India is an intriguing yet overwhelming place. It is a melting pot of several religions, several hundred languages, and several million people. Due to its staggering size, it can be difficult to know where to start when planning a trip there. Luckily a helping hand isn’t far away. We’ve stripped India back to basics, compiling a list of India’s highlights and more importantly, how, where and when to see them. Exploring the nooks and crannies of its cities, discovering its ancient charm, experiencing its age old rituals, and falling under the spell of India’s irrepressible charm makes for an adventure you will never forget.
Toy Trains of India
With millions of passengers on the move every day, travelling on some 71,000 miles of track, India's intricate network of railways are the arteries of the country, connecting its bustling cities with its sleepy villages and everywhere in between. The sprawling rail network reaches the nooks and crannies of India which are otherwise impossible to find. Amongst the country's miles of train tracks are some of the most picturesque rail journeys in the world, most notable of which are its famed toy trains. Whilst perhaps not the most efficient way of getting from A to B, the experience is an absolute must to add to your India itinerary.
Darjeeling Toy Train
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is one of the most famous of India’s toy trains. Climbing through dense swathes of mist, the iconic blue train creeps its way from New Jalpaiguri to the hill station of Darjeeling, promising an unforgettable journey. Winding its way through rolling plains, verdant valleys, and rattling its way through the spectacular mountain scenery of the Eastern Himalayas, the journey is an 8 hour long chug across 51 miles of railway. As one of the oldest train routes in India, a trip on the Darjeeling Toy Train is a journey back in time, the ancient train- and the smoke which billows in its wake- are eternal reminders of the region's rich history.
Kalka to Shimla Railway
Perhaps the most iconic of all of India’s Toy Trains, the journey from Kalka to Shimla through the Shivalik foothills is a never ending panorama of terraced fields, babbling streams and stilted houses. The route is flanked by palms, pines and cacti, which all seem within arm’s reach as the train chugs its way to a dizzy altitude of nearly 7000 feet, passing through countless tunnels and across endless bridges en route. In all, the journey lasts around five hours, however you can experience the most scenic chunk of railway on a short excursion, by heading straight to Shimla and boarding the train there. Getting to Shimla is quite easy, a short flight north of Delhi to Chandigarh and an onward journey to Shimla takes you to the foothills of the Himalayas in the state of Himachal Pradesh.
Ooty to Nilgiri
As part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this section of the Nilgiri Mountain Railway is an incredible addition to any South Indian itinerary. Despite being one of the most ambitious engineering projects of the British Raj, nearly all tracks, bridges, viaducts, and tunnels are still intact today. The route snakes its way through the tea gardens of Ooty, passing through Tamil Nadu’s lush landscapes, dense forests and impressive hill stations, up vertiginous cliffs and over deep ravines as it creeps up the slopes of the Western Ghats. The thirty mile journey takes around five hours as the train clanks and wheezes its way from Mettupalayam up to the Blue Mountains.
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