Imagine a steam train slowly ascending the hills as you enjoy stunning views of lush green hills and valleys of the Nilgiri mountain range through your window, with cool breezes refreshing you. It’s an slow yet strangely exhilarating experience that awaits you at the Nilgiri Mountain Railway.
Built by the British in 1908, the metre gauge train is the only operational rack and pinion railway in India, an engineering technique used only in the most challenging of climbs to avoid the train sliding backwards on the smooth rails.
It was in 1854 that the first plans were made to build a mountain Railway from Mettupalaiyam to the Nilgiri Hills. But it took years to cut through red tape and complete the complex construction of the line. The line was completed and opened for traffic in June 1899, with the extension to Ooty from Coonoor completing in 1908.
The train uses steam locomotives for most of the route, but sometimes diesel engines are used in the steepest sections. The route starts from Mettupalayam and ends in Ooty, passing through tunnels and bridges, and several small hill stations with British era names including Coonoor, Wellington, Love Dale and Fern Hill.
It takes nearly 5 hours to reach Ooty, a distance of 45 km, with the return journey downhill being marginally faster at 4 hours. There are 250 bridges on the section, out of which 32 are major ones and 15 are road over-bridges. There are also numerous tunnels along the route.
In 2005, the Nilgiri Mountain Railway was designated a World Heritage Site as a part of the Mountain Railways in India, along with the Kalka-Shimla Heritage Railway and the Darjeeling Hill Railway.