India is truly a gem of the East. It is one of the most picturesque countries in the world, with some of the most beautiful mountain ranges.
Luckily for us, we can marvel at the country’s beauty all from the comfort of a train cabin and travel to the hill resorts of Shimla, Darjeeling and beyond. It is not a quick trip either, so you will have more than enough time to experience the magnificence of India.
1: Nilgiri Mountain Railway, Tamil Nadu
Starting in Mettupalayam and ending in Udhagamandalam (Ooty), this 46 km trip takes five hours to complete. Ooty is known as the Queen of Hill Stations and getting there via the Nilgiri Mountain Railway is truly an experience fit for royalty.
There isn’t a single moment where you will feel rushed seeing that the steam-powered, narrow-gauge train’s top speed is but a modest 33km/h. Traversing 16 tunnels and high bridges, you will have more than enough time to marvel at the plains, plantations and forested hills.
2: Kalka-Shimla Railway, Himachal Pradesh
The Kalka-Shimla Railway stretches over 96 km of seemingly never-ending S-bends. While traveling at a leisurely pace, you will traverse over 107 tunnels and beautiful arched bridges.
Given the vast amount of turns, you will appreciate the slow pace of the train. Not only will you have ample time to gaze at the scenic beauty, but your stomach will also be less likely to churn.
You need to put aside about six hours for the trip, but it is well worth it. On your way to Shimla, you will pass quaint little stations like Dharampur, Taksal, Gamma and Solan, which will give you a good idea of what you can expect when you reach your final destination.
Shimla is a famous hill resort that was known as the ‘Summer Capital’ during British colonial rule. During the winter, that landscape changes into a snowcapped wonderland with cottage-style villas and highland shooting lodges.
3: Matheran Hill Railway, Maharashtra
This is one of the shorter mountain railways on the list but is deserving of its spot. Stretching for only 23 km, it still takes one-and-a-half hours to complete the route. Starting in Neral, you wind your way up the mountain to Matheran. The Matheran railway is a 77-year-old narrow-gauge line and the main way to travel in the Western Ghats.
As the train makes its way up the hill, you pass through ‘One Kiss Tunnel.’ For most of the trip, you are treated to a canvas of plains and hills. During the monsoon season, the line is mostly closed.
However, the waterfalls along the route are at their most breathtaking after the rains. Once you reach Matheran, you seemingly step into a land from another era. There are no cars, and the colonial buildings make you feel as if you have traveled back in time.
4: Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, West Bengal
This is probably the most famous narrow-gauge line in all of India and takes you to one of the most unforgettable destinations in the world.
The train slowly makes its way up the mountain on a gauge that is barely two feet wide. The 86 km route will take the better part of seven-and-a-half hours to complete. The tiny steam locomotive engine is as old as the rail itself and has yet to fail the railway.
As you traverse the spiral in Ghum, you are met with a view of the Himalayas that seem to stretch forever on a clear day.
You can even pick out Kangchenjunga, the world’s third-tallest mountain. Finally, when you reach Darjeeling, you are received with a pot of the region’s famous tea. The colonial architecture and Buddhist monasteries complete the picture perfectly.
5: Kangra Valley Railway, Himachal Pradesh
Saving the best for last, the Kangra Valley Railway line is 163 km long and the trip will take up most of your day (about 10 hours). The line runs through the Himalayan foothills from Pathankot to Joginder Nagar. On your way, you will cross 950 bridges and have completely uninterrupted views of the mountains.
Whereas the other railway lines are favorite tourist attractions, the Kangra Valley Railway mainly serves the locals. This is the one line that will give you a true reflection of everyday Indian life.
The mountains aren’t the only scenery on offer. You will pass through tea and pine plantations as well. When you reach the steep stretch between Baijnath and Joginder Nagar, the train slows down to a crawl, but that is also the time when you can appreciate the snow-capped mountains and get lost in their beauty.