Any travellers who have taken train journeys in India are bound to have a story or two. One member of team ETG recalls the dusty legs that dangled outside her window, owned by one of the many youths sitting atop the roof as they zipped through the countryside. Another describes sitting next to a man who performed a David Bellamy impression for the entire three-hour journey. Another still, how she was invited by a teenage girl to sit on her suitcase and listen to music, one earbud each, as they waited for their ride.
The train network itself is quite fascinating. India’s state-owned railways have over 1.4 million employees – at the time of writing, it is the 7th biggest employer in the world. At the same time, it is making interesting strides in terms of environmental policy – in 2018 Guhawati train station in Assam became fully solar-powered. As such, a ride on the Indian railways is a fantastic way to get in touch with modern India, revealing its many faces as you trundle and speed. Complete the journey with a copy of the fantastic book, Around India in 80 Trains, and you’re onto a fantastic trip.
We have no doubt at all that you will see something remarkable on your own train rides in India – and the incredible landscapes outside your window will just be the start. Here, our India specialists share the best train journeys in India for soaking up the country’s scenery and spirit. Come home with your own train adventure to tell…
The Mountain Railways of India
Three narrow-gauge train lines built in the mountains of northern India have been collectively declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site: the Nilgiri Mountain Railway, the Kalka-Shimla Railway and the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway. The latter two pass through particularly extraordinary scenery, though each is full of character and would greatly enhance your adventure.
The Island Express
One of the best ways to see Southern India, the Island Express traverses past oceans and lush Keralan hills. The route runs from Bangalore to Kanyakumari, the scared southernmost tip of India, but we advise boarding at Trivandrum: you’ll still see the beauty of the Western Ghats, just in a shorter 2-3 hour trip.
The Mandovi Express
Traversing Mumbai to Goa in 12 hours, the Mandovi Express is a true engineering marvel. The British conceived of this railway line but abandoned it as construction was proving too difficult. This left the Indian engineers to bore through mountains and cross over 100 rivers, as well as build 92 tunnels and 2,000 bridges (including the Panvalnadi bridge, which is currently the highest viaduct in India – as you can imagine, the views from here are pretty extraordinary).
An off-the-beaten-track option, this route will take you from Bhubaneswar to Brahmapur past the remarkably beautiful Chilaka lake in Orissa. You can travel this journey in a holiday like our Temples, Jungles and Trains.
The Monkey Train
So-called due to the monkeys that congregate on the remote station platforms, the Monkey Train is a fantastic way to discover the rugged Kamlighat region of Rajasthan. This is just a short one-hour journey that is the perfect way to spend a lazy afternoon in the Araveli Hills.
The Commuter Train from Luni to Jodhpur
Board in rural Luni for the one-hour journey into Jodhpur. Though this is not something you hear every day, here we’d recommend embracing rush hour. It’s the best time to get a sense of the local action and you’ll likely be travelling alongside villagers and shepherds – maybe even cattle!
Hampi to Goa
This journey from Hampi to Goa is not only practical – the fastest way to get between two extraordinary destinations – but also breathtakingly beautiful. You’ll travel through lush jungles and small rural villages, not to mention the Dudhsagar waterfall, which is the second-highest in India.
Punjab to Himachal
Pass through the beautiful Kangra valley, full of river bridges, deep gorges and lush flora, en route to the foothills of the Himalayas. At your destination, you’ll find yourself delightfully close to an ETG favourite Lodge at Wah, the perfect destination to unwind and soak up the glorious mountain landscapes.
Dibrugarh – Kanyakumari Vivek Express
This train can stake the proud claim of the longest single train route in India, which totals an impressive 80 hours. The journey which runs once a week from Dibrugarh to Kanyakumari may be gruelling, but travellers will be rewarded with an incredible diversity of scenery and encounters as they travel from the country’s northeast to the southernmost point.
Mandapam to Rameshwaram
Off the southwestern coast, you can travel from mainland India to the island of Pamban. This journey will take you across the ocean on the second-longest bridge of India, the Palk Strait.