The crispness of the cool mountain air, traversing through the slow moving train, tranquility amidst the lap of nature with green valley’s surrounding you, the veil of clouds falling on your face kissing your cheeks and filling you with its heady intoxicating mist.
Nothing quite beats the romance of travelling on a steam train or shunting through mountains. It’s no wonder, that the whistles and sounds of a steam engine featuring the humble ‘toy train’ is a staple in many a Bollywood song, even today.
We have to acknowledge the British who not only established their cantonments into the various parts of the Indian subcontinent, but they also developed many hill resorts where they could go for breaks to beat the excruciating heat in the plains.
The rail routes that they laid to reach these hill stations still exist and function with the very same engines and carriages. The Mountain Railways of India are the best example of bold, ingenious engineering solutions for the problem of establishing an effective rail link through a rugged, mountainous terrain. A trip to the hills by rail is a real treat to the eyes, with these 5 amazing mountain rail routes showcasing India’s spectacular landscapes.
1.Darjeeling Himalayan Railway
Inaugurated in 1881 over the beautiful hills of Darjeeling, the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, popularly known as the ‘toy train’ is an engineering marvel.
It covers a distance of 88 km in West Bengal from New Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling in seven-and-a-half hours. The station Ghum is India’s highest railway station having an altitude of 2,257 metres. The route has 8 major bridges, 542 minor bridges and 177 unmanned level crossings. This train has the narrowest of the regular narrow gauge rail tracks and use diesel electric or steam engines.
The Railway received the World Heritage Site status on Dec. 2, 1999.
2. Nilgiri Mountain Railway.
The first leg of the Nilgiri Mountain Railway from Mettupalayam to Coonoor was opened to traffic in June 1899 and was extended up to Ooty only by 1908. The Nilgiri toy train travels all over the Nilgiri hills aka ‘The Blue Mountains’.
The main features of this meter gauge line are the unique rack rail system, and the equally unique and complicated steam locomotives.
The delightful little train covers a distance of 46 km from Mettupalayam to Ooty in four-and-a-half hours. The real thrill of this train ride is the engine which is at the back pushing the carriages up the hills its twists and turns around the hills, passing through many tunnels, bridges, traversing forests and tea plantations.
On July 15, 2005, UNESCO recognized Nilgiri Mountain Railway as a World Heritage Site.
3. Kalka-Shimla Railway.
Shimla is a very popular destination with Indians as it was to the British. The Kalka-Shimla Railway line which opened to traffic on Nov. 9, 1903, connects the residents of the plains to the summer capital of British India.
The six-hour-long, 96 km journey, crossing with 101 tunnels, is an engineering masterpiece on narrow gauge and covers many arched bridges and several picturesque stations. The slow movement of this train enables many travellers to sit on the doorway or stick their heads out of the windows to smell the fresh mountain air and enjoy the breathtaking visual of the Himalayas.
On July 7, 2008 the Kalka-Shimla Railway was included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site list.
4. Matheran Light Railway.
The Matheran Light Railway, which connects Neral to Matheran , was opened to traffic in March 1907. The floods in 2005 forced its shut down but it was re-opened in 2007 much to the people’s delight.
This narrow gauge line takes the sharpest curves when compared to any Indian hill railway line. The view along the journey is indeed breathtaking, and the 21 km ride is covered in two hours. The unique feature of the train ride is the One Kiss Tunnel (the only tunnel on the route, which earned its nickname because the tunnel is just long enough to exchange a kiss with one’s partner).
All stations on the route have solar power and wind energy plants,and energy-efficient LED lights and fans. the train travels over forests and mountains to reveal the astounding beauty of Nature.
5. Kangra Valley Railway.
Commissioned in April 1929, the Kangra Valley Railway line starts at Pathankot (Punjab) and ends at Joginder Nagar(Himachal Pradesh), travelling on a narrow gauge for 9 hours and 20 minutes, covering 164 km.
Apart from the Kalka-Shimla railway it is the second railway that runs through the beautiful hills of Himachal Pradesh. There are only two tunnels on this stretch, which give tourists an opportunity to enjoy the mountains and valleys without any distraction. This railway line, which is famous for its 993 bridges, connects the state with its hydroelectric power house.
All the five mountain railways of India are around a hundred years old. These train trips epitomize the old saying about the journey being as memorable as the destination. There are intriguing stops along each of these lines, leaving it up to the traveller to have nothing to do but sit back and enjoy the scenery.
PC: Better India; Tripadvisor; Wikimedia; Travel Leisure India;Discover My Travel