Imagine if you will, that you are at your favourite garden centre! All the different sections; house plants, cacti, bedding plants, ferns, grasses and bamboos, palm trees, hedge grows, flowering bushes and the heavy bags of substrates, the humble aquatics department and even the café. Imagine that you mix all these sections together in a beautifully ironic fashion and take a tour around the centre in a little toy train. Imagine this, and continue to read on, for we have been indulged with the Nilgiri Mountain Railway heading from Mettupalayam to Ooty on the edge of the Western Ghats.
Up at 03:00 and at the station by 04:00, we were #13 & 14 in the queue for a ticket. Not a chai vendor in sight (lucky git was still asleep somewhere) and it was cold. We got chatting to #15, Jan, from the Czech Republic, working in Indonesia and time flew by and at 05:30 the counters started being handed out for the first 50 in the queue. Needless to say, there were those who cut in front, but the station master beamed at us, having met him the night before for info. The trick to buttering up a station master is to let him know what countries you are from. It seems to go on his virtual checklist or some secret collection. Counter in hand, security let us put bags in a carriage, which Katherine defended, while I purchased the tickets and returned for the grand total of 30 INR a ticket for 2x Adults to Ooty on yet another World Heritage Site toy train. I also returned with Chai – I think that was more appreciated than the tickets!?
Dawn arrived in the blink of an eye, but was probably obscured by the throngs of people swarming up and down the platform after the ticket lady – hoping to see a cancelled name on the list and be lucky number 51 and so forth. The chaps in the canteen were speechless when I returned with the same two paper cups for more chai. I don’t think they have ever seen it and were incredibly thankful, showing their appreciation by filling the cups up to the brim, which never happens. Of course, some of both had to be drunk before returning to the train or one would burn themselves. Score!
The gentle, steady lurch of the train commenced shortly after its scheduled departure. This fact in itself is miraculous. The other was that the train did move in the first place, watching the staff oiling and greasing parts non stop and every station in between didn’t fill us with much trust. The rhythmic motion, the puffing steam engine pushing us up the tracks, it all became serenely hypnotic as we slowly climbed through the habitats.
The construction of the Nilgiri Mountain Railway, a 46-km-long metre-gauge single-track railway in Tamil Nadu State was first proposed in 1854, but due to the difficulty of the mountainous location the work only started in 1891 and was completed in 1908. This railway, scaling an elevation of 326 m to 2,203m, represented the latest technology of the time. They say you should sit on the left going up, admiring the views and landscape.
We didn’t get to sit on the left, but that’s alright. For what remained to be seen was the occasional glimpse of landscape and scenery draped with ever changing fauna, catching your breath in a way the valley views could not. Plants, wildlife, waterfalls, bare rock cliffs, tea plantations, and all sorts of habitats were thrown together and apart in a kaleidoscope of colours and textures.
The lower valleys were quilted in banana plantations and palm trees. The light greens and yellows of sapling trees changed to mature forests of browns and greens. Then suddenly it ended with the first tunnel. Cold, black rock, dripping with water transitioned to red sandstone and the heat was already bouncing off the walls in to the carriage.
Plants clung to mountain side, defying gravity and reaching out to the carriage with leaves of burnt yellows, gold, maroon, rust red, bright red and all 40 shades of green. The bridges were precariously held together, but one was too focused on the waterfalls and gorges with water rushing over boulders of orange hues. The flowers began to bloom further up, with trumpets of white, fireworks of yellow, red and orange and pockets of violet. The black and white patterned butterflies had quadrants of red on their wings and they were easier to discern than the birds flitting through the trees in rapid evasion of the metal snake chugging its way up the railway.
Each station was a chance to get out and gaze at the views and wonders of the route. It also provided a pit stop for samosas which is a plus. Alas, before too long the patchwork of tea bushes and columns of dividing, silver ash trees gave way to sheds and houses. We were at our destination and a pang of regret hit us for reaching the end of the journey. The photos will never do it justice.
We visited the Thread Garden, a collection of flowers and plants created with a unique technique of thread and canvas. The ones in the exhibit are in need of a good dusting, but were certainly something different. 12years in the making, by 50 women, the collection supposedly had 250 species from all over the world.
We reckon that a lot have been damaged and removed, based on the way the place is now set up and the back section devoid of any displays. In to the town proper for some supplies and find an Internet Café, we sadly learned of the death of Alan Rickman. So much news that we’re clearly missing on our trip, we need to try and read more news articles when we get internet access.
Saturday 16th January 2016