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For other destinations and types of holiday, visit Kuoni
For other destinations and types of holiday, visit Kuoni 

Things to do in India

Puffing through the Nilgiris on a historic toy train

There’s always something to see on both sides of the line and you’ve plenty of time to look at it as the train goes so slowly…

By Pon Dennis
Freelance tour guide

A trip on the Nilgiri Mountain Railway offers incredible scenery, impressive engineering and a real sense of nostalgia, and I recommend it to everyone. For me, it’s all about enjoying the different landscapes as the train travels along the winding narrow-gauge track. There’s always something to see on both sides of the line, and you’ve plenty of time to look at it as the train goes so slowly, especially on the steepest section, which is the only rack and pinion track in India.

The railway operates between Mettupalayam and Ooty, climbing from around 330m to 2200m on the way, and you can feel the temperature change as you go along. At the bottom, there are coconut groves, banana plantations and paddy fields where you can see people working. Soon you’re in the forested hills, with steep rock faces, tunnels, deep gorges and lots of bridges – more than 250 on the 46km journey – and if you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of a monkey or peacock. And towards the top, you start seeing distant tea plantations and vegetable gardens in the valleys below.

There are some lovely old stations on the route that date from when the British built the railway in 1908 and are very beautiful. The train stops at a few where passengers can get off, have a chai and take pictures of everything from the views to the blue-and-cream-painted carriages and the vintage steam engine. It all adds to the sense of fun. 

If you’re in a hurry, it’s only 90 minutes or so by road from Mettupalayam and Ooty, whereas the toy train takes five hours – though it’s much faster on the way down. But this isn’t about speed, it’s about sounds, smells and a unique atmosphere, and about the journey as an experience in itself. 


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Alfred & Pon Dennis

Pon Dennis was born and brought up in Chennai, where he studied geography and tourism at Madras Christian College. His first job, between school and university, was selling vegetables, but after graduating in 2009 he began working as a tour guide. More than a decade later, he remains as passionate as ever about opening travellers’ eyes to the local culture, history and way of life in English or one of the other six languages he speaks. 

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