Konkan Coastal route_Chiplun sunset moments in full colour
Gustasp/ Jeroo Irani
The best way of discovering a country is to travel on its trains and more so in India, which has a selection of scenic train journeys that are as diverse as the country itself.
Konkan Coastal Saga
Train No. 0103 Mandovi Express
The scenic journey between Mumbai and Goa traces the West Coast of the sub-continent. On the first leg, however, the train arrows through the urban sprawl of Mumbai and its outer suburbs. Then suddenly, there is greenery all around: the picturesque journey begins in earnest. The train races down the narrow strip of land hemmed in by the rugged Western Ghats on one side and the Arabian Sea on the other.
Konkan Coastal Route_Goa-KarmaliStation
It rattles over bridges that straddle blue streams and rivers, ducks into long dark tunnels and emerges into valleys draped in virgin forests and farmlands, green with the promise of a rich harvest. Narrow roads, ribbons of tarmac, snake in and out of minuscule villages. Occasionally, one gets a glimpse of the sea. Ever so often, the train stops at little stations that stud the tracks at regular intervals. A steady stream of vendors prowl the compartments, making sure that passengers do not go hungry or thirsty.
Yes, if it is Mumbai to Goa, or the other way around, it’s got to be the day train.
Desert Safari through Rajasthan. Rajasthan Osian SandDune-Camel Camp
Desert Safari through Rajasthan
Train No. 14659 Delhi -Jaisalmer Express
The desert safari of the Delhi - Jaisalmer Express starts when the train pulls out of Jodhpur station early in the morning. As it steams through the Blue City, the bulging contours of the imposing Mehrangarh Fort, surging out of a cliff, and the stately turrets and domes of the Umaid Bhavan Palace rise above the skyline: both silhouettes etched against a painted morning sky.
Soon the city shrinks into the horizon and the train starts to cruise through a semi-arid desert peppered with small shrubs and thorny acacia trees. It passes camel trains that plod past little settlements, enlivened with with women in brilliantly-hued local garb, men in colourful turbans and snotty-nosed kids huddled around morning fires. If you are lucky, you might spot a peacock or two preening to attract a mate.
Occasionally, golden sand dunes rip apart the shrub land like raw wounds. At the temple town of Osian, you may get a glimpse of the largest dune of the Thar desert. The train makes brief stops at quaint little stations, including Pokhran, famous for its big nuclear bang, Finally, Sonar Kila, or Golden Fort rising up over the horizon like an Arabian Nights dream, welcomes the train as it chugs into the border town of Jaisalmer, the last stop on the network.
Legendary Queen of the Western Ghats. Deccan Queen_Pune Shinawarwada
The Legendary Queen of the Western Ghats
Train No. 12124 Deccan Queen
It was India’s first superfast, long-distance, electric train, and perhaps the most celebrated, to thunder across the country’s railway network. Today, there are many that are much faster but there is still an aura of romance about the Deccan Queen as it conquers the Western Ghats each day between Pune and Mumbai.
The most scenic segment of the journey starts at Lonavala when the train begins to negotiate the mountainous terrain. The track traces the contours of the craggy landscape, seemingly teetering on the edge of vertical cliffs and deep precipices. It arrows into dark tunnels and emerges with a burst of green light on slopes draped with virgin forests and streaked with silvery waterfalls. It glides over bridges that span yawning chasms.
As the train descends through rock-faced corridors, the mountains around it seem to grow larger and more menacing. Once the iron horse enters the plains, the Ghats seem to trace its progress as it cruises past the forest hill resort of Matheran and a row of jagged peaks known as granny’s teeth. The train is in a hurry and stops only at Dadar before pulling into Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) as it did the first time around on 1st June 1930. Yes, train buffs celebrate the birthday of the legendary train every year.
Nilgiries_Tamil Nadu - Toy train - steam engine chugs down the tracks
The Nilgiri Toy Train
Train No. 562 Mettupalayam - Udagamandalam Passenger
It takes twice as long as the road journey and you are covered with soot at the end of the journey. But it’s a price that train buffs willingly pay to ride the Mettupalayam - Udagamandalam Passenger (also known as the Nilgiris Passenger) as it puffs up and down the Blue Mountains in Tamil Nadu as it has done for over 100 years. In 2005, it chugged into the coveted list of UN World Heritage Sites with three other toy trains of India – Matheran, Kalka-Shimla and Darjeeling.
Toy train - tea plantations alongside the tracks
The journey starts at Mettupalayam where a vintage steam engine, like a bratty little boy who knows full well that he is the centre of attention, puffs self-importantly out of the station. It’s a slow and scenic trail. Wheezing, coughing and belching great columns of smoke, The Nilgiri Passenger snakes through mountains, slithers through narrow passes and tunnels, clings to the edge of deep cliffs and crevices and rattles over archaic bridges… Outside the windows, the mountains slopes are a patchwork quilt of deep green forests and manicured tea plantations.
At Coonoor, the steam engine hands over the train to a diesel engine which steams on to its final destination, past a lake peppered with colourful pleasure boats and into Ooty.
A Golden Odyssey through Karnataka
Gasps of disbelief escape motley lips as the sleek Golden Chariot, Karnataka’s version of the famous Palace on Wheels, pulls into Bangalore’s Yeshwantpur station. The five-star hotel on wheels, with four suites to a compartment, two crystal service restaurants, a bar and spa, gives you a taste of a champagne and caviar lifestyle as it travels across Karnataka – taking in the best the state has to offer: the garden city of Bangalore, stately Mysore, Nagarhole Wildlife Park, the temple towns of Belur, Halebid, Aihole, Badami and Pattadakal and the grand ruins of Hampi and into Goa.
The seven nights / eight days itinerary is a surreal safari of tourist attractions (many of them UN World Heritage Sites).daubed with colour and history. Outside the curtain-draped windows, the wild beauty of the landscape unravels. Returning each evening to the comforts of the train is like a homecoming. After a quick shower, a drink at the bar and a five-course meal you return to your cabin to check your mail (the entire train is wi-fi connected) and slip under cool, clean duvets and fall asleep to the gentle rhythm of the train.