Indian Railways tag line reads as “Lifeline to the Nation”, and one can hardly dispute this claim. It is one of the largest commercial and utility employers, ranked seventh in the world, with over 1.3 million people employed under it. As of last year, the Indian Railways carried an astounding 8.3 billion people, with around 23 million people travelling per day. Since its inception in 1853, Indian Railways has connected all corners of the country in one big network. Out of these, a few of the mountainous railway routes forming the mountain railways of India are so picturesque that people come from different parts of the world just to travel on those routes. Here are the best 5 of the lot:
1. Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (Toy Train)- West Bengal
The Darjeeling Himalayan Indian railway sits at the zenith of Indian hill railways. One of the oldest and most beautiful railway tracks of the country, the route from Darjeeling to New Jalpaiguri is one of the biggest attractions of Darjeeling. The track is about 2 feet in gauge, and the route is 78 kilometres long.
The Darjeeling Himalayan Indian Railways Route came into existence in 1878, prior to which Darjeeling was connected to Siliguri by a cart road. The route is filled with loops and zig-zags to assist in ascending the hill and traversing the path, as the elevation level of the route varies from 100 metres to 2,200 metres. It is arguably the most scenic route in the country, and among the three routes listed as Mountain Railways of India World Heritage Site. It was only the second railway route to be declared a World Heritage Site in 1999.
2. Nilgiri Mountain Indian Railway- Tamil Nadu
Built in 1908, The Nilgiri Mountain Railways came to be known as Mountain Railways of India after being added as an extension to the Darjeeling Himalayan Railways World Heritage Site. The track is a metre in gauge and uses the rack and pinion system to ascend. The route spirals around the Nilgiri hills of Tamil Nadu, providing the travellers with jaw-dropping views of the mountains. Although the route is only 26 kilometres, it takes around 5 hours to travel along it, as it is the steepest track in Asia. The route has 16 tunnels, 208 curves and 250 bridges, which make for a memorable ride through nirvana.
3. Kalka-Shimla Indian Railway
Shimla has attracted attention since it first came into existence. During the British Era, the British made it their summer capital, and one could always find them roaming the streets or spending time in their summer houses in the city. The Kalka-Shimla railway route was built in order to connect Shimla to the Indian Railways network. Located in the Shivalik ranges of the Himalayas, the path is around 96 kilometres in length and located at 2100 metres in the lower foothills of Himalayas. The Kalka-Shimla Railway line is famous for its spellbinding views of the hills and the valleys and was also named a World Heritage Site Mountain Railways of India alongside Darjeeling Himalayan Railways and Nilgiri Mountain Railways. Apart from its magnificent beauty, the route also has a spooky factor associated with it, as it contains the famous tunnel no. 103, which is said to be haunted.
4. The Snow Sojourn : Indian Railway
The Qazigund-Srinagar-Baramulla railway track, popularly known as the Snow Sojourn, is a one of its kind railway track in India. It offers its travellers the spellbinding sights of snow-capped mountains laden along the tracks, which is something one cannot find anywhere else in the country. The journey takes one through pine forests and is primarily set with the pristine snow-capped mountains in the background, making it a truly blissful experience. This Indian hill railways route also has the Banihal tunnel, which is India’s longest railway tunnel.
5. Araku Valley Indian Railways
The Araku Valley Railway track has been an attraction for nature lovers for a long time. It connects Vishakhapatnam to Araku Valley. It takes one on a journey through lush green hills, majestic waterfalls and some caves as well, which set it apart from other railways tracks in the nation. The natural beauty scale of the track is so high that one might think the journey to be a mystical dream, for such is the surreal nature of the journey. The track is a wide gauge one, and it passes through 58 tunnels and 84 bridges. The journey along lush green hills, white-water river and beautiful caves is one that cannot be missed.
These journeys are a great personification of the charm that rail journeys can be associated with. They take you to places where roads are not easily made, and the natural beauty of these tracks is truly mesmerizing.