Low cost flights now cover 80 cities across India, yet they lag far behind the network of Indian Railways that reach in every corner of the country no matter how remote. There is a story behind every train journey that we often end up missing in flights. Letting the raindrops fall on your fingers while you put your arm out side the window, buying samosa and ginger tea from hawkers, and chit chatting with fellow passengers is unimaginable in a flight. Haven’t you seen how formal and boring are the flight journeys, where spending even 3 hours becomes a tough task?
The grand vista of Indian landscape is non-existent in flights, because all you see are clouds. We miss the green farms, the bridges and tunnels, the children who run after trains smiling and waving to us, and the pretty village houses. We miss the rolling landscapes of south India, and the vast flat tea and rice fields of North East. We miss crossing massive rivers over bridges of Konkan and snow covered train route of Kazigund railway in J&K. Here are some of the most exotic train journeys that will make you ditch the flight and buy a ticket for one of these exotic train journeys of India –
Araku valley railway:
Originally, this India’s highest broad gauge railway line was built to transport iron ore from the mines of Chhattisgarh to Visakhapatnam. But now it is also one of India’s most scenic train routes for passengers. The train passes through 84 bridges and 58 tunnels through the valley of Araku, further to Koraput (Orissa) and Jagdalpur (Chhattisgarh). All through the route, one can see vast spans of green valleys and waterfalls of Anantagiri mountains.
Nilgiri mountain railway:
This 46 km long train journey from Metupalaiyam to Udagamandalam (Ooty) runs on a steam locomotive made in Switzerland. Ooty was the summer headquarters of the British government of Chennai. The Nilgiri mountain railway runs over 250 bridges and through 16 tunnels, and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in year 2005. The 7 km stretch between Mettupalayam and Kallar has extensive rice fields and the 21 km journey after that passes through stunning rocky mountains. So keep your camera ready.
The Konkan railway:
Konkan railway was one of the biggest architectural challenges due to its route that passed through dense overgrown forests with wild animals, extreme rocky terrain with very high water table that lead to frequent landslides. The work on Konkan railway was an engineering marvel that connected Mumbai to Mangalore for the first time by rail link. The train passes at speeds of 120 km/h over 2000 bridges and 91 tunnels giving the travellers a grand view of the lush green Konkani vista filled with forests, waterfalls, and even the Arabian sea.
Dooars railway is the ‘green train’ of North Bengal that passes through three wildlife sanctuaries and a tiger reserve from New Siliguri to Alipurduar. It is not called green because of its route, but because of its bio toilets that do not let human waste be discarded on tracks and low smoke emitting diesel locomotive. The occasionally train speeds up and and then screeches to a halt with a lazy hiss into one of the many beautiful village stations. You might not want to blink or switch off your camera while you are on this journey.
Darjeeling Himalayan railway:
Darjeeling was the summer settlement of the British. Darjeeling Himalayan railway was built in 1881. It covers almost 78 km between New Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling at a sleepy pace that lets you enjoy sprawling tea gardens and laid back villages of Bengal. While most of the scheduled services are handled by diesel locomotives, the journey between Kurseong and Darjeeling is still handled by vintage British steam engines. Darjeeling Himalayan railway was crowned the UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999. It was the second railway in the world to be given the title after Austrian Semmering.
Environmental impact: Even though the routes like Dooars railway and Konkan railway are engineering marvels, they do not come without a significant environmental impact. Every year elephants are killed by speeding Dooars railway because the North Bengal region is very pristine and home to thousands of Elephants. The Konkan railway way built through the dense forest cover that is home to many species of wild animals. As they say, human engineering, no matter how green comes at a cost of environmental and ecological impact.
Featured Image: Prabhu Shankar
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About the author:
Gaurav Bhatnagar is a Software Engineer turned professional Travel Writer, Photographer, and Public Speaker on Responsible Travel @ The Spunky Traveler. Published in National Geographic Traveller, The Hindu, Travel Secrets and Huffington Post. Director at The Folk Tales, a company specializing in Responsible Rural Travel in India