Romancing the railways

Spare sometime off your schedule and take the slow and steady toy train ride on the picturesque setting of hills…

This month, head towards a hill station. Surprise your kids as they prepare for the new session at their respective schools. Holidaying is never a bad idea, and if taken on hills, it does wonders to our systems. Enjoy the quaint journey via the toy trains offered by the Indian Railway across the country. We bring you five toy train routes that will give you experience like none.

Darjeeling Himalayan Railway
The scenic city of Darjeeling is not just known for its rich aromatic tea, it is also known to be a hamlet for those looking out for a refuge from the maddening crowds of the metro cities. The beauty of snow capped mountains and fascinating Buddhist monastries make this place known as the eastern beauty. When you straddle along the ridge over an altitude of over 2100 metres above the sea level in Darjeeling, your options are many. We would suggest you not to miss the toy train ride from Siliguri to Darjeeling. Nicknamed as the Toy Train, this narrow gauge rail route is part of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway.

Run by the Indian Railways, this train has been listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Still powered by steam engines, the journey will take abour seven hours to cover 82 km, giving you a panoromic view of the nature. The slow speed of this train is loved by everyone taking the ride, as it gives enough time to watch, photograph and admire the natural beauty. The train passes through verdant forests, deep valleys, lush tea plantations, and you may see gurgling waterfalls and a slice of local life. You will definitely love the thrill when the train passes through numerous tunnels on its way ahead. Lined with pines and fir, the journey will leave a heady effect on you for days to come. Enjoy the tranquil route of this rail route  and experience the grandeur Darjeeling offers.

Nilgiri Mountain Railway
Remember the exotic setting in the movie ‘Dil Se’ where Shahrukh Khan grooved to the song ‘Chaiyya Chaiyya’ with Malaika Arora colourful attire, flanked by gorgeous, sun-bathed hills? We are talking about the same train atop which the duo danced. It is none other than the toy train that runs between Ooty to Metupalaiyam in the hills of Nilgiri. The district of Nilgiris is considered most pristine in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. Regarded as the spice bowl of Tamil Nadu, Nilgiris is known for its pictureque beauty and spice plantation. Lush forests, teak plantations, deep valleys, all await you this April.

When in Nilgiris, don’t only witness the brilliance of nature in the form of spice and tea plantations. Take a joy ride on the Nilgiri Mountain Railway and you will return home as a happy soul. Built by the British in 1908, trains running on this route still rely on the steam locomotives. Listed as World Heritage Site as an extension of Darjeeling Himalayan Railways, the train site is also known as Mountain Railway of India. The blue coloured train strides ahead through the 46 km, passing through 16 tunnels and tall girder bridges. There are over 26 viaducts that fall on its way, making the journey loaded with fun and adventure. The route will take you through the interiors of the district. You may see people ploughing the terrace fields, bright coloured houses, pine and teak trees, shrubs ballooning with coffee and pepper and beautiful waterfalls. As you look out from the window, you may notice local kids waving you happily. Since the train passes trhough the residential towns of Ooty, Lovedale, Wellington, Coonoor, you will see the way locals thrive here. Experience the quite landscape yourself to know more about the place.

Kalka-Shimla Railway
There is hardly anyone in the country who doesn’t know about Shimla, the famous  hill city of Himachal Pradesh. Once the summer capital of the British Raj in India, Shimla is often called as the ‘Queen of Hills’. Adorned with beautiful landscape, pine and oak forests, the city offers a plethora of options for a traveller. Owing to its pleasant weather, wayfarers and tourists throng Shimla. You would see remnants of the British era – neo-gothic architecture, colonial buildings, churches – scattered throughout the city. You can shop a bit at the mall road, or just a quite walk along the ridge would satiate your senses. If you want to experience Shimla in the real way, take a joy ride on one of the longest narrow gauge rail routes that connects to Kalka.

Initiated by the British in 1903, the toy train ride is the best way to reach Shimla. The 96 km long journey will make you familiar with the mountainous strength and strech the state of Himachal boasts. Snow capped peaks, spectacular scenery dotted with lush forests marvel you throughout the journey. As the train leaves from Kalka, situated at 656 metres above the sea level, it comes on the foothills and again commences its climb. The serenity of the place will captivate you as the train treads ahead, passing through over 100 tunnels and 85 bridges. Be prepared for an adventurous ride since there will be around 900 curves coming your way in the five hour journey. The most exciting time comes when a sharp curve of 48 degree comes, making everyone aboard the train anxious and enthusiastic. The longest tunnel, which stretches for more than a kilometer, is near the main railway station at Barog. Recently in 2008, this railway line has been officially declared as UNESCO’s World Heritage Site.

Matheran Hill Railway
Unable to bear the heat, a lot of people from Pune and Mumbai head to this monsoon destination for picnic and weekend outings. Being in close proximity to Mumbai and Pune, this hill station located on the Western Ghats range, is swarmed by families. You cannot take your vehicles here since the place has been declared as an eco-sensitive region by the Environment ministry. Owing to the vehicle ban, the place offers a quick getaway for those seeking solitude.

You must also try the toy train ride that connects Matheran to Neral. Matheran Hill Railway is the heritage railway route, built in 1907 by cotton manufacturer Abdul Hussein Adamjee Peerbhoy, the 77 year old line covers the distance of 20 km that can be reached in two and a half hours. Starting from plain region of Neral, the train climbs ahead leaving you witness the change in the landscape. Grassy plain land is taken over by mountains with thick forest cover. The journey offers spectacular views of the mountains, valleys and waterfalls. As you pass through the dense forest of Matheran, you may notice gushing waterfalls, adding life to the panorama. On its way to Matheran, the train passes through a short tunnel called One kiss tunnel. If you are lucky, you may see the breathtaking sunset or sunrise from the point that gives you 360-degree view of Neral. Lookout for the Louisa Point, which gives a clear view of the Prabal Fort. One Tree Hill Point, Hart Point, Monkey Point, Porcupine Point, Rambgh Point are other points that will give you panaromic view of the valley.

Kangra Valley Railway

The pristine state of Himachal Pradesh is a Pandora Box of untouched and beautiful hill stations and towns. The Himalayan state is also home Kangra Valley Railway, which connects Pathankot to Joginder Nagar. Meandering through a maze of hills and valleys, the toy train treads ahead, covering a distance of 163 kilometers.

Offering an enchanting scenic view to the travellers, the train journey will take you through the region lying between the Dhauladhar range of Himalayas and foothills towards the south of the state. If you want to witness the untouched beauty of this area, take a ride. This route doesn’t boast of many tunnels – there are just two. But there is a lot of variety that you will come across on your way ahead. This journey gives you a chance to gaze at the snow-clad ranges and the gold green fields. Greet your eyes with the most picturesque scenery as you see hillocks rising on both the sides the moment train meanders ahead. You will be enchanted by the scent of pine that emerges the moment you are about to enter Palampur. Lush tea gardens, thick forest cover, and chill in the air welcome you at Palampur.

The stretch between Baijnath and Joginder Nagar is the steepest of all. The train moves at a snail’s pace till it reaches the highest point on the track at Ahju. Get down here and try your hand at paragliding and hang-gliding at the famous site of Bir and Billing.

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