Travelling by train is a truly captivating way to uncover and explore India, acting as the perfect platform to illustrate the immense size of the nation, its diversity, noise, colour and natural beauty.
From its birth in 1853, India’s cotton driven rail system opened to the sound of loud applause and gun salutes, with just a single line running between Delhi and Thane, progressively transforming into what is now the 3rd largest rail network in the world. Boasting 60,000 km of track, the sprawling systems of steel act as the essential arteries that pump passengers from all corners of the country to distant, lost cities, including its once inaccessible yet unmissable remote landscapes. Connecting this mammoth landmass by rail has allowed voyagers travelling in their millions, to be moved by India’s charisma and charm, a national rail system adored by curious travellers, pilgrims and commuters alike.
Although originally designed with practicality in mind, India’s rail network is not simply about getting from A to B. Hopping on board India’s lovable locomotives exhibits an abundance of breath-taking scenery and bustling city life positioned within your carriage window, perfect for those eager to soak it all in and piece together India’s extensive personality along the way.
Here are a few of India’s train journeys epitomising life on the tracks…
Toy Trains in The Hills
During the late 19th Century and early 20th century, the now historic railway lines were constructed by the British,providing them with easy access to their hill settlements during the peaks of summer,converging from India's main administrative centres in Delhi, Bombay, Calcutta and Madras. This easy accessibility provided by the massive railway network developed the fascinating 'hill trains', better knows as the 'Toy Trains' of India. Although these trains are very slow, the spectacular scenery makes these journeys worthwhile, and with three mountain railways being recognised as World Heritage Sites, it confirms just how incredible these enterprising engineering solutions are.
There are 4 major historic mountain railways in which the Toy Trains run. The first being the Kalka Shimla Railway; constructed in 1903, this journey provides a great escape from the Dheli heat! This is one of the most scenic train journeys that India has to offer, passing through over 100 tunnels and an even greater number of bridges. The oldest of the historic mountain railways within India is the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, running for over 80 Kilometres from West Bengal (New Jalpaiguiri) to Darjeeling, this route allows passenger to move through the lower reaches of the Eastern Himalayas. Along with the abundance of lush green tea plantations and beautiful scenic landscapes found within the destination of Darjeeling, this railway passes over 5 of India's major bridges along the way.
The Nilgiri Mountain Railway (built in 1908) travels from Metupalaiyam to Ooty via Coonoor. The best views are visible from Metupalaiyam to Coonoor, whilst offering passengers a great opportunity to disembark and see Coonoor's incredible Tea plantations. Finally, the lesser know Matheran Hill Railway stretches just 20 Kilometres in length, still taking over 2 hours to complete as it weaves up the hill settlement of Matheran. A peaceful and scenic journey, free of any other vehicles...even bicycles are banned here!
Steam Engine Trains
The pinnacle of all steam engine trains has to be the Fairy Queen. Built in 1855 by a British firm, the Queen is the oldest steam locomotive in the world. Although once exhibited within the National Rail Museum in Delhi, the train had been restored to its full former beauty, and made operational once more in 1997. Passengers can take the 1 night - 2 day journey from Delhi to Alwar on the steam train, staying overnight in Sariska. Its useful to remember that this journey only operates between October and March, departing on the second and fourth Saturday of each month, so make sure to book at the right time!
The essence of these trains are self explanatory, transporting passengers across India's massive landscape in pure luxury. Offering an impeccable travelling experience, these trains will satisfy your every need, from fine dining and glistening carriages, to first class service and blissful beds on which to rest your head. Although some have argued that these luxury trains are slightly devoid of the touch and feel of the country, its certainly the perfect alternative for those wanting to enjoy some R&R whilst travelling in style.
To name just a few of the many luxury trains, the Royal Rajasthan on Wheels offers a stunning 8-day journey, running from October to March every Sunday, beginning in Delhi and taking you to Jodhpur, Udaipur, Chittor, and Sawai Madhopur. Alternatively, you can take a 7-day journey, running between September to April each Wednesday, on the Palace on Wheels. This super luxury journey covers Delhi, Jaipur, Chittor, Udaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, and Agra, a journey that will surely make you feel like royalty!
There's no doubt that you've heard of India's infamous passenger trains. With India's train network being by far the busiest in the world, there are trains running to all parts of the country. These journeys aren't for the faint-hearted, but will appeal to those who are real adventurers, looking to experience the nitty gritty, hustle, bustle and charisma of India.
If you do decide to pop on board one of India's many passenger trains, it is usually advised that you only take short day journeys due to the poor quality of the trains. But don't let this put you off, these journeys are all about the experience!
However, there are overnight options on some sections, where these train are the best way to commute. In this case, it is recommended that First class, or Two Tier is the ticket of choice, each with much needed air conditioning! And...if you feel the drama, chaos and madness of India's rail stations is too overwhelming, you probably wouldn't wish to spend the night on these fascinating trains.
For your chance to experience India by train, speak to one of our India experts - they'll happily tell you about their India experiences too!