How to get a ticket for the Ooty Toy train:
Riding the Nilgiri Mountain Railway would be a highlight on any visit to India, even if you have limited interest in trains! The 7.10 journey is pushed by an old steam train up some of the steepest tracks in India, the 100 year old route passes through superb scenery as it climbs up to the cool air of Ooty hillstation. You pass huge soaring mountains, waterfalls, big cliffs and possibly elephants as you slowly snake up to 2000 meters. The only problem you are likely to have is buying a ticket! The train is small; only three carriages are attached to the train so there are not many seats!
How to buy a ticket for the Nilgiri mountain railway:
First you can use the Indian Railways Website to check availability. Unfortunately, when we looked all seats were booked for a minimum of two months! You could buy a waiting list ticket, but you would have to arrive at the station in the morning and hope that enough people have decided to not turn up before you know if you have a seat – hardly a good way of securing a seat on the journey! Plus if you are not Indian you may have difficulties actually buying a ticket through the Indian Railways website (they do not accept foreign cards as payment).
Another option is by buying your ticket through the Indian booking company – Cleartrip. The problem with this is that you can only purchase first class tickets (still very cheap at about 50 Rupees each – less than $1!) and you need an Indian mobile number (there is a way around this, see booking train tickets online in India on ‘man in seat 61’). Cleartrip only charge a 20 Rupee booking fee and you can use foreign credit cards. First class tickets are also regularly booked up well in advance, we would have had to wait two months!
How to buy a ticket for the Ooty toy train on the day:
It is possible to buy tickets on the day of departure as Indian Railways retain approximately 21 tickets to sell each morning. In order to have any chance of buying one of these tickets then you HAVE to be at the station EARLY! Really early! Really really early!
We were advised to arrive by 4am but we didn’t make it until 4.15 – we were 8th and 9th in the line. One platform has a specific queuing area for this departure, it consists of two metal barriers on the platform the train departs from. It is near the station masters office and has a sign hanging above it indicating that it is for the Mettapulyam – Ooty train. Don’t wait at the booking office outside of the station or the other platform in the station! The station masters office has an entrance on both platforms, don’t wait on the wrong side or you won’t be able to buy a ticket (this happened to someone on the day we bought ours, they sat on the wrong side for two hours and missed out!).
If you arrive and there are less than 15 or so people in front of you then you are very likely to be able to buy a ticket. If there are more than 15 then hang around and hope for the best! All members of a group HAVE to be there waiting with you, i.e. you can’t send one member of the family at 4 am to buy tickets for 4 people (this was strictly enforced which is good, otherwise you would have no idea if the person at the front of the queue was going to buy 10 tickets!). People who were trying to buy tickets for additional people were turned away. Stay in the queue and don’t take any crap from people trying to push in.
At about 5.30am the station master arrives and makes everyone get into a single file line. He makes sure no one tries to push in and turns anyone away who is trying to buy tickets for people who are not present. You are then given a token for how many people are present in your group. For this it was two.
One person from each group is then sent to the ticket office outside of the station, this opened at approximately 6am. Tickets could be bought for second class only (15 Rupees each). You then have to get back to the line, wait for everyone to return before you are shown onto the train where you wait.
You have little choice about where you sit as you are marched onto the train in single file. It is pot luck if you manage to get a window seat, if you have a choice then the left side when facing the direction of travel will give you the best views!
You are made to sit on the train for a while, I think this is to prevent other passengers arriving that already have tickets from sitting in this section of the train. After about 30 minutes of sitting in the train you are allowed out to wonder about, have a coffee and check out the train that will be pushing you up the mountain!
Taking a bicycle on the Ooty toy train:
We couldn’t find any information about this prior to travelling, and even when we asked at the station the first person we spoke to said it was not possible – This is not true!
The train has a luggage/baggage cart, in order to put your bike onto it then you have to visit the parcel office in the station. First go through the process to buy a ticket, when you have your ticket then you will have to wait for a while until the parcel office opens.
We have a lot of bags on our bikes and we left them on for the journey. There is very little room in the train carriage itself so instead of imposing our excess baggage on everyone else we left them on the bike. The parcel office is on the platform and opened at about 6/6.30, you just need to fill in a few forms and make a small payment (50 rupees for 2x bikes).
When this was done I wanted to ensure our bikes went on and were put somewhere where they wouldn’t fall/have things on top of them but luggage handlers almost race you to your bike or wrestle it away from you/offer to do it so you think they are being kind. The office is less than 10 meters from the train so it is no problem to do it yourself, the baggage guys ask for a ‘loading’ change if they even touch your bike – we refused any payment as we didn’t ask for their help and they had insisted they push them.
The baggage section of the train could comfortably fit our bikes and is locked before the train departs. We checked on them at the half way point when there is a 40 minute break (it was opened to unload some boxes).
With a ticket and your bikes on board (if you have one!) you can sit and look forward to the start of your journey!