Nestled in the heart of the majestic Nilgiri hills, with lush greenery all around and rivers and rivulets gushing past, the Nilgiri Mountain Railway (NMR) toy train from Ooty to Coonoor should be on every traveller’s itinerary while visiting Tamil Nadu. Together with the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, it constitutes the Mountain Railways of India, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A Century-old Heritage
The NMR Toy Train, which runs between Mettupalayam and Udagamandalam (Ooty) via Coonoor, offers the most picturesque views of the mountainside as it chugs along on the steepest railway track in Asia. The railway was established by the British in the late 19th century as a rail link to the Madras government’s summer headquarters at Ooty. In fact, even until some time ago the toy train was run completely on steam locomotives, serving as a quaint reminder of the olden times and adding to the nostalgic charm of the journey. Presently the toy train from Ooty to Coonoor has been upgraded to run on diesel engines, with blue and cream archaic wooden coaches with large windows in tow.
During most of the year, there is only one train service daily, leaving Mettupalayam early in the morning and touching Ooty at noon, taking a little less than 5 hours. The return journey from Ooty takes only about three and a half hours downhill. The timetable is so made as to connect to the Nilgiri Express that runs from Chennai to Mettupalayam. During peak tourist season of April-May, an additional toy train service also runs on the route, along with several other passenger trains between Coonoor and Ooty. The fares are quite nominal and a first class ticket, with all its comfort, wouldn’t set you back by much.
A Trip through Paradise
To experience the beauty of the Nilgiris at leisure, one can take the morning train from Mettupalayam to Ooty and stay overnight to enjoy the striking natural beauty and various colonial sites that dot the peaceful hilly retreat. The following day, one can hop on to the return service and lay over at Coonoor to spend the day marveling at tea plantations, sipping on local brews or trekking up the mountains, before taking the next day’s train back to Mettupalayam. The toy train curves its way through dense forests, mountain peaks shrouded in fog, dark winding tunnels and sunny valleys; such arresting beauty that doesn’t let you close your eyes even to blink. The toy train from Ooty to Coonoor is a must-do on any traveller’s bucket list for South India.