We changed at Metupalaiyam to join the Nilgiri Mountain Express – a steam train built in 1908. Express is a bit of a misnomer – top speed was about 10mph I think, but that suited us fine as we were in no rush and the low speed made it easier to take photos and shoot video. We were fortunate to get the best seats in the house. Last night in Coimbatore Junction station we were told the train was already fully booked. I’ve never been one to take no for an answer so I went to see the Chief Station Supervisor to see if he could help us. And help us he did – we were able to reserve left hand side seats in the front most 1st class carriage. Perfect. The train is pushed up the mountain by the steam engine so our carriage had views to the front so we could watch the train climb. The left hand side of the carriage affords uninterrupted views of the mountain and forests. The right hand side mostly afforded uninterrupted views of hewn rock face ;) So both boxes were ticked for us.
The journey was pleasant. There were loads of tea breaks as the steam engine had to stop and refill with water every 20 minutes or so. We had the luxury of space on our side too - there were 2 spare seats in our carriage until a couple of other folk joined in Coonoor, about 2/3 of the way through the trip. There is not a huge amount of difference between 1st and 2nd class – from what I could tell it’s a question of how many people are seated per bench. Otherwise the carriages looked very similar. Nevertheless we were stoked to get the primo seats for my birthday, especially considering there were not meant to be any seats available in the first place. Guardian angels must have been watching out for us. We passed through some beautiful forest and some enormous tea plantations. I had no idea plantations were grown on such steep slopes – it must be a bitch to work as a tea picker that’s all I can say. The only annoyance (and there always has to be one ;)) was the 2 Indian kids sat behind us who screamed every time we went through a tunnel, and there were lots of those. The father encouraged them by screaming in unison, which was nice. It was fine to begin with, but after 4 hours or so it started to grate on our nerves.
We arrived in Ooty around midday and managed to find a decent and relatively inexpensive place to stay by the lake. “Jolly World” is within spitting distance of our hotel. Jolly World is reminiscent of a Butlins that has gone bankrupt. It looks pretty dire. However, we are not in tourist season, so perhaps something magical happens at that time to breathe life into it. I doubt it though. Ooty is bigger than we thought – it stretches out for several kilometres. And it’s much hotter than we thought. I was under the impression that hill stations were cool. I was mistaken. My face got sunburnt during our trek into town. We were also surprised to see big chain stores like Levis, Benettons, Baskin Robbins, Dominos Pizza and various others. That was the last thing we thought we’d find up in the mountains of Tamil Nadu. Apparently Ooty is famous for it’s chocolate, so we bought some to check it out. Let’s put it this way, Belgium doesn’t need to worry about any competition. I think they use baking chocolate to prevent the chocolate melting in the heat, so the end result is not particularly refined. But it gave us a much needed sugar fix after our no sleep bonanza. Hopefully tomorrow we’ll be able to find some interesting backroads or rural areas close by that are more to our tastes, otherwise we probably won’t be staying long.