The Track Less Travelled
India's mountain railways are sure to take your breath away with its awe-inspiring views
India's mountain railways, though recognised by UNESCO as a world heritage site, still remains a place of calm tranquillity, a place for tourists and locals alike to enjoy breathtaking views and peaceful hills, away from the hubbub of the cities.
The railways are known as mountain railways because they are built in the mountains of India, and have smaller track widths because of such constraints. With an average track width of 2 feet, the trains have smaller engines and carriages, and are affectionately known as 'toy trains'.
The Darjeeling-Himalaya Railway (DHR) was first built by Franklin Prestage in the early 19th century during British rule, in an effort to make Darjeeling (and their famous tea) more accessible, and therefore cheaper. Beginning in Jalpaiguri (at 100 m above sea level) in West Bengal, the train meanders through the state, climbing up to reach Darjeeling, a whopping 2,200 m above sea level.
The major challenge was the steepness of the terrain; so several loops and zig-zags were incorporated into the route to ensure the climb was comfortable for the passengers within. The train makes multiple stops, including Siliguri Town, Sukna, Gayabari, Jorebungalow (a storage point for tea bound for Kolkata), Ghum, India's highest railway station, and Darjeeling, the final stop.
Totalling about 90 km, the train takes almost nine hours because of the steep climb, requiring multiple loops and reverses to eventually reach the top. The smaller trains with steam engines add a vintage feel to the experience, and the slow train allows you to savour the beautiful landscapes.
Though they have installed a few diesel engines into the trains, most still operate with steam engines to preserve a sense of the past, to enjoy a slow train in a fast-paced world.
Another Toy Train location is the Kalka-Shimla railway, starting from Kalka, Haryana, and climbs upwards to Shimla, Himachal Pradesh. The railway was installed in 1903 to allow British officials to reach Shimla, the summer capital. Due to its high altitudes, Shimla provided respite from the harsh Indian summers to British officers, unused to the sweltering heat. The track covers 96km, from Haryana to Himachal, and climbs a staggering 1,419 m.
Beginning at Kalka, which is 656 m above sea level, the train winds through the hills and makes stops at Gumman, Koti, Sonwara, Dharampur, Barog, Taradevi, Jutogh, and finally at Shimla, which is 2,075 m above sea level.
This route is particularly special because it has over 800 bridges and 102 tunnels. Though the train was originally built for governmental purposes, the track was soon opened to the general public in an effort to boost tourist revenue for Shimla.
The route is gorgeous because of the change in scenery and vegetation, along with the rustic Gothic-style bridges. It is recommended to take the early morning trains as you get to heard birds chirping and see cattle grazing around the track, and the landscape seems fresh and untouched, ready for the dawn of a new day.
Seen as one of the country's hidden spots, India's mountain railways can present you with awe-inspiring views, reminding you of how beautiful an untouched landscape can be, while still providing access to quiet, chilly spots. The scenic landscapes, panoramic views and cool weather all make it ideal getaway spots, especially during the hot summers.