India is one of the world’s top destinations for rail journeys. Over 68,000 kilometres of track connect this mammoth diverse nation, stretching tentacle-like from the heights of the Himalayas into the beating heart of cities, to tropical palm-lined coastlines and rural villages. There’s a journey for every mood and budget, whether you’re into ultra-luxury on the Maharajas’ Express, high-speed commuter trains or colonial-era steam engines.
In India, trains are woven into the fabric of life and used by millions of passengers daily. Traversing the country by rail offers a fascinating glimpse into Indian culture; its different coaches reflect the societal class system, while onboard chai and snack vendors speak to the country’s distinct culinary traditions. Then there are the views – as you rattle along, feel the breeze flow through open windows that frame India’s show-stopping scenery.
No trip to India would be complete without a journey on its vein-like railway network, so here’s a look at five top train trips to build into your India holiday itinerary.
Route: Kalka to Shimla
Step aboard the Himalayan Queen for a five-hour journey between the colonial mountain towns of Kalka and Shimla. Built by the British in 1903 to transfer goods, this famous metre gauge railway is known as an engineering feat for its 102 tunnels, 87 bridges and 900 curves. Today, you can ride this World-Heritage-listed railway, taking in views of blooming orchards, lush valleys, rhododendron forests and snow-capped Himalayan peaks. The journey is a highlight on any western Himalayan itinerary.
Route: Delhi to Agra
Launched in 2016, India’s first semi-high-speed train, the Gatimaan Express, will take you from Delhi to Agra in just over an hour and a half. With top speeds of 100 miles per hour, the journey is perfect for a fast-paced Golden Triangle itinerary, taking you from the hectic streets of the capital to Agra, where you can visit Shah Jehan’s world-famous monument to love: the Taj Mahal. Choose from standard or executive class while you watch urban scenes melt into the Indian countryside, accompanied by refreshments.
The Darjeeling Toy Train
Route: New Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling
A trip through the eastern Himalayas offers everything from tea plantations to temples and Tibetan culture, as well as one of India’s top toy train journeys. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage icon, the steam train journey from New Jalpaiguri to the famous tea town of Darjeeling has been ferrying goods and passengers since the 19th century. During the seven-hour trip, you’ll have plenty of time to soak up views of dense forests and emerald plantations as you navigate jaw-dropping reverses and spirals. Eventually, you’ll bring traffic to a halt as you cross into Darjeeling, a tea-lover’s paradise.
Nilgiri Mountain Railway
Route: Mettupalayam to Ooty
The Nilgiri Mountain Railway is perfect for an off-the-beaten-track journey into the heart of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Puff along the heritage railway in a blue-and-cream steam train, passing through deep gorges, lush hillsides and tea plantations. One of the most scenic journeys on the narrow-gauge track is the five-hour section between Mettupalayam and Ooty. As you climb up to 2,200 metres above sea level, you’ll feel the temperature cool and watch the landscape transform from paddy fields to tunnel-carved hills. Along the way, cross over 250 bridges that offer views of distant tea plantations.
Routes: Across India
The Shatabdi Express rail network offers a window into real Indian life, with routes that link important commercial and cultural centres across the country. These include journeys to Mumbai, Amritsar, Lucknow and Mysore. Even on popular Rajasthan itinerary routes, such as from the capital to Jaipur, Agra or Ranthambore National Park, you’ll rub shoulders with ordinary Indian travellers. Choose from standard class, which includes air conditioning and often refreshments, or executive class for increased legroom and upgraded dining experiences.
Your journey will start with one of our UK team – someone like Malcolm, who's travelled extensively in India. They’ll shape your ideas into the trip of a lifetime. But they won't do it alone. They'll draw on the expertise of our contacts on the ground, connecting you to the people who'll make your holiday one you'll always remember.
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