How do you describe the sound of elephants trumpeting? Never mind, that was what we heard, quite close by, as the train was puffing and chugging with jolts up the track, from Mettupalayam to Ooty. All eyes turned towards the windows. Those who were sitting in the first coach, on the right, were lucky. They had seen this small family – a father, mother and baby elephant – coming very close to the track in an attempt to cross, but seeing the approaching train, they backed off and hurried their way back, trumpeting loudly. I, sitting in the last segment of the first coach, and on the wrong side, could only get a glimpse of their brown backs as they were running into the .. not a forest exactly, but thick woods would be appropriate word. The entire train load of passengers would only talk about this for the next 10 minutes.
I was not that unlucky either. On my side of the window, as the train was climbing up and the level ground on the side was getting down and down, I saw something attractive perched on a fence post of a recently built house. Straining my eyes a little, I found it to be a peacock sitting comfortably and watching its surroundings, its neck popped up and the head swaying right and left majestically. I wondered how lucky these people living here are, having peacocks flying around!
At a halt in one of the stations, there was a tree full of ripe grapefruit hanging all through its foliage. A couple of daring youth didn’t let go of this opportunity and stealthily climbed up plucked two fruits, before the watchman noticed and yelled at them. Having last seen and tasted this fruit decades back, I could only feel envious at them!
My granddaughter Jeevthi, soon after the excitement of train ride was over, started playing with her dolls (small ones attached to key-chains). She would stand on her seat looking at the backrest and play with two dolls, often dropping them on the other side. The family on the other side, initially obliging with looking for and taking out the fallen dolls on their side, refused to oblige after the third time and said they couldn’t find the doll. Jeevthi had no choice but to start watching the scenery again. When the train reached the destination Ooty, that family promptly returned her dolls! They just didn’t have the patience to bear the repeated intrusion into their side, or were smart to thwart the potential repetitiive annoyance in the beginning itself, depending on your view of the event!
Back at Mettupalayam, after arrival from Chennai and before boarding the train for Ooty, in the short time available, we had to brush, take our morning beverage and if possible finish breakfast too, as we were told breakfast would not be available on the way. A few dogs which were there on the platform kept my granddaughter entertained. I bought hot idlis that were on sale in limited number, and a slice of fruit-bun for the baby. Later on we found that this was not necessary at all, because every station en route had a stall where tea, coffee and snacks were available fresh and aplenty.
The journey is long, timewise and slow, speedwise. The train goes at good speed until the first station, which is almost level ground. After that, the gradient starts, and the pinion-wheel for grip is engaged. As the train pushes, we could feel the coaches jolted forward in uniform, short intervals, making the passengers move awkwardly and giggle at the fun provided in doing so. The train stops for reasonable breaks in all stations, giving plenty of time for the passengers to get down, stretch, have a tea, or even visit the toilet if need be. At Coonoor, however, the engine is changed. The steam engine is relieved and a diesel engine is attached for the rest of the journey up to Ooty.
On the way, you can encounter several bridges and tunnels. You can safely reach your hand wide out to take snaps of the train from outside your window. At some places, the scenery is breathtaking, giving beautiful views of mountains, valleys, streams, u-bends on the road below, etc. If you are lucky, you may even spot animals like deer and monkeys, and rare birds that you don’t get to see in metros.
Overall, it is a journey that one must take at least once in the lifetime. That is what an old man did in our compartment. Looks like had a long, very long wish to travel on this train. Unfortunately he could not accomplish this in his younger days. Now his wife is old and not fit enough to take this journey. So she had asked him to make a trip just to fulfil his wish. He was travelling from Mettupalayam to Ooty with us, and while we got down at Ooty for our stay there, he was just returning in the same train back to Mettupalayam! I felt happy for him. At last, he saw light at the end of the tunnel!
Just one more line. The staff members all through this railway are extremely nice and polite, answering most of your queries and going out of their way to help passengers in case of need.