The Nilgiri Mountain Railway Indian Hill Railways


The Nilgiri Mountain Railway

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From the Himalayas in the north to the Nilgiris in the south.

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For a century little trains have climbed through the clouds into the world of the Indian hill railways.

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This is one of the last coal-powered steam railways in the world.

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Every day the Nilgiri mountain railway carries passengers

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into the Blue Hills of s=South India.

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This is its centenary year.

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This line is powered not just by steam,

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but by love and devotion as well.

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Despite huge losses, coal shortages and monsoon landslides,

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this little railway struggles on.

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Fondly known as the toy train, it plays a huge part in many lives.

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This is the story of the Nilgiri mountain railway.

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The British built this hill railway and others in North India

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to escape the dust and the heat and the responsibilities of empire.

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The Nilgiri mountain railway goes to Udagamandalam in South India,

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more commonly known as Ooty.

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Today, the 26-mile journey takes five hours,

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but the line took 17 hard years to build.

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India's hill railways are engineering marvels,

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now recognised by UNESCO as world heritage railways.

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These tracks are the steepest in all Asia

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with a gradient of one in twelve.

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This train crosses 250 bridges and runs through 16 tunnels,

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taking tourists, from India and across the globe, to another world.

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Ivan Baxter is today's guard.

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And he's found his perfect job here in the hills.

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Our job is interesting.

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We love our job. It is so thrilling.

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Passengers are all happy. People come all over the world.

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Ivan is one of a shrinking number of mixed-race Anglo-Indians

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whom the British favoured to operate their railways.

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And working the railway is still a privilege and a way of life for Ivan.

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Senior loco driver Hassan Sharif grew up watching this line.

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He's a third generation Nilgiri railwayman.

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As it's so steep, this railway has a dedicated, mountain climbing, third rail.

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Pinion wheels under the steam loco and carriages

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bite into the notched rack rail and stop the train from slipping back.

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With 5,000 gallons of water

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and five tonnes of coal needed daily to make the steam,

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these engines are expensive to run.

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But no diesel is light enough

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or strong enough to beat steam power on this jungle climb.

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Diesel is used for the final run into Ooty,

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but this stretch of track is just too steep.

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Before the coming of the railway, this jungle was pristine.

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And as this section sees just two trains a day,

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local animals have not been driven away.

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With wildlife and the railway protected by the state, animals feel safe here.

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Even exploiting railway facilities to their own advantage.

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Wild elephants need about 20 gallons of water a day to stay healthy.

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The train takes on 1,000 gallons at each and every station.

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Hillgrove is the main jungle halt

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and twice a day the train, passengers and the animals can find refreshment.

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Local Bonnet Macaque monkeys have long familiarised themselves with the timetable.

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They know the train only stops here for eight minutes,

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so they waste no time filling up on tourist generosity.

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WHISTLE PEEPS

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Hillgrove won't see another train for eight hours.

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Until then, the jungle rediscovers a tranquillity

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that's rare in a country of a billion people.

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The line's so steep that Hassan's train covers just three miles

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in the course of the next hour then the loco has to fill up again.

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Runneymede is now just a water halt,

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but it used to be a station serving tea pickers.

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Local entrepreneur K Natarajan wants it re-opened.

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Steam trains are his passion.

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Natarjan runs the station buffet in Ooty, where only diesel trains are used.

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So he regularly comes to Runnymede for a steam fix

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and to get away from it all.

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Natarajan wants Runneymede re-opened

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to share the joy he finds here with some of the two million tourists

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who holiday in the Nilgiris each year.

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But his dream is his beloved steam trains running right to the top of the line...

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To Ooty.

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For the last 15 years, the steam train has only run up to the next stop, Coonoor,

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where romantic steam gives way to more prosaic diesel,

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and where jungle peace gives way to the bustle of modern India.

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CAR HORNS BLARE

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Coonoor is the mid-point

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and the heart of the Nilgiri mountain railway.

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The Coonoor loco shed is home.

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Here these vintage engines are rested, refuelled and lovingly maintained.

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And this yard is also home to modern diesel engines that run the rest of the way up to Ooty.

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Most of the railway's 387 employees live here.

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Home is the Coonoor railway colony.

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Its terraces line the hill above the station.

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The Nilgiris are a romance destination,

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ever more popular with honeymooning couples.

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28 years ago, guard Ivan Baxter and his wife Monica were among them.

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So Ivan was delighted to get a second honeymoon when he was transferred to Coonoor

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five years ago from the baking hot plains below.

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These temperate hills are where Ivan and Monica worked out

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the requirements for a lifetime of wedded bliss.

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You have to sacrifice. Married life...

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If you want to get married you should learn to suffer.

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So if you want something you must lose something. You can't have both.

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That is the Four Ts. What a lady needs from a husband.

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The Four Ts.

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Trust. Touch. You have to touch her.

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Talk to her, plenty talking.

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And time. Spend time with her.

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They say marriages are made in heaven.

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So, it's God who combined us both.

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Ivan's four Ts of happy marriage quickly produced a daughter, Diana, who lives on the plains.

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And she is now expecting a baby. Ivan's first grandchild.

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Coffee, Ivan?

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I'm washing my face.

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But as a responsible train guard, Ivan cares as much for his train as his own family.

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-And like all railwaymen, he lives in fear of running late.

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Bye. OK, I'll take leave, bye. God bless.

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His might be the last generation of Anglo-Indian railwaymen,

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but Ivan's happily continuing a tradition of absolute devotion to his job.

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# If you're happy and you know it stamp your feet

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#If you're happy and you know it stamp your feet

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# If you're happy and you know it And you really want to show it

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# If you're happy and you know it stamp your feet. #

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Why are you coming here, man?

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He wants to come to Ooty!

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For the section up to Ooty, driver Hassan switches to diesel power.

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These diesel trains are faster than the pre-war steam locos.

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Steam maybe glorious, but it's not cheap.

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The second class fare is set at ten pence, so this railway loses £1 million a year.

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An hour up from Coonoor is the final approach to the hill station

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that was once Ootacamund,

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is now Udagamandalam and will always be known as Ooty.

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Ooty is the end of the line.

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It lies over 2,200 metres above sea level.

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Trains have arrived here from Coonoor and the plains below for exactly 100 years,

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bringing visitors to the hill station of their dreams.

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This is a town designed by the Raj

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to fulfil their longing for a home half a world away.

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Colonial Brits adored Ooty,

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making it a Home County in the hills.

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They built institutions that reminded them of home,

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making it feel a little English, even today.

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For a privileged few, the games of empire are still played out here.

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The billiard room at the Ooty Club is hallowed.

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On this table the rules of snooker were first laid down

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and this gentleman's club is the heart of what was known as

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"Snooty Ooty", holiday destination for India's colonial elite.

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Former president Victor Dey is club historian.

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Being Snooty Ooty, right,

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it was at one time only the very affluent

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who could come and afford and to enjoy Ooty

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and all that it had to offer.

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They could get away from the natives and be themselves.

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We still zealously guard all the old values and traditions

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because after all, there's history in these walls.

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It is now in everybody's grasp to come and holiday up here.

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You've got these little lodges and hotels which have mushroomed

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all over the place and have spoiled the whole ambiance of Ooty.

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I yearn for something that was and can't be any more,

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but Ooty was a very, very, beautiful town at one time.

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Victor's Ooty hasn't entirely disappeared.

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The Ooty hunt may be the last in Asia,

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but it flourishes.

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Even though, like their British counterparts, Indians are banned from actually hunting.

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You've got some good weather this time at least. We always do.

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But it doesn't stop the club from riding out in full fig,

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every month, to enjoy the hills.

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Elsewhere, today's Ooty has outgrown its colonial origins.

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Indians have re-claimed it, enjoying their new found economic freedom.

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And the Indian lovers drawn here in their millions

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are inspired by a very Indian institution, romantic cinema.

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Camera, action.

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Ooty is the location for some of India's best-loved movies.

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For this Bollywood blockbuster,

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the art department has built an entire town on a windswept hillside,

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but no-one can re-create the hill railway.

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So the railway takes the opportunity to claw back a little of its losses by renting out their trains.

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With Ooty and its toy train immortalised in so many films,

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any traveller can fulfil their cinematic dreams.

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At Ooty station, steam lover Natarajan

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sees diesel trains come and go from his restaurant window.

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He dreams only of steam trains returning to Ooty.

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He's so determined his dream will become reality,

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he paid for a water crane to be installed here, just in case.

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But for now, the only steam train in Ooty is Natrajan's good luck charm.

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Jenny Grigory was posted here 18 months ago.

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And with protective arms like Ivan's around him, he's now part of the hill railway family.

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Employed as a ticket examiner, Jenny includes tourist information for free.

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But Jenny's a long way from his home village on India's south-west coast and he stills misses it.

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However, he's adapting well to life in the hills.

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There's something intoxicating about this mountain air.

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At Coonoor, there's a lunch break, and Jenny has time to nip home.

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Jenny's still a bachelor.

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Although he's been given a colony house big enough for a family, he lives alone.

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Away from home, surrounded by railway families in the colony

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and honeymooning couples on the train,

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Jenny can sometimes feel isolated.

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-Hello, sir.

-Hello, come, come, come!

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How are you?

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Sit down, man. What would you like? Some coffee?

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Just plain water, plain water.

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Jenny's always welcome in Ivan and Monica's home.

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Over the past year, they've become friends.

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On their morning walks to work,

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Ivan often teases Jenny about his solitary life and extols the joys of marriage.

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Just down from the colony and station is the loco shed,

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where a hundred skilled workers keep the old engines going.

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New parts are forged, turned and fitted with precision

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and skills that are disappearing in the modern world.

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But here those skills are being passed down to a new generation of Indian workers.

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Shivani was posted here by the railways just six months ago.

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She's a trained diesel technician.

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Now she's learning to work with steam locos, too.

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But although this is a highly valued job,

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and Shivani's the first female diesel technician they've ever had here, it's a hardship posting.

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Shivani is alone, 300 miles from her home and her baby.

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Shivani's husband and his mother look after the baby while she's in Coonoor.

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Shivani can only get home to her baby once a fortnight.

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Her sacrifice and commitment is typical.

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The railway demands it of their workers, and they demand it of themselves.

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Up and down the Nilgiri Mountain Railway,

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dedicated workers check every nut, bolt and rail daily to keep the line safe and secure.

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Section engineer Sanjay Kumar

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makes use of a special inspection trolley to reach the remoter stretches of track.

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On top of a century of wear and tear, the track is regularly

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battered by falling rocks and landslides caused by heavy rain.

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So Sanjay is busy round the clock.

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Just seven years ago a 200m section was washed away overnight.

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It took three months to rebuild.

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Cyclonic rain is forecast for tonight,

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so the railway is on red alert.

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ROLLING THUNDER

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The Nilgiris are always greener, more lush and much wetter than the plains.

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But this year, the winter cyclones are early, and they're bringing the heaviest rain for years.

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It rains for more than a week.

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So far, the trains and the tourists are still getting through.

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But this morning there's a problem.

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A boulder is blocking the line.

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It's engineer Sanjay's responsibility to deal with it.

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The solution - a bag full of dynamite from the stores.

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It's the engineer's job to maintain the line.

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Delaying a train can cost a railway employee his job, and that means house and pension, too.

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As Sanjay's men bore a hole for the explosives, it's a race against time.

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We are doing blasting, first blasting. They are doing first blasting.

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If blasting is successful, we shall pass that train.

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How much time it will take?

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Nothing!

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Finished.

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TRAIN'S WHISTLE

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Bad weather won't stop Jenny the ticket examiner playing the happy host.

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In his big house, he needs company, friends to keep loneliness at bay.

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And like all-male parties can do, it gets a little bawdy as the night wears on.

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Jenny enjoys his parties,

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but especially on a cold and wet Coonoor morning,

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he misses Kerala and his old life by the sea.

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And though he hasn't told his friend, Ivan,

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he secretly hopes his days as a bachelor are numbered.

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Rain continues to lash the hills until the Nilgiris are soaked through.

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At times like this, the fabric of the line is in danger,

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as well as the trains and their passengers.

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Coonoor!

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And is there any news?

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The situation is so dangerous Sanjay wants the line to be closed.

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Closing the line on any Indian railway is a big decision,

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but as things stand, with more rain expected,

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Sanjay thinks it's the safest option.

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Sanjay and his men, and women, now have three days to make the line safe.

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Just down from Coonoor, under a bend on the national highway,

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is one of the reasons Sanjay's taken such drastic action.

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A felled tree lies right over the track.

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Below it, a massive boulder.

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It fell as part of a landslip that's undercut the road.

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The boulder's got to go,

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but any disturbance could bring the traffic down on Sanjay's men.

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Using dynamite might cause a further landslip and damage the precious track.

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Eventually, with help from Coonoor fire brigade,

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the boulder is rolled away.

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The forecast is improving,

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but to dry out the land and make safe the line,

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the only traffic for three days is pedestrian.

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Dry weather and good drainage off the hills

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sees the line reopen on time after just 72 hours.

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HE SINGS

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And with trains running again,

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Ivan can share his happiness with the passengers, even on his day off.

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But there's an unexpected halt near Hillgrove Station.

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TRAIN'S WHISTLE

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The two big beasts of this jungle face one another down.

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It's not moving!

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Eventually, the old bull elephant lets the train pass without a fuss.

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Age before beauty.

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This year, the Nilgiri Mountain Railway is celebrating an unbroken century of service.

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The high point of the centenary is the Black Beauty competition,

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when experienced judges will pick the finest engine on the line.

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Hassan, who's a stickler for detail,

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has been supervising the preparation of his Nilgiri Ratham loco.

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Shivani's been part of the team working flat out

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to make Hassan's engine look its best.

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It's not just the look of the engine.

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It's the skill of the driver that the judges are scrutinising.

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For Hassan, victory is sweet.

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Being the driver of India's best steam loco is everything he ever wanted.

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Shivani was in Hassan's winning team.

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But instead of celebrating, all she wants to do is get home to her baby.

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The express from Metupallyam is packed.

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Everyone is travelling for the annual Diwali holiday.

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It's the Hindu new year and Shivani is in no mood for pushy men.

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This is the longest Shivani's ever been away from her baby,

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and Diwali is THE time for families to be together.

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Shivani's husband always comes to meet her from the train, day or night.

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But with his wife away, holding down a full-time job

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and looking after their baby is a very stressful life.

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Shivani will have to work at Coonoor for at least three years

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until she's eligible for a transfer closer to her family.

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Jenny wants this to be his last Diwali alone.

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Even though he hasn't told anyone in Coonoor, he's ready to marry and start a family.

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# And with Jesus in my heart

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# What have I to fear?

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# What have I to fear...? #

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That girl dresses up. She's looking nice, no? That girl dresses up.

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She's looking nice.

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# In my heart he is near. #

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Ivan's daughter, Diana, is here for the holidays

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and she's heavily pregnant.

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She won't be able to come to the hills again before the birth.

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This is the last time Ivan and Monica will see her before they become grandparents.

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They can't be with their daughter for the birth,

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so they want the priest's blessing before she returns home to the plains.

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You just let me know when your baby is going to be born, which date and all.

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I am so sad that you're leaving us and going...

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I am really sad.

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Duty always comes first for Ivan.

0:50:510:50:54

He manages to snatch a brief goodbye as Diana's train prepares to leave.

0:50:540:50:59

Bye. Bye.

0:51:030:51:05

But Monica just couldn't bear to say goodbye,

0:51:050:51:09

so she's accompanying Diana on the Nilgiri Railway

0:51:090:51:12

to the bottom of the line.

0:51:120:51:14

350 miles away, in Kerala, Jenny is in his home village.

0:51:430:51:48

Church is the only place he's allowed to see his sweetheart, Teena,

0:51:480:51:52

without their families' permission.

0:51:520:51:55

Separation is the norm here.

0:52:090:52:11

Unmarried men and women are never allowed to be alone together.

0:52:110:52:18

Jenny and Teena must remain apart until their families agree a match.

0:52:280:52:33

But after 14 years of love,

0:52:370:52:39

they know they want to be together for ever.

0:52:390:52:43

They've asked the priest to see them today to help them.

0:52:430:52:47

With their priest's and the church's blessing,

0:53:130:53:16

Jenny and Teena hope that no-one will stand in the way of their engagement.

0:53:160:53:21

And sure enough, that evening, Teena's birthday,

0:53:250:53:28

their match is approved and they can go out alone for the first time.

0:53:280:53:35

Jenny and Teena plan to marry in six months.

0:54:100:54:12

By next Diwali,

0:54:120:54:14

they hope to be together in his railway house in Coonoor.

0:54:140:54:18

Ah. Good evening, Diana.

0:54:310:54:33

'Ah. Good evening, Daddy.'

0:54:330:54:36

How are you?

0:54:360:54:38

-'Fine, Daddy. How are you?'

-I'm fine, fine, fine.

0:54:380:54:40

How is your health and all?

0:54:400:54:42

-'Now fine, ta.'

-Very good, good. Here, talk to Mummy one minute.

0:54:420:54:45

Hello, Diana.

0:54:450:54:47

-'Good evening, Mum.'

-Good evening. You have a safe delivery.

0:54:470:54:51

Have good health. Eat nicely.

0:54:510:54:53

We'll come for Christmas.

0:54:550:54:56

We'll come to see the...

0:54:560:54:59

-Diana...

-'Yes?'

0:55:010:55:04

We want to become grandparents soon. We are very anxious.

0:55:040:55:07

-'Bring me a carriage for my baby!'

-OK, bye. Take care. God bless.

0:55:070:55:10

Be happy.

0:55:100:55:12

I am going to become a grandfather. That is another big promotion.

0:55:120:55:17

The biggest promotion in my life, is it not?

0:55:170:55:20

She is going to become a grandma. I'm going to be a grandfather.

0:55:200:55:23

Something wonderful.

0:55:230:55:25

By special dispensation,

0:55:350:55:37

Hassan's winning steam engine is to run up to Ooty

0:55:370:55:41

to celebrate 100 years since a steam engine first did this run.

0:55:410:55:46

Natrajan has been dreaming of this moment for years.

0:55:530:55:57

The train's arrival in Ooty will signal the fulfilment of another love affair.

0:56:190:56:24

It's unconventional, but steam trains are Natrajan's true love.

0:56:240:56:29

With the centenary train comes news.

0:56:490:56:52

Indian railways will pay over £5 million

0:56:520:56:56

for four brand new Indian-built engines to replace these vintage locos.

0:56:560:57:01

They'll be steam-powered, but fuelled by oil, not coal.

0:57:010:57:06

At 90 years old, this prize-winning loco

0:57:250:57:28

has more than done its bit in service to India.

0:57:280:57:32

And with retirement imminent,

0:57:320:57:34

Natrajan is savouring its presence for one last time.

0:57:340:57:38

But even as the old locos are readied to retire,

0:57:570:58:00

new blood is coming to the line.

0:58:000:58:02

Ivan has already introduced his granddaughter to the old steam train.

0:58:020:58:07

And Jenny and Teena are now happily married

0:58:090:58:12

and are living together in the Coonoor railway colony.

0:58:120:58:16

For a century, the Nilgiri mountain railway has been driven by steam

0:58:160:58:22

and sustained by love and dedication.

0:58:220:58:25

And as long as this train runs to Ooty,

0:58:250:58:27

it will continue to win the hearts of all who ride it.

0:58:270:58:31

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:58:380:58:41

E-mail [email protected]

0:58:410:58:45

From the Himalayas in the north to the Nilgiris in the south - for a hundred years these little trains have climbed through the clouds and into the wonderful world of Indian Hill Railways.

The Nilgiri Mountain Railway is a romantic line, popular with honeymooners and driven by love and devotion as well as steam. It chugs through the south Indian jungle up to a hill station, once known as Snooty Ooty.

The current guard is Ivan. Married for twenty years, he is concerned about his friend Jenni, the ticket inspector, because he's still a bachelor - but Jenni has a secret.

In the engine shed, Shivani, the railway's first female diesel engineer, is working on a steam loco. She has to make it look its best, as in the year of filming, 1999, the railway celebrated its centenary. The high point is the Black Beauty competition to pick the best engine on the line, but rains and landslides threaten the proceedings and the tourist business. Will love win out in the end?


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