I came across an article about one woman’s holiday trip through the Nilgiri Mountains of India and thought it was so beautifully descriptive, that I just had to reproduce part of it here for everyone to read.
In today’s fast-paced world, traveling at a speed of less than 13 kilometre per hour seems like an exasperating crawl. But, in the world of the “Blue Mountains”, through which the Nilgiri Mountain Railway passes, the slow and easy paced world of chuffing steam and diesel engines, elegant wooden coaches, tunnels and bridges linking mountains and valleys, and a unique gauge track that meanders over the hills across some of the most exotic and picturesque sights that the country offers is the eloquent sign of a great holiday.
Situated at a height of approximately 2,500 meters, the Nilgiri Mountain Range, or the “Blue Mountains” is at the junction of the two ghat ranges of the Saharvadi Hills in Tamil Nadu. With Kerala on the west, the state of Mysore on the north and the Coimbatore district on the east and south, Udhagamandalam forms the headquarters of the Nilgiris, popularly known as Ooty.
My journey to Ooty began from Mettupalayam Railway Station, as I stood early one morning awaiting the beginning of my holiday after what seemed like an eternal nine-five chore. Looking at the wisps of smoke rising behind the station, I was reminded of a giant Englishman with huge whiskers sitting with his pipe and puffing away. The difference was that the smoke didn’t reek of tobacco, but a Swiss-made X-class steam locomotive.
With a gentle tug, the train is off, on the dot according to the station clock. Leaving the terminus, it heads into the open, along shimmering tracks, shooting past suburban stations, factories and buildings. True wanderlust strikes as the plains start to fall away, the track twisting and turning. You can feel the privilege of being away from the buzz of cell phones, honks, neon boards and blinding city lights. The first view of the landscape is indescribable – a grand vista of grasslands, tea gardens lined symmetrically, a glacier river flowing gracefully and its bank covered with mountain ferns and plentiful flowers, the sharp silhouettes of mountains against an azure and powder blue sky with shadows of racing clouds. It’s nature’s artistry at its best.
As the train chugs with a soporific gentle rhythm, the countryside changes in colour, the sparse palms and small hamlets give way to thickly wooded forests displaying a preview of the dark, enchanting beauty of the destination. Botany lessons come back as you pass through forests comprising of eucalyptus, pine and wattle. The tracks begin to get steep, the pace slows down and you can feel the strain of the engine as it huffs and puffs up the grade. The crisp fresh air, cool climate, a soothing contrast to the plains, and rolling miles of so many shades of green made my heart lurch with joy. The narrow iron and stone bridges, many more than a century old, carry you over gorges, rivulets and raging streams. Every now and then, a piercing whistle followed by a spell of inky blackness announces yet another tunnel. Sixteen tunnels were carved through these rugged mountains to permit the line to pass through.
Not only a photographers delight, the Nilgiri mountains are hypnotic in their appeal and transport you into a different world altogether. It is the 19-km stretch from Coonoor to Ooty that promises the most scenic stretch of the line. Forests are elixir of natural beauty, the sloping hillocks are replete with verdant tea gardens and beautiful vistas pop up from every corner, each dramatically different from the other. The lush green tea leaves swaying gently in the cool morning breeze are suddenly lost and found amidst the chaotic and colourful confusion of the brightly clad tribal women who further liven up terraced fields and add a splash of variety to the landscape. I sat back to enjoy the stunningly beautiful section, quietly thanking the men who laboured to open it up. Pressed to the window, I take in every sight, and gulps of fresh cool air. If only this section could last forever. Soon, the train slowly moves downhill, it gradually picks up speed and three shrill whistles announce the arrival of Ooty- the queen of the Nilgiris.
I would like to thank and acknowledge Pooja Suchanti as the author of this wonderful article, and if you would like to read her travelogue in its entirety, you can find it here.