilgiri Mountain Railway ) portrayed in the Bollywood movie Dil Se ( Sharuk & Co dance on this train in the song 'chhaiyya chhaiyya....' ). This is a painstakingly slow train ( that's the whole idea of a mountain train ! ) winds through the scenic Blue Mountain terrain. The train leaves Mettupalayam by 7.10 in the morning. In fact this is a connection train for Ooty for the Blue Mountain Express from Chennai . So it waits for the Ooty bound passengers coming by that train.
Be aware that the Mettupalayam - Ooty train is generally crowded, especially during the holiday seasons. Also there is only one train in this route, though they may operate one more during the peak season. And to top it all , it is a tiny train with limited accommodations.
Now if catching the longer Mettupalayam - Ooty train is not a possibility , explore if you can catch one of the may trains from Coonoor to Ooty. Coonor is a town midway between Mettupalayam and Ooty , with many train services daily to Ooty. This is your best ( and also a more practical ) chance to enjoy the Nilgiri mountain train journey. If you are coming via Coimbatore, catch a bus to Coonoor. It takes about 90 minutes by bus to Coonoor from Coimbatore.
There are three trains from Coonoor to Ooty ( 7.45 AM; 1.30 PM ; 4.30 PM ). Similarly from Ooty also there are three trains to Coonoor ( 9.15 AM; 12.15 PM ; 6 PM). Also there is a from Ooty to Mettupalayam at 3PM , that is aimed at passenger for the Chennai bound Blue Mountain Express from Mettupalayam.
The schedule & routes could change with time. Please check with the railways website for the current and accurate details.
Along the railway route , there is an (almost) parallel road connection from Mettupalayam and Ooty. You can always hop on a bus to catch the train from any of the subsequent stations. That is if you've just missed a train! The mountain trains are incredibly slow anyway. Typically people travel by the mountain train in one way and for the return journey they catch a bus.
As mentioned earlier , the distance between Mettupalayam and Ooty is 45 km ( 28 miles ). But the mountain train takes an incredible 5 hours to cover this distance. That is the uphill Mattupalayam - Ooty journey. That is because the train has to negotiate more than 200 curves, 250 bridges ( including about 30 viaducts ) and 16 tunnels before it arrives Ooty. The return journey is relatively fast as it takes only about 3 hours 30 minutes, thanks to the downhill path.
The local bus cover the same distance in just under 2 hours. So you got the point why people prefer this train only for one way of their journey.
Similarly Ooty to Coonoor the distance is about 17km (11 miles). It is a more practical ( in terms of travel time and train schedule ) way to experience the mountain train.
The steepest climb is in the stretch between Kallar and Coonoor, that is about 20 km (12 miles) of the journey. The viaduct crossing between Kallar and is breathtaking and photogenic. Though not very steep , the route till Fern Hill from Coonoor is uphill. And from there it is a gentle downhill slop to the final station, that is Ooty. The railway station is right in the heart of the town.
If you have the luxury of selecting a seat, try to get a seat by the left side as the train heads to Ooty. This side offers gorgeous view of the valley as the train climbs. The right side is against the wall of the hill, liming your view outside. Be aware that the engine is attached at the rear & front of the train based on the up or down journey. So don't get fooled in deciding the direction of journey when the train is at waiting at the platform. Though a bit expensive, the first class is less crowed that the much cheaper second class.
Thanks to the UNESCO World Heritage Site status , things are maintained in the traditional fashion as it were. The tickets issued at the stations are the old card type rather than the computer printed ones. So is the way the stations are maintained. The whole system still holds the legacy of the bygone era. You can see the railways gang men walking along the track, doing the track inspections and display their ID to the guard as the train passes.
The most exotic thing is the steam engine and the track itself. This is one the few rack & pinion type rail track left in the word. The engine as it is the 19th century vintage. The engine uses a cogwheel ( teethed wheel) on a rail with mating teeth in the center of the track to climb the steep uphill. The track in the Mettupalayam - Coonoor section is in fact a three track rail, the center one being the teethed track. The engine driver lowers the rack mechanism as the train approaches the three track and disengages it as it leaves.
The engine is always connected at the Mettupalayam end of the train. And the coaches are pushed up all the way to Ooty in its 5 hour journey. The driver can not see the track ahead as the engine is in the rear. On the edge of each carriages stand the signal guards. Practically only the guard in the front can see the track ahead, as the route is riddled with 200 plus curves in its 45km length. The first guard passes the signal to the second , and then to the third and so on. Finally the engine driver gets the cue who drives the engine without really seeing the track ahead. Well, it has been going on like this for more than a hundred years.
The 5 hour journey to cover a distance of 45 km ( 28 miles ) may look silly in the modern times. But it was a thrilling innovation at that point in time. It took nearly 10 days to cover this distance through the thickest of the Nilgiri forests with all its wildness. And with the invent of Nilgiri Mountain Railways, that adventure turned out into a half a day pleasure journey.
Nilgiri Mountain Railways ( NMR) has only 8 steam run rack locomotive engines. That may look like a small number in railway operations. But this fleet is the worlds' largest surviving railway fleet that uses coal powered steam rack engines.
It almost gives you a feel that you've arrived at 19th century, when you arrive at Coonoor. A sprawling railway dock full of vintage steam locos hissing with steam and smoke from all over. The sooth and coal strewn yard adds to the character. Engines chug past back and forth. Another engine at the corner if getting a water refill. It appears as a bussy colonial era railway station. This is Coonoor, the headquarters of Nilgiri Mountain Railways. The only odd man out here it seems the mobile phone in your hand when it chides for that unwanted attention.
One of the gang men register his attendance with the guard! ( what he is holding is ID number written on a plate). He is responsible for that section of the track.
What about advanced seat reservation options in Nilgiri Mountain Railway?
If you are so particular that you need a seat in this train, reserve it in advance. The reservations can be done the same way you do it for any other regular trains in Indian railways. That is through the IRCTC website or from the railway reservation counters.
But there is one problem, a big problem. The seats get over booked well in advance. And if it happens to be the season, the seats are over booked soon the reservation period opens.
The main reason for this phenomena is there are only very few seats and the demand is far more. Imagine there are only some 100 seats for the Second Class and a dozen or so for the First Class. The demand easily exceeds many folds the available seats.
Typically up to three months in advance ( 90 days) you can reserve a seat. In any case check for the latest reservation policy for the Indian Railways.
In any case there is no choice but to try your luck and book a seat on the available day. The IRCTC website comes handy in both searching for accommodation availability and also for booking online.
While on the subject of seat reservation, the most curious aspect is the fare. Can you guess how much a second class ticket cost from Mettupalayam to Ooty , a 46km journey covered in 5 hours? Just 8 rupees. Yes eight rupees.
For those who can not visualize the rupee value, 8 rupee is just 0.16 USD or 0.11 GBP. That is the standard Second Class fare for any passenger class trains in India, leave alone weather it is a UNESCO World Heritage listed or not.
This must be the longest ( at least in terms of travel time ) rail journey in the world one can opt for at Rs8. Of course we are not competing with those ticket less travelers in the long distance trains.
Back to the ticket rates again. If you are reserving the Second Class ticket the fare is Rs 23 ( just under 1/2 USD ) . That is because the standard reservation fees (Rs15) is added to the base fare of Rs8. It looks funny, the reservation fee is more than the ticket charge. Remember, this is Indian Railways , the rules are applied.
The First Class ticket is relatively expensive at Rs117. If you are reserving , add another Rs25 as reservation fee. In other words a reserved First Class ticket cost Rs142 ( just under 3 USD or 2 EURO ).
Location of Ooty in Tamilnadu map
The red line shown the Nilgiri Mountain Railway route. And the dotted line shows the Mettupalayam to Chennai route map for Nilgiri Express.
click for a larger map
Now let us see the train details. That is the train number you need to provide for the reservation.
Train No:662 is the Mettupalayam to Ooty passenger train . Train No. 661 is the Ooty to Mettupalayam passenger.
In the Indian Railways' lingo the names are spelt a bit differently. So if you are searching the Indian railways website for a train to Ooty, it is unlikely that you would find one. Ooty is the anglicized name of Udagamandalam. The puzzle is easily solved if you use the same names ( or station codes ) the railways uses. A list is given below.
Udagamandalam (UAM) ; Lovedale (LOV) ; Ketti (KXT) ; Aravankadu (AVK) ; Wellington (WEL) ; Coonoor (ONR) ; Hilligrove (HLG) ; Mettupalaiyam (MTP) .
The most popular connection pair of trains are the Chennai - Mettupalayam Nilgiri Express ( Train No: 2671 ) and the No:662 Mettupalayam - Ooty passenger described above.
The Nilgiri Express leaves Chennai central at 9.00 in the night and reaches Mettupalayam at 6.15 in the morning. In another one hour time , that is by 7.10 AM the Mettupalayam - Ooty passenger ( Train No. 662 ) leaves for Ooty. So you start your Ooty by arriving in style by the mountain train. That is by 12 noon , the train arrives at Ooty town. See the table 86 and 97 in the Railway Time Table for the train schedules.
Similarly the return Ooty - Mettupalayam passenger ( Train No: 661 ) leaves Ooty by 3.00 PM are arrives Mettupalayam by 6.35 PM. For the onward journey catch the Nilgiri Express (Train No: 2672 ) for Chennai that leaves Mettupalayam by 7.45 PM. This arrives Chennai central by 5.10 the next day morning.
The Route of Nilgiri Express is : Metupalaiyam (MTP) - Coimbatore Jn (CBE) - Tiruppur (TUP) - Erode Jn (ED) - Salem Jn (SA) - Katpadi Jn (KPD) - Arakkonam (AJJ) - Perambur (PER) - Chennai Central (MAS).
If you are traveling to Ooty from Bangalore see the details at Bangalore to Ooty page. Both the road route ( Bangalore - Mysore - Gunglupet- Ooty ) and the Rail Route ( Bangalore City - Bangalore Cant - Hosur - Dharmapuri - Omalur - Salem Jn - Erode Jn - Tiruppur - Coimbatore Jn) are detailes in the above mentioned page. Additionaly a railway time table too is attached at the end of Bangalore to Ooty page.
One last word. Don't get confused by the train names Nilgiri Express and the Nilgiri Mountain Railway.
Nilgiri Express ( 2671 & 2672 ) is a pair of regular express trains connecting Chennai with Mettupalayam. Nilgiri Mountain Railway essentially refers to the passenger trains ( also the whole systems associated with it ) that operate between Mettupalayam and Ooty.