India’s most scenic … mountain trains
India has the fourth largest rail network in the world, with more than 120,000 km of track. This includes long-distance overnight trains, bullet and super-fast trains, local commuter trains and luxury sleeper trains offering week-long journeys as well as metro and tram systems. These trains link neighbourhoods, towns and cities together and make it possible to travel overland to each corner of the country.
Cox & Kings has chosen four of the country’s most scenic mountain trains that run along historical mountain railway lines. These narrow gauge trains, also known as toy trains, were built by the British during the late 19th century and early 20th century to connect their hill stations, previously only accessible by hiking and horse and carts. The train’s moniker as a ‘toy train’ stuck after Darjeeling’s residents remarked it’s similarity to a toy, running along slim tracks and with small engines.
Darjeeling Hill Railway
Renowned for its tea, you will be able to smell the floral aroma as you near Darjeeling as well as seeing tea pickers at work with baskets attached to the backs of their head. Darjeeling became synonymous with tea upon the arrival of Dr Campbell, a Scottish surgeon, who planted tea bushes from China in the 1840s. The 88-kilometre Darjeeling Himalayan Railway – the original Toy Train – was completed in 1881, and since 1999 has been a Unesco world heritage site. As the train zigzags up the mountain from an elevation of 100m up to 2,200m, you’re offered a window into the daily life of rural villagers. On a clear day you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of the snow-capped Kanchenjunga mountains.
Cox & Kings’ India: Taj, Tigers & Trains escorted group tour includes the Darjeeling Toy Train.
Shimla Toy Train
The ‘Himalayan Queen’ from Kalka to Shimla is 96 kilometres long and takes approximately five and a half hours. Offering sweeping views of the mid-Himalaya, forests laden with pine and deodar trees, and rhododendron, the train travels through 102 tunnels, over 87 bridges and snakes around 900 corners. Many claim it to be one of the most beautiful railways in the world. Launched in 1903, English ladies of the British Raj would use the train to escape up to Shimla, the summer capital, to avoid the heat of Delhi. The train journey was granted Unesco world heritage status in 2008 and it also featured in the Guinness book of world records for climbing 1,772 metres in 96 kilometres, making it the steepest increase in altitude in such a short distance.
Journey on the Himalayan Queen on Cox & Kings’ bestselling Golden Triangle & Shimla escorted group tour.
Shimla Toy Train
Blue Mountain Railway
Finished in 1908, the train journey between Udhagamandalam – more affectionately known as Ooty – and Coonoor in Tamil Nadu became a Unesco world heritage site in 2005. The journey takes just under five hours, crosses 250 bridges and passes through 16 tunnels in the Nilgiri mountains. Views from the train are spectacular as you travel through the rainforest-covered Nilgiri hills and tea plantations whilst the train clings on to the edge of steep cliffs. Keep an eye out for the Nilgiri langur and bonnet macaques in the trees as you trundle along. In Ooty, often referred to as the Queen of the Hill Stations, you will be able to spot relics from the British period when it was the summer capital of the Madras Presidency and a popular resort to escape from the coastal heat.
Join Cox & Kings’ Passage through Kerala escorted group tour and travel through the Nilgiri mountains on the Blue Mountain Railway to reach Ooty.
Tea plantations, Ooty
Kangra Mountain Railway
The Kangra Mountain Railway runs 163 kilometres through the foothills of the Himalaya, home to rice fields, ancient Hindu shrines, rural villages and quaint train stations. The train passes through verdant and lush valleys with views of the Dhauladhar mountains. The full route takes approximately 10 hours, travelling from Pathankot Junction to Joginder Nagar looping around the hills. Engineers avoided boring through the hillside, so instead it crosses 971 bridges and only goes through two tunnels. Cox & Kings recommends the section between Baijnath to Nagrota, which is approximately 90 minutes along a gentle gradient and is the most scenic section of the journey.
Enjoy this train ride on Cox & Kings’ India: Journey through the Himalayan Foothills.
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