On January 20th we went to Coimbatore by train and then by taxi to Mettupalayan, arriving late afternoon. We woke early on the 21st and caught the train which left for Ooty at seven a.m. The narrow gauge Nilgiri railway, a rare example of the continuing use of steam engines, was built by the British between 1890 and 1908. It takes you up into the mountains for five hours using a rack and pinion system to negotiate the steep grades of up to 1:8. In the centre of the track is a third track which has teeth for the train to grip and get traction from.
The Steam Engine
One of Several Stops to Take On Water
Ooty and the train link to it originated to exploit the tea-growing potential of the region. Tea continues to be exported today. Ooty, or Udhagamandalam as it is now called, became a popular hill station under the British Raj. It was used as a much needed escape from the summer heat.
The train ride was very exciting, definitely a high point of the vacation. Our coach, which we shared with six other people, was very old, made of wood, and very small - we sat four to a side with our knees almost touching. We opened three small windows on each side of the coach and leaned out to look down hundreds of feet into deep valleys spanned by railway bridges built by the British in the 19th Century. We held our breath, hoping the bridges wouldn't collapse. There are dozens of bridges as well as sixteen tunnels.
Looking from Our Coach into the Next
Crossing a bridge
The mountain scenery was spectacular. The train went very slowly, up grades as steep as 1:8 using the notches in the track to lever us up. We could almost feel the train straining as it was lifted. Several times we disembarked while stopping to take on water for the steam engine.
It was all great fun made even more enjoyable by the perceived danger and the companionship of the very nice English couple sitting opposite us. When we reached Coonoor we changed to a modern engine and sped into Ooty in no time at all.
Our hotel, the King's Cliff, was in a charming 170-year-old building whose ownership had passed from one British aristocrat to another in a card game. Later, it was owned for a time by the Taj Hotel group before being purchased by a Tamil Nadu owner. There was a beautiful garden, antique furniture, a glass breakfast house set among the flowers, and wood fires in every room. Set high upon a cliff, the hotel had lovely views of the town below. After dinner a man came to our room with an arm full of wood and lit a big fire. He insisted that we accept a hot water bottle. It turned out that we needed it, as it became very cold in the night after the fire burned out.
Breakfast Room in the Garden of our Hotel
Sitting Room of our Hotel
View of Ooty from the Garden of our Hotel
Hotel Coffee Shop
In the Hotel Garden
On January 22nd we hired the hotel driver to take us around to see the sights. He was a good man whose company we enjoyed. First we went to a look-out point for the views, then to a tea factory (not operating that day), a tea museum, a tea plantation, and the botanical garden for which Ooty is famous.
View of Ooty
Ooty Botanical Garden
View of Ooty from the Tea Museum
View of Ooty
At the Botanical Garden
The next day, January 23, we again took the hotel's car and drove down the narrow road to the base of the mountains, then through a game preserve to the beautiful city of Mysore.
Strange Vegetation Seen Throughout the Game Preserve