The purpose of this trip was to experience the full length of the Nilgiri Mountain Railways which was long pending. The last time I had been to ooty few years ago, the line from Coonoor to Mettupalayam was suspended due to landslides. Now found a little free time to travel there so I did….
Found a ticket in 2S-Second Sitting from Udhagamandalam/Ooty to Mettupalayam on the 21st of June. The journey there was planned by bus so took the KSRTC Rajahamsa bus to Ooty and this is the first part of the journey……
Part 1 : Bangalore to Ooty (KSRTC Rajahamsa Non A/C)
Booked the ticket online. The fare was 378 + 10(Reservation) + 10(Gateway surcharge). The printed ticket had a mention of free non A/C city bus travel two hours prior to the journey so took a bus to Shanthinagar bus station / Double Road at 9pm. Searched for the bus in a maze of intercity buses. Here all the buses are parked linearly, one for Tamil Nadu, one for Andhra Pradesh etc.. All the buses move forward as the head of the queue clears so that they reach the edge of the bus stand when their own departure time is due. Took my seat in the bus at 915pm. A message arrived at 920pm on my phone detailing the bus number as KA-888, depot-Bangalore 1 and crew number 9xxxxxxxxx.
The conductor checked the ticket and id-proof. The seat chosen by me was the second row aisle seat which had no seat in front of it due to which it had a seat belt and floor foot rest to prevent the passenger from sliding out. The window seat next to me was empty and had a charging point below it. The bus was very clean and looking new-ish.
943pm and the final calls were made to missing passengers. There was some drama outside the bus at this point where a young pickpocket was being hauled away by the efficient city police near the KSRTC booking counter. The conductor was still waiting for the passengers and some arrived at 10 pm. They said that they couldn’t get the reminder calls due to the Tata Docomo network being down at that time and even I too had the same problem.
Reached Mysore road bus terminus at 1013pm and halted for 10 minutes. Then the bus sped towards Mysore and reached the bus stand at 1:25am. The passengers were given time to freshen up and the bus was on its way. The bus had a speed governor so the speed was about 70kmph upper limit.
Reached Bandipur Tiger Reserve at 3:15am and halted.
The gates of the reserve are closed to traffic between 9pm and 6am to allow the wildlife to move freely on order of the Honourable Supreme Court of India, an excellent decision.
A plethora of Buses/Lorries/Trucks/Cars were parked along the road near the gates awaiting their opening. Pitied the folks in A/C volvos parked near us with the engines of all the vehicles were switched off. Please be wary of buses in this route without openable windows. Myself woke up at 515 am and had a couple pf Snickers chocolate bars as an early breakfast 🙂 . All the passengers were woken up by the crew and reminded to freshen up as the bus would stop next only at 8am.
All the vehicles set off at 6am. Passed through Bandipur reserve and spotted a herd of deer, a group of elephants and a wild mongoose. Didn’t get clear photographs due to the vibration of the bus and umpteen speed humps.
Reached the Karnataka-Tamil Nadu border and crossed the bridge into Tamil Nadu and the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve.
The monsoon effect was more pronounced in Mudumalai near Gudalur. The roads were pretty badly damaged near here due to heavy vehicles.
The bus was stopped at 815am at NEST Restaurant for their breakfast. A couple more KSRTC buses were having a break there as well.
Reached Ooty at 930am (45 minutes late).
I had a breakfast combo at the Vegetarian Refreshment Room in the Ooty Railway Station next to the bus stand. It consisted of two idlies, a vada, a serving of upma and a serving of pongal all costing Rs 40. Very delicious.
Had a look around the near-empty station filled with sparrows who jumped around the tables as I had breakfast. The sight of a sparrow is very nostalgic to a Bangalorean (you know why :-)).
Part 2 – Time filler program – Ooty Botanical Gardens
The botanical gardens were 2.5 kms away and so I walked over there down the main road and had a look at the race course along the way. I had an extensive photography session at the botanical gardens from 11am to 1230pm. Some of the highlights are as follows…
Part 3 : The Toy Train… Ooty Mettupalayam Passenger
Returned to the railway station at 1pm and had lunch at the same place. The train arrived at 145pm with 5 coaches (Coonoor 2 coaches and Mettupalayam 3 coaches) with a YDM-4 locomotive. The seats in second sitting cost Rs 10 (Fare) + 15 (Reservation fee).
I had no co-passenger in my seat till Coonoor when some passengers got upgraded from unreserved. The coaches were neatly maintained but people travelling with me irrespective of background were dumping trash in the fragile nilgiri region along the tracks without any consideration for the environment.
The train left on time and the engine was at the front of the train when going downhill as usual. The stops were Lovedale, Ketti, Aravanakadu, Wellington and then Coonoor.
Many passengers waiting at Coonoor were getting their unreserved tickets upgraded to 2S or FC. A oil fired steam engine of X-class was attached which had water spilling out among bursts of steam billowing out of the top.
The train slowly moved out of Coonoor and latched onto the rack and pinion system. The train moved downhill and kept at a steady 15kmph thereabouts. There was soot back-flow towards the coaches in the tunnels and window seated passengers got a fair share :-). Lights were switched on at appropriate times.
The route was breathtaking on both sides of the track. The rock cuttings had just enough space for the train and had tiny water streams flowing down the sides. The plants and trees were dancing to the movement of the train and it was a charming sight.
The bridges, viaducts were just marvels of engineering and had been standing unerringly since many years. Also retaining walls had been constructed at some places as a reaction to the landslides that had occurred a few years back disrupting services.
Hillgrove station brought relief to the compressed passengers who stretched their legs and had some snacks such as hot bajji, biscuits, cola etc..
There were a lot of monkeys around and they were fed biscuits by some passengers. This station is the only commercial halt between Coonoor and Mettupalayam.
Monkeys just sneaked up behind and I had a “heart in the mouth” moment when I nearly stepped on one as I turned around to click a photo of the landscape. The monkeys were relentless in their quest for food though.
The train set-off at good speed to Mettupalayam. Children and adults alike waved at the passengers in the train at level crossings. The charm of such a hill train is always there no matter how old you are.
Reached Mettupalayam and crossed over to the broad gauge side of the station.
Found a charging point for my near dead smartphone which did a brunt of the videography on the way. Found a chair next to it waiting for my next train to Salem (Nilagiri Express) to be brought onto the platform.
Part 4 : Return to Bangalore
A) Mettupalayam to Salem (MTP-MAS Nilagiri Express)
Many passengers from the mountain train were waiting for this one and only connecting train towards Chennai. An Erode WDM-3D brought in the local passenger service from Coimbatore. The loco reversed and pushed this train into a resting track. It then set about joining the two halves of the Nilagiri express which were resting on separate tracks due to the lack of one long track there.
The first half of the train was brought onto the platform and the line was switched behind it, it then reversed onto the second half of the coaches to which it was attached.
The complete train set came onto the platform at 717pm. My RAC status during booking had changed to a confirmed side upper seat in Sleeper. I was to take this train upto Salem. Found my seat and sat there. The coach was clean and the smell of cleaning agents implied that disinfection of some sort had been done. I planned to pick up dinner at Coimbatore junction where the train was scheduled to halt for 25 minutes to change to electric engine as well as add on more coaches. The train left MTP on time towards CBE. It made a brief halt at Coimbatore North outer as well as in the station for signal clearance. The max speed on this stretch was around 80 kmph.
Had lovely parotha and some ordinary biriyani from the veg refreshment room on the platform parcelled and ate it in the train as it left Coimbatore. The locomotive that took us from here was an ED WAP-4. I constantly kept track of my position through GPS and co-related it with trainenquiry.com as well.
The train moved at tremendous speed and justified its superfast status keeping to its schedule with about a 10 minute delay here and there.
I must make a mention of the well mannered TTE here, He was very polite and was helping waitlisted/RAC passengers to find a seat. Even for the drunkard who was verbally abusing him in the presence of his brother and wife. People like him are to be respected as he was sticking strictly to the guidelines of his job and being very vigilant. One needs compassion as well as rational thinking to carry out such a job where human interaction plays a pivotal role.
Here the wait started. Train after train came and left on PF-4. Some that I spotted were Cheran exp, Allepey Chennai exp, Mangalore Chennai exp, Kochuveli Yesvantpur AC exp, Mayiladutarai Mysore exp among many others.
There were two challenges to this change of train at this time of the day, firstly the sleep which even the namesake coffee did nothing to abate and secondly the near ‘vampiric’ mosquitoes which did all in their power to get a bite out of me and they did succeed.
I took many walks up and town the platform to keep awake. At around 1 am, somebody in the station had the brains to switch on the fans on the platform giving much needed relief to the passengers.
Salem station was very much alive at that hour with many boarding the trains. The constabulary of RPF were constantly patrolling the platform and boarding trains to ensure safety and I thank them for that.
My train, the Tuticorin-Mysore express finally moved in at 0154am headed by ED-WDM 3D, late by nearly an hour. I found my lower berth in the train and chained up my luggage not before removing the shawl to cover myself. During this an RPF constable was staring at me and he must have thought I was trying to steal from my own luggage :-P. I now wish to thank him for being alert, they must see all sort of people in their duty.
Was woken up at 545am by the Southern Railways TTE. I was feeling groggy at that moment but could make out somewhat that he was asking me in Tamil (I don’t know how to speak but I can understand a bit) whether I was the chap who boarded at Salem. I nodded in the affirmative and showed him my ticket. I think he was de-boarding at Hosur as his jurisdiction may have been ending. Anyway I was thankful for the wake-up call and freshened up.
The next station was Hosur at 555am, then Caramelaram at 634am. Had a window seat so there was a good view of the early morning scenes.
The train slowed down nearing Bangalore city limits. The train separated from the Salem-YPR line down the Channasandra triangle line towards cantt. It descended down a ramp-like structure and moved on towards Cantonment. Crossed Baiyappanahalli at 652am.
Moved on towards Bangalore East at 658am where I spotted the Chennai bound Lalbagh exp.
Headed into Bangalore Cantonment at 704am where many passengers alighted and coffee vendors boarded.
Now here on for 5kms to Bangalore City Station one hour is allotted so the massive delay vanished due to statistical play or as it is called slack time :-).
The train reached Bangalore City at 717 am with a delay of 37 minutes on Platform-5. One could sense the urgency with which the train moved to the station. The train then left towards Mysore.
I quickly bolted out of the station premises via the foot-overbridge, through the subway to the BMTC bus terminal and to my home.
Thus came to an end a trip where everything went like clock-work and I saw all the sights that I originally set out to see and the end to a successful trip I wanted to do since many years. I would like to thank my family for their support and belief that I could carry out such a trip solo.
Thanks for reading. Hope your wonderful travels take you to wonderful places….
Travel well, Travel Responsibly !
Also more photos can be found at http://www.flickr.com/photos/7908527@N02/sets/72157634632435015/
Amit C Javgal (2013).