Set in the spectacular landscapes of the Nilgiri Hills in Tamil Nadu, the state that borders Kerala, Ooty, nicknamed the ‘queen of hill stations’, was established by the British as the summer headquarters of the Madras government in the early 19th century. Full of Hindu temples, peaceful parks and gardens and Raj-era bungalows, while Ooty has retained much of its original charms, it has also developed into a bustling town and a market centre for the area’s agriculture, which mainly grows ‘English fruits’, like strawberries, plums and pears. It is easy to escape the buzz of the town and into the surrounding, incredibly lush countryside, with its towering pine trees, temperate rainforest, tea plantations and lakes to explore, all of which is protected as part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve.
Ooty’s most famous attraction though is its train. The Nilgiri Mountain Railway (also known as the ‘Toy Train’), listed as part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a narrow gauge railway that travels from Mettupalayam to Ooty. On its journey, it climbs up into the hills through some incredible scenery and even includes a ‘rack’ railway, India’s only one, where the going gets steep between Mettupalayam and Coonoor. Today it runs a mix of steam and diesel locomotives.
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