Do you have a craving to travel on a train that moves at a snail’s pace? If so, just hop on the Nilgiri Mountain Railway, which is the slowest train in India that chugs through the picturesque Nilgiri hills from Mettupalayam to Ooty. Remember Shah Rukh Khan gyrating to a peppy song atop a moving train in the Bollywood flick ‘Dil Se’? That’s the train which ferries tourists between Mettupalayam and Ooty.
Interestingly, the Nilgiri Mountain Railway (NMR) line passes through 16 tunnels, 250 bridges and 208 serpentine curves on the route and the painful slowness of the train can be gauged from the fact that 46km is covered in five hours. But the train journey packs quite a punch in providing memorable moments for the travellers. NMR, which is the only rack railway in India, cuts through some of nature’s wonderful offerings that would stay in travellers’ minds forever. It may be noted that the railway line in Nilgiri is the steepest rail route in Asia.
One of the striking features of NMR is that the trains start their journey from Mettupalayam, which is 330m above sea level, and scale to a height of 2,200m above sea level when they reach the pinnacle of Ooty after traversing 46km.
The work to lay the high-altitude rail line was started in 1891 and was completed after 17 years. It is noteworthy that the Nilgiri Mountain Railway, the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway in West Bengal and the Kalka-Shimla Railway in Himachal Pradesh have found a place on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage list.
NMR has chugged into its 115 years of existence in style in 2023 and as a matter of fact, the enchanting hill station of Ooty is celebrating two milestones this year. The modest town, which was founded by British officer John Sullivan two centuries ago, in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu is also basking in bicentenary glory.
As the Mettupalayam-Ooty rail route was not profitable, there were moves at various points in time to shut down the service. But NMR continued to ferry travellers without fail as it became part and parcel of the tourism industry in the region. Many travellers come to Ooty to hop on the ‘toy train’ and the popular hill station without NMR is inconceivable. The mesmerizing vistas that await travellers while travelling on NMR trains include mist-covered hills, steep climbs and the small houses that dot the expansive tea plantations.
The ‘X’ class steam engines, which were manufactured during the 1918-1950 period, are still used to haul the train up the hills. The tickets to travel in first class can be booked in advance and there are general compartments too. If you want to take the ticket over the counter on the day of the journey, make sure to reach the rail station early as the queue starts early in the morning. It is an out-of-the-world experience while travelling on the ‘toy train’ between Mettupalayam and Ooty as the journey is replete with steep climbs, bridges and arches. The tourists get ample time to enjoy the captivating charm of the Nilgiri hills as the trains on the stretch move very slowly. Another reason why the trains take tonnes of time to reach Ooty is that they have a lot of stops on the way. You can enjoy everything but don’t ever think of dancing on top of the ‘toy train’ like Shah Rukh Khan as it is banned.