Into the Blue Mountains On Steam Power
The Nilgiri Mountain railway is not to be missed if you are interested in Western Ghats scenery, unhurried travel and the allure of steam locomotion. Like the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, the southern cousin in the Nilgiri Hills has been recently (2005) notified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site . The train connects the plains town of Mettupalayam (on the south slopes of the Nilgiri hills) with the 2,200+ meter hill-station of Ooty (Udhagamandalam).
The route is a total of 46 kilometers, which ascend at a fair gradient and must, thus, rely on the rack and pinion apparatus to zipper the train up the mountain. I took the ride this last July with my father and son, both of who are steam enthusiasts, albeit at different levels of interests based on their age disparity. The ride is slow and offers ample opportunity to appreciate the gradual change in vegetation from dry-scrub to moist deciduous and then evergreen forest. We encountered a herd of elephants, spotted a variety of birds and also enjoyed frequent lizard sightings. There are numerous tunnels, chasms and waterfalls to appreciate. There are also still signs of the 1994 landslide, which caused such damage to the line, not to mention human life. I had motorcycled up to Ooty from the Palnis shortly after and personally witnessed the utter devastation. The train line had been knocked out for a significant period after the landslide.
The steam locomotive is exchanged for a diesel at Conoor Station, which is a large mid-elevation town, known for its military cantonments. We got down to wander around the workshop with cameras while the train continued on up the last stretch up to Ooty.
These images were shot in July 2006 and 2009 with a combination of cameras and lenses: Mamiya 6, Hasselblad 503 cx and Nikon D-200.