|The mountains outside the train|
|Steam Engine having its fill at the unmarked station of Adderly|
|The train entering a tunnel|
|Hungry eyes at Hillgrove|
|The picteresque station of Runnymede|
The Nilgiri Mountain Railway is not for those who are in a hurry. It does 46 kms in just under five hours for the uphill journey. Yet, it is difficult to find a place in the reserved coaches, particularly on the weekends. Even the unreserved coach, of which there is only one and seats just 30, is sought after and the queue for the precious tickets starts at the unearthly hour of 3.30 am for the train which leaves only at 7.10 am. In other words, if you do a road trip to Ooty, you can do it almost four times in the same duration. However, as a billboard on the highway says, there are some things worth waiting for and the train ride to Ooty is definitely one of those. So the last weekend, after securing my seat in the unreserved coach after an almost commando like operation, I eagerly awaited the start of the journey. Initially, its difficult to realise what is the fuss about. The first four odd kilometers are the mundane typical Indian Rail journey. Its only after Kallar that the things pick up speed even as the train loses its speed to just about 6 km for the first hour. It is one of the steepest climbs for any train in the world with a gradient of 1 in 12. The views on offer through the large glass windows of the coach are mesmerizing. There is the dense tropical rainforest, interspersed with the scariest of bridges, culverts and tortuous dark tunnels. Even in the winter some of the waterfalls are spectacular and the train offers an unmatched vantage point. The steam engine is really working hard. The one word which keeps coming to the mind is: Tenacity. It does feel sometimes that the engine would just give at the moment and the train would start sliding back but it doesn't. After much chugging we reach the scenic water stop of Hillgrove. There is no human habitation here, the station just serves water to the engine and some snacks to the passengers. It has lots of monkeys who are eager to have their share of the snacks and it does turn unruly once in a while. I had been wondering about the lack of the familiar smell of burnt coal. I ask the train engine driver and he reveals that these are "Oil fired" steam engines and not the coal fired ones! I feel a bit disappointed. But perhaps it makes more economic (or even environmental) sense to have the oil fired steam engines rather than the coal fired ones. In spite of that minor intricacy, the engines look spectacular and are being photographed from every angle. The train moves ahead of Hillgrove with a relatively faster speed to have another water fill at Runnymede that does show signs of human habitation with endless picture postcard like tea gardens. The steam engine takes the train to as far as Coonoor which is a yet another overly commercialised hill station in South India. The crowded bazaars, traffic and the super built up constructions right to the top of the hills are the hallmark of Coonoor. The station is very picturesque though and you can sight three or four of the steam engines here. Also on display are the metre gauge diesel engines that will push the train to Ooty from now on.
Next: Coonoor Railway Station