One fine day, while sitting bored at work, I revisited my old blog posts about my trip to Ooty by train. The post wasn't very detailed, and like I had described in it, I had dozed off during the journey. I had been planning to revisit this place since long. The Nilgiri Mountain Railways is, perhaps, a must visit for any railfan. Its a unique rack railway, and one among the few (perhaps the only?) rack railways still in use for regular operations. I didn't have this trip on my priority list, and had kept it aside for later.
Some changes in my personal circumstances forced me to rethink a little about the journey, and I decided to do it at the earliest. I decide on a Thursday morning to travel on the NMR that weekend itself - I quickly checked tickets, found them to be waitlisted, but still went ahead and booked tickets. I booked a train ticket to travel from Thrissur to Coimbatore as well, and thought of buying my Coimbatore to Mettupalayam tickets once current bookings open.
Things changed a little over 24 hours to go for the trip. Plans changed. I had to incorporate a stop over at Palakkad to drop TW and TD at my in-law's. I had to quickly redraw my plan. I spent quite a while replanning, and finally decided to park my vehicle at Irinjalakuda and take a train from there. I could also travel by train on my way back, and pick-up my car from Irinjalakuda. In the meantime, I had also booked tickets to travel from Ooty to Coonoor and from Coonoor to Mettupalayam - as back up to my original Mettupalayam-Ooty booking.
The final revised plan came up like this - Irinjalakuda to Palakkad by 22640 Alappuzha - Chennai Express, then Palakkad to Coimbatore by 16188 Ernakulam Karaikal Express, followed by the 12671 Nilgiri Express from Coimbatore to Mettupalayam. I had originally booked on the 16188 from Thrissur to Coimbatore - for some reason, the IRCTC app didn't let me modify my boarding point, and I ended up rebooking a ticket to travel from Palakkad to Coimbatore - since, I didn't want to risk being marked "absent" by the TTE. To make matters a little difficult, I had already used up my quota of 12 tickets on the IRCTC portal, and I had to buy the Irinjalakuda-Palakkad ticket from the PRS counter.
|Title card of my video on YouTube!|
I bought this ticket at the "Non Rail Head" Passenger Reservation System counter at Kodungallur. This counter operates inside a co-operative credit society and is devoid of the usual railway counter crowd. I requested for side seats while giving the form - the system threw up seats at two ends of the coach at the beginning. The lady at the counter was kind enough to flush the booking and retry all over again, without any seat preferance. This time, the system gave us two seats together - a lower berth and a middle berth! We were traveling in Sleeper class - second sitting would've been sufficient considering the distance involved, but I wanted to give TD some space to play around, and some safety by travelling in a lesser crowded coach.
|With my ticket purchased from the Railway Ticket reservation counter at Kodungallur Multipurpose Co-operative Society|
January 01, 2022:
Starting a year by traveling raised a lot of eyebrows. I was working on the day, and was in office until a little before evening. I had quite a bit of packing to do before we headed to the railway station. My ticket to travel from Mettupalayam to Ooty was still waitlisted - leading to little bit of apprehension. I had, thankfully, booked a ticket to travel from Coonoor to Mettupalayam, and hence I had confirmation that I could travel on the NMR in any case.
We (TD, TW and I) set off from home by around 1715hrs - our train from Irinjalakuda would depart a little before 1830hrs. The station is roughly about 20 kilometres from home. I also had to book tickets for traveling from Coimbatore to Mettupalayam at the PRS counter at Irinjalakuda station (I had to do this since I had exhausted my quota of 12 tickets for the previous month, and tickets were actually waitlisted when I tried - availability opened up as charting was one). I headed straight to the PRS counter to reaching the station - seats were still available in plenty, and I was given a window seat in Second Class sitting coach (its roughly an hour long journey).
Irinjalakuda station is a small wayside station located about 10 kilometre away from the actual town of Irinjalakuda. The platforms here do not have a full length shelter, or even proper lighting. Our coach was supposed to be the 20th in the formation of 22 coaches - that meant a long walk to the end of the platform, and waiting in pitch darkness. Thankfully we found a working light on the platform, and waited beneath this lamp. Our train, my first train in this series of 3, turned up a little behind schedule - at 1849hrs (roughly about 27 minutes behind schedule). The train was worked by WAP4 #22373 of Vijayawada, and our coach, S11, was a 2017 ICF built Sleeper coach (WGSCN 17397/C based at Coaching Depot, Basin Bridge Junction).
The coach wasn't crowded - quite empty actually, as we boarded. The train departed from Irinjalakuda at 1851hrs. The station was still crowded - I believe that was for the 16525 Bengaluru Express that would be arriving a little later. The TTE came around soon after departure. The train had a quick non-stop run to Thrissur, where we reached by 1915hrs. I picked up a pack of Chapati with curry to pacify TD who was a little hungry, but didn't want to eat things her mom had packed from home. We left Thrissur by 1918hrs - the coach was more-or-less full by now (except for our bay).
The Alappuzha-Chennai express is one of the few express trains that stop at Punkunnam. Although the platform at Punkunnam is long enough to accommodate long trains, the platform is divided into two halves by a level crossing gate (or a grade crossing). The platform at Punkunnam was dark - hardly any light. I think it was worse than Irinjalakuda! We left Punkunnam at 1926hrs. This is one of the slowest trains on the route - it made further stops at Wadakkanchery (1943hrs) and Ottapalam (2015hrs) before reaching Palakkad Junction. The run was largely eventless - just my TD got bored since it was dark and she had nothing to watch outside. The only entertainment she had was climbing up the ladder to the upper berth. We got to Palakkad junction by 2041hrs - 4 minutes behind schedule.
My next train from Palakkad to Coimbatore was a little less than 5 hours away. My in-laws had reached the railway station to take TW and TD to their place. We headed out for dinner before parting ways. I returned to the railway station a little after 2130hrs and headed straight to the railway retiring rooms. I had booked an AC Dormitory using the IRCTC Online Retiring Room reservation system. I just wanted to rest for a while before resuming my journey.
The AC Dormitory was actually a large hall with cabins for individual passengers, and shared restrooms. The hall had a common area with sofas and had a TV (an LED screen actually). The hall had two Airconditioners, and there were small ceiling fans in each cabin. The cabins were lockable and had a nice cozy bed along with a small side stand. I spent the rest of the night trying to sleep - but I was a little too excited and anxious about the journey the following day!
January 02, 2022:
I woke up a little past 0115hrs - the train was at 0140hrs. I was groggy as I walked out of the retiring room - there was no update as to which platform my train would arrive on. However, the lady at the enquiry counter informed me that my coach was at the rear end of the train - and that it could arrive on Platform 4 or 5.
Platforms 4 and 5 are located on either sides of an island platform - I just headed there using the foot over bridge. Platform 4 was occupied by a freighter - so my train has to arrive on Platform 5 only. The arrival of my train was announced a few minutes after I reached the platform - but the announcement claimed the train would arrive on Platform 4. The train actually arrived on Platform 5 - and it rolled in as the announcement just completed! I badly wanted to have a cup of tea, but the train was already arriving. The 16188 Ernakulam Junction - Karaikal "Tea Garden" Express arrived on Platform 5 of Palakkad junction at 0146hrs (about 9 minutes behind schedule) with a WAP7 (#30449 of Erode) doing the honours.
WAP7 is an offlink for this train - it usually gets WAP4s. Although this train is commonly called the Tea Garden Express, its officially not called so. The train previously had the name Tea Garden due to the fact that it operated between Cochin Harbour Terminus and Mettupalayam, and was a major transporter of tea from the Nilgiris to Cochin Port. The terminii changed later, and started operating between Ernakulam Junction and Trichy, before getting extended to Karaikal. I am not really sure if the whole train went to Mettupalayam, or if that was a slip coach service (coaches getting detatched at Coimbatore and then getting attached to the Nilgiri Express).
My coach, D1 (GS 026404 based at Chennai Egmore), was the 20th in the formation of 21 coaches. The train shares its rakes with the Karaikal-Chennai express, explaining how the coach was based at Chennai. The coach was quite crowded - there, certainly, were passengers without a reservation. My seat was also occupied by an elderly gentleman as I boarded - he vacated for me, and later headed to a luggage rack to sleep! We started off from Palakkad at 0155 - about 15 minutes behind schedule. I continued checking the status of my ticket to Ooty in the meantime - for some reason, charts weren't prepared yet, and they kept me guessing!
The run out of Palakkad was eventless. We had two unscheduled halts - one at Kanjikode and another at Podanur. The halt was Kanjikode was about 5 minutes long, while the one at Podanur was hardly a minute or two. The rake of the Coimbatore - KSR Bengaluru Uday Express was parked at Podanur station - the train wasn't operational back then. I received a message as the train was entering in to Coimbatore station - that was a message from the Indian Railways. It was a long message with lots of jargon, but to put it in brief, it said: "Your Tickets are not confirmed"! I was stuck! My journey to Ooty from Mettupalayam by train isn't happening. I was a little desperate - a little depressed. I looked out of the windows - completely blank of the next course of action. Meanwhile, the train rolled in to Platform 4 of Coimbatore Junction at 0324hrs - 12 minutes behind schedule.
I wandered around on the platform for a while trying to make sense of what I had to do. I first thought of taking a bus directly to Ooty - interestingly, I did not have a ticket to travel from Ooty to Coonoor at this point - I booked a ticket only after getting to Coimbatore. I hadn't booked this ticket since the train had well over 100 seats the previous evening - but it had already progressed to waiting list by the time I booked. I ruled out the plan of taking a bus from Coimbatore to Ooty - for two reasons, I did not want to waste the Coimbatore-Mettupalayam ticket that I already had, and two, I wanted to try if they were selling unreserved tickets, by any chance.
I made up my mind to travel by Nilgiri Express to Mettupalayam, in any case, and decide on the next step after getting there. I had about 2 hours, a little less than 2 hours actually, to spend, rather, kill, at Coimbatore. Although Coimbatore is more like my home town (I was born in this city, and completed a fair share of schooling as well here), I was a little disoriented about the layout of the station, and ended up walking towards the Mettupalayam end of the station in order to reach the main exit. Interestingly, I had alighted right next to the subway that would take me to the main exit!
I headed off to the main exit to have some tea, and also to check the coach position of my next train. The tea stall present near the exit was selling fresh tea - fresh as in prepared to order, instead of dispensing from a thermal flask. After tea, I headed straight to the enquiry desk to find out details about Nilgiri Express, my next train. The guy at the counter didn't have the exact coach position, but he told me that the Second Class sitting coaches would be at the "front" end of the train. I knew that this train reverses at Coimbatore, and hence checked if he meant the Mettupalayam end of the rake or the Podanur End when he said "front" - he smiled, and replied he meant the Mettupalayam end. He quickly added that coach position would be updated on the coach position indicators on the platform a little before the train comes.
I returned to Platform 4, from where the Nilgiri Express would depart. The platform was crowded - I guessed that a train to the North/East would be coming in soon, and I was right. But, before that, the Mangalore-Kacheguda Express came in - I was quite surprised to see this train had an LHB rake! The train was hauled by a WAP4 - I thought that was an off-link, but I know now that it was actually its nominated link itself! Since WAP4s do not have a head-on-generation functionality, the generators present in the "end-on-generation" cars were running. I moved to the Mettupalayam end of the platform by now, and I could see a train waiting at the home signal already. I was sure this would be my train.
Meanwhile, the Ernakulam-Patna Weekly super fast express was announced. The crowd on the platform had swollen by now. The Patna train was supposedly a fully reserved train - but the crowd on the platform was certainly more than what the train could hold. The train at the home signal was still waiting, while the Patna express arrived at the station. The train was literally mobbed by the passengers - the crowd that mobbed into the second class compartments is beyond description. The train was cleared for departure in a couple of minutes - it got moving a little later, only to be stopped by an emergency chain pull. This delayed the departure by a few minutes.
Soon after the Patna superfast cleared out, the train that was waiting at the home signal was allowed to enter the station. This was indeed the 12671 Chennai Central - Mettupalayam Nilgiri Express, arriving at the station at 0453hrs - early by 17 minutes. The train was brought in by WAP7 #30393 of Royapuram. The train reverses at Coimbatore - I was unsure if the loco would change or the same loco would continue. I headed to the Mettupalayam end of the rake now - a WAP4 was already coming in to couple to the rake by now!
The new loco was WAP4 #22360 of Erode. The loco coupling was done quickly. Luggage unloading from the SLR (Second Class cum Luggage-and-brake van) coaches were taking time. Despite all this, we got moving at the scheduled time at 0520hrs. This is a short 35 kilometre hop, with no stops in between. The train did slow down at Karamadai station - but did not stop. All through the journey, I was searching on the internet if they were issuing unreserved tickets on Nilgiri Mountain Railway - all my searches turned out negative, and I was little upset now.
|Mettupalayam station - the Nilgiris in the background. The Steam loco shed is also visible|
We rolled in to Mettupalayam station by 0613hrs - early by about 2 minutes. Since my coach was right at the front - the second coach from the locomotive - I could quickly head to the ticket counter. The clerk at the counter said no unreserved tickets were sold, and there was no availability for current reservation either! So, thats the end of whatever little hope was left! Not to be dejected, I decided to hold on till the train departs and capture it going out. I headed straight to the railway refreshment room for my breakfast - in the hindsight, I could've had better food from the restaurants near the bus station instead. But, I was too hungry at that time to hold on! I remained at the station till the train to Ooty departed, and then headed to the bus station to hop on to a bus to Ooty!
Since this was a journey on three different trains, and all of them were really short journeys, the ratings & journey at a glance part is being skipped. That said, all the three trains were well kept, clean and maintained acceptable punctuality. I enjoyed the first two parts of the journey - I was not in a position to enjoy the third part, unfortunately. The bus journey was really enjoyable though - coming up as the next part to this!
Please do check out my video about this journey on YouTube!