Be it natural and geographical diversity or a population of more than a billion people – India is a land of too much and too many. A whopping surplus of many things characterizes the magnanimity of India as a nation, which is always ready to embrace an inevitable change. It applies to everything in India and same is the case with Indian Railways, which has 63,028 km of tracks, covering the length and breadth of the country, with over 1.376 million employees to take care of 14,300 trains, which operate on a daily basis.
Indian Railways is the lifeline of this country. Well, to run such an extensive network of trains, India is one of the few countries, which creates its own state budget especially for the Railways. These trains not only play the most important role in ensuring the smooth functioning of the country but also touch the heart of every Indian, in one way or another. In fact, they have also inspired innumerable authors and filmmakers. Obviously, anyone would agree that there is no better way to see India than taking a train ride to explore its mesmerizing landscapes, cultures and many other things. A rail journey across any part of India can be exhilarating, invigorating, and truly worthwhile. Whether you are a train-spotting enthusiast, ardent traveller or just another explorer, there are a few train rides in India, you must undertake to savour an experience of a lifetime.
Nilgiri Mountain Railway (Mettupalayam – Udhagamandalam)
Majestically chugging up the Blue Mountains or Nilgiri hills, the Nilgiri Mountain Railway has been running for over 100 years and meanders its way through rocky terrains, tunnels, bridges and verdant tea plantations. This steam locomotive takes you to Ooty by using a ‘rack and pinion technology.’ There is an old charm to it, which is related to its chuffing sound – a great reminder of the British Raj legacy. Its route has been further extended over the years from Coonoor to Udhagamandalam. Many people take up this trip only to enjoy the majestic views, which are the hallmarks of this journey.
The Konkan Railway (Ratnagiri-Madgaon-Honnavar-Mangalore)
Spanning over 738 kilometres across the states of Maharashtra, Goa and Karnataka, The Konkan Railway actually connects the western coast of India with the rest of the country. This route passes through some of the most stunning and scenic places in this part of India. Complemented by rivers, verdant forests, tunnels, waterfalls, amazing curves and tremendous natural beauty, this is one of the most renowned and sought-after train experiences in the world. There is so much to experience along the way for a traveller on this train, as this part of India is adorned with an abundance of natural beauty and undulating sceneries to astound you.
Matheran Hill Railway (Neral-Matheran)
Matheran town is one of the few hill stations in India, which still has that old world charm. The most beloved property of this hill station is Matheran Hill Railway, a heritage railway, which runs on a narrow gauge of 2 ft. This railway covers only a distance of around 21 km, but there is so much to experience on the way – from the large swathes of forests to verdant hillocks and mesmerizing waterfalls.
The Snow Sojourn (Qazigund-Srinagar-Baramulla)
Still at a construction stage, this project is a part of the Kashmir Railway and considered as the most ambitious and expensive project after the Konkan Railway Route. This route connects Jammu to Srinagar valley, which is further extended to Baramullah. On the way, this train offers some overwhelming panorama of natural beauty. Presently, an unreserved DEMU train operates on this tour. Many people board this train, especially during winters, when the snowfall alters the views and further augments the beauty of this place. Once the project will be completed, then it would turn out as a refreshing ride through the beautiful Kashmir valley, overlooking snow-capped peaks and surrounded by Chinar trees.
The Kalka Shimla Himalayan Railway
This is the only mountain railway in India, which is used by regular commuters. The heritage railway runs between Kalka and Shimla track, which was built in 1903 by the British and passes through 864 bridges and 102 tunnels. This route is also registered in the Guinness Book of World Records for the steepest rise in altitude around 96 kilometres. Chugging along nicely amidst the Shivalik Hills, this train voyage offers some remarkable views on both sides of the track, which is built over viaducts, resembling the typical roman architecture. The entire backdrop is dotted with the pine, oak, and maple trees, which create some striking sceneries during this journey.
Dooars Voyage (Siliguri – New Mal – Hasimara –Alipurduar)
Recently converted from a small gauge to a broad gauge, this route passes through some notable wildlife sanctuaries, which are a treasure of flora and fauna. One can find oneself in the lap of nature while travelling through this route, which is brimming with forests and wildlife, while overlooking the gushing streams trotting down from the enthralling hills of Bhutan and Sikkim. Tea plantations and hills flank the entire landscape. This train route passes through various streams along with the Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary, Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary, Chapramari Forest, and Buxa Tiger Reserve.
Arakku Valley Railway (Vizag – Arakku)
This is a must-take journey for the nature lovers. With coffee plantations and thick forests on both sides, this route passes through some of the most beautiful landscapes of India. Earlier this route was used only for the transportation of iron ore from Chattisgarh to Vishakapatnam. Besides its tremendous natural beauty, Araku Valley is also known for its caves, waterfalls and tribes, which reside deep in the forests. This is one of the oldest hill railways of India, which has a broad gauge from the beginning.
The Travancore Railway (Kollam-Punalur-Sengottai)
The erstwhile Maharaja of Travancore flagged off the Travacore Railway for the first time in 1907. Regally complemented by the awe-inspiring Cardamom Hills on the both sides, this train journey is all about an overabundance of marvellous landscapes, which are present in the form of lush-green forests and some architectural marvels. Moreover, this route is famous for a 13-arched bridge, which was elegantly built by the engineers on this tough terrain. The entire route was converted into a wide gauge in 2013 and now it is the fastest railway link that connects Trivandrum to Chennai.
Aravalli Adventure (Himmatnagar – Udaipur/Mavli – Marwar)
This train journey, which starts from Ahmedabad and ends in Marwar takes you deep into the heart of the Aravalli Mountains Range. On this route, one can enjoy some majestic views of ancient folded mountains, which are comprised of some steep rocky ridges – created by the process of consistent erosion over the years. Passing through the interiors of Rajasthan, you become familiar with the grand history and culture of this royal state, which is also known for its warm hospitality.
Kangra Valley Railway
Chugging along through beautiful passes, valleys and rivers, the Kangra Valley Railway is part of the sub-Himalayan line in Himachal Pradesh. This route begins from Patahnkot in Punjab and ends in Jogindernagar in Himachal Pradesh, while covering around 164 kms. However, this train is one of the slowest in India; it gives you a great opportunity to savour the scenic wonders of the Kangra Valley, overlooking the snow-capped mountains of the Dhauladhar Range.