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Railway adventures: 10 scenic train rides to experience across India

Railway adventures: 10 scenic train rides to experience across India

By Aquib Nawab

18 Jun, 2024

With its vast geography and extensive rail network, India offers some of the world's most spectacular and unforgettable train journeys. Crisscrossing mountains, forests, valleys, deserts and beaches, Indian trains provide a unique vantage point to take in the country's diverse natural beauty and cultural treasures.

From toy trains chugging through the Himalayas to luxury carriages winding through the Thar desert, railway adventures across India prove to be both scenic and epic. Hop aboard one of these incredible routes for a taste of India's incredible diversity.

1. The Himalayan Queen - Kalka to Shimla

One of India's most iconic hill railways, the 96 km narrow gauge track from Kalka to Shimla offers jaw-dropping views as it ascends over 2000 meters into the foothills of the Himalayas. Completed in 1903 by the British, the railway is an engineering marvel with 103 tunnels, 864 bridges and 919 curves along its precarious route.

The 5-hour journey on the Himalayan Queen passes through charming colonial villages and lush pine forests, the train's slow pace allowing ample time to soak in the stunning mountain vistas. Traveling between March and November is ideal to experience the route with clear blue skies. Be sure to request the window seat for the best views!

Kalka to Shimla(Credits: Canva)

2. The Vivek Express - Dibrugarh to Kanyakumari

Holding the title of India's longest train route, the Vivek Express connects Dibrugarh in the tea country of Assam to Kanyakumari at the southernmost tip of the subcontinent. Over 80 hours of non-stop railway action takes you 4470 kilometres across the remarkable diversity of India.

From Assam's rhino sanctuaries and tea plantations to the beaches of Goa, and onward through the Western Ghats and Sri Lanka's spice hills, the changing landscapes viewed from the Vivek Express are breathtaking. With varying topography, languages, attire and cuisine at every stop, it's a cultural experience as well. The train has sleeper class accommodation and a pantry car.

The Vivek Express(Credits: Canva) 

3. The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway affectionately known as the ‘Toy Train’ is a 2 ft narrow gauge railway completed in 1881. It covers 88 km from New Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling, gaining over 7,000 feet in elevation as it passes through lush forests, cascading waterfalls and terraced tea plantations on misty hillsides.

The vintage steam locomotives carry on at a leisurely pace, often passing along precarious ledges and making tight switchbacks allowing passengers to soak in the hypnotic mountain views. The best times for ideal weather are spring and autumn. For an even more atmospheric experience, try booking the first-class Observation Car with its special viewing gallery.

The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway(Credits: Canva) 

4. The Desert Queen Jaisalmer to Jodhpur

Offering a taste of Rajasthan’s exotic desert culture, the overnight Desert Queen train journeys 5 hours between the golden city of Jaisalmer and the blue city of Jodhpur. Decorated in traditional Rajasthani flair, the train has beautifully carved wooden sleepers, colourful textiles and ethnic handicrafts.

As the train departs Jaisalmer, gazes out at the dunes of the Thar desert against the setting sun. Wake up to sprawling vistas of the arid landscape before arriving in Jodhpur with its imposing Mehrangarh Fort looming over the city. Enjoy traditional music and dance performances on board along with regional cuisine like daal bati churma. An experience combining luxury, adventure and history.

The Desert Queen Jaisalmer to Jodhpur(Credits: Canva) 

5. The Deccan Odyssey

One of India's most luxurious train journeys, the Deccan Odyssey links many of the most historic and culturally important destinations in Maharashtra and Goa. The royal carriages with their polished woodwork and brass fittings hark back to the era of the princely states.

Over 7 nights, the route includes visits to UNESCO World Heritage Sites like the Ajanta and Ellora caves, pilgrim sites including Nashik and Kolhapur, beaches and tropical spice plantations. Guests can relax in the train's spa and restaurant cars between sightseeing expeditions. With its mix of heritage, nature, adventure and gastronomy, the Deccan Odyssey provides the ultimate way to experience India's deep south.

The Deccan Odyssey(Credits: Canva) 

6. The Maharaja's Express

For those seeking the pinnacle of luxury, the Maharaja's Express consistently ranks among the world's most indulgent train journeys. The 23 carriages house just 88 guests in staterooms and suites decorated with exquisite fabrics, carvings and artworks. Guest chefs whip up gourmet fare at each stop.

The two-week-long itineraries traverse northwest and central India, with options like Mumbai to Delhi or Kolkata to Delhi. Maharaja's Express journeys encompass visits to sites like the Taj Mahal and Ranthambore National Park, along with tiger safaris, temple visits, steam train rides and cultural performances offering a taste of India's splendour.

The Maharaja's Express(Credits: Canva) 

7. The Matheran Hill Railway

Winding through the peaceful Sahyadri mountain range around 100 km from Mumbai lies Matheran, a quaint hill station dotted with colonial bungalows. This narrow gauge rail journey starts from Neral, climbing 14 km up to Matheran while providing breathtaking valley views.

As the train trundles past forested slopes and rock cliffs on its steep ascent, the experience is enhanced by the absence of traffic noise, honking and congestion that plague India's cities. Matheran has a ban on automobile traffic, making it an oasis of tranquillity. Take a ride on this historic railway for a mini getaway into nature.

The Matheran Hill Railway (Credits: Canva) 

8. The Kangra Valley Railway

Running through the picturesque Kangra Valley circled by the Dhauladhar mountains, this railway is known as the ‘Kangra Toy Train’. Covering 163 km between Pathankot and Jogindernagar, the charming narrow gauge train passes through vintage stations and crosses over 900 bridges and 200 tunnels.

Some of the most scenic stretches are between Kangra and Nagrota with the train wheezing alongside gurgling streams, tea gardens, apple orchards and country cottages as it approaches the valley separated from the Kullu Valley by mountain passes. For an immersion into Himachali culture, the Kangra Valley Railway is ideal.

The Kangra Valley Railway(Credits: Canva) 

9. The Konkan Railway

Hugging the rugged Konkan coastline between Mumbai and Mangalore, the Konkan Railway provides a picturesque journey along beaches, estuaries, coconut groves and fishing villages. Spread over 760 km, the route has around 2000 bridges and over 90 tunnels along areas of difficult terrain.

Some of the highlights include crossing the Sharavati River Bridge near Honnavar with its astonishing 360 degree views and passing through the Karbude tunnel, the longest on the route at 6.5 km. The journey brings to life India's diverse coastline dotted with seaside temples, National Parks, and Divar Island's tropical charm.

The Konkan Railway(Credits: Canva) 

10. The Nilgiri Mountain Railway

Operating between the hill stations of Mettupalayam and Ooty in Tamil Nadu since 1908, the Nilgiri Mountain Railway is a 46 km marvel of British engineering. The blue and cream locomotives slowly wind through the forested Nilgiri Hills, covering terrain inaccessible by road and reaching an elevation of 2,203 meters.

The views of waterfalls, tea estates, and dense bamboo groves are striking, with the train journey allowing a glimpse into local tribal communities along the way. Riding in the first class observation carriage lets you appreciate the grandeur of the hills and greenery in their full glory on this UNESCO World Heritage railway.

The Nilgiri Mountain Railway(Credits: Canva) 


India's extensive rail network isn't just a means of transportation - it's an attraction! Train travel here offers ever-changing vistas showcasing the country's natural and cultural splendours. From steam locomotives chugging through mountain valleys to luxury carriages gliding past forts and deserts, Indian trains present the perfect perspective on this endlessly diverse destination. Which of these iconic rail journeys will you embark on for your next adventure?

Note: The feature image has been generated through AI (Images copyright- Midjourney) 

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