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Experience Natural Serenity through the Mountain Railways of India
Travel through the hill stations in India noted for their cool salubrious air and their stunning mountain scenery by Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, Nilgiri Mountain Railway and Kalka-Shimla Railway, collectively called Mountain railways of India known for its remarkable run through serene ambience, rolling meadows and spellbinding views of mountains of India. The Mountain Railways of India is also called the Toy Train.
All these tracks are fully functional. It wouldn’t be an overstatement to term these rail lines as marvels of engineering. While the tracks are a way to savor the beauty of nature for tourists, they also form the lifeline for the local communities. These tracks play a major role in connecting remote and rural parts of the region to the rest of the country aiding immensely in their socioeconomic status. All three lines are owned, maintained and operated by the Railway Ministry of the Indian Government.
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is as Majestic as it Sounds
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway line is also popularly called “Joy Ride.” The track was nothing less than an achievement for the colonial British Raj when it successfully laid the tracks that span 80 kilometers on a 2 feet gauge. The line connects Darjeeling and Siliguri in West Bengal.
The laying of the track was a mammoth task that took the then British Government about three years. The task was commenced in 1879 and bore fruit in 1881. A great aspect of this rail line is that it begins at an elevation of 100 meters in Siliguri and reaches a whopping 2200 meters by the time it reaches Darjeeling. Ghoom has the distinction of being the highest point on this path at 2300 meters. Just imagine traveling down this line, savoring the beauty of the green gorges by your side. It is an exhilarating experience as the train moves at a snail pace and takes over 6 hours to cover a mere 80 kilometers.
It was in 1999 that the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway line was recognized as UNESCO World Heritage site. The train continues to sport a smoke raising steam engine to preserve its historic importance. The travel is adventuresome replete with 4 zigzag reverses along with 4 spiral loops. All the while, it brings you breath-taking viewpoints of the huge valleys and mountains.
After more than hundred years, the Toy Train still operates with its original technology. It was used during the British colonial period to transport–and helped reduce carrier costs–the Darjeeling tea which was very popular. Today the tea is transported by truck. The Darjeeling Himalayan Train weaves through the Bazaars of the mountain villages, passes through monasteries high in the clouds, steams by a women weaving on the next track and crosses through extended tea plantations. The Toy Train one of the world’s oldest steam engines of the 19th century.
The picturesque railway line has been the stage for the melodious number “Kasto Mazza” in the hit Indian movie Parineeta.
Kalka-Shimla Railway on the Foothills of the Great Himalayas
Located 2086 meters above the sea level, Shimla is a place of unparalleled natural beauty at the foothills of the Himalayan range. It is also among the most popular hill stations in the country. The Kalka-Shimla Railway line has been functional since November 9, 1903. The train moves through a treacherous path comprising of 103 tunnels and 864 bridges. Traversing through the narrow bridge on the 2.6 feet gauge is an exhilarating experience. The never-ending depth of the valleys below makes the journey quite adrenaline-thumping. The longest of these is the Barog Tunnel, named after Colonel Barog who was commissioned to complete the railway line.
Legend has it that Colonel Barog ultimately committed suicide in this very tunnel. The story goes on to say that when the British Government fined him a nominal 1 Rupee for his inability to complete the tunnel, Colonel Barog took the extreme step, unable to bear the humiliation. The Railway line was then completed by H. S. Herlington who was an engineer.
The Kalka-Shimla railway line goes through different levels of elevations, beginning at 656 meters in Kalka and going all the way to 2076 meters in Shimla. All the while, the travellers get the privilege of viewing the awe-inspiring Himalayan mountains. The entire journey proceeds at a slow pace, stopping at various stations, paving way for travellers to capture scenic moments in their cameras. If selfies are your thing, nothing can bring you a more soul-touching background.
The Kalka-Shimla Railway has also played host to several Indian movies including the blockbuster Jab We Met where the protagonist Shahid Kapoor urges his lady love Kareena to leave Shimla and accompany him. The train which they run to catch in this scene is the Kalka-Shimla Train.
The Heritage Train of the South – NilgiriMountain Railway
Ootacamund which is colloquially known as Ooty is perhaps the most famous hill station in South India. Among the star attractions of this tourist magnet is the Nilgiri Mountain Railway which runs between Ooty and Mettupalayam. Also known as Udagamadalam, it is quite famous for English fruits and veggies, owing to the fact that it was once the most favorite retreat of the British.
Enjoy fruits such as fresh strawberries, peaches, and plums. If you have a thing for the English vegetables like cabbage, carrot and cauliflower, the cuisines of Ooty are the right match for you. Don’t forget to make a few locally grown tea packets yours. The weather of Ooty is considered excellent for tea plantations and you find never-ending expanse of beautiful green hills covered with tea plants here. This is a scene that you’ll relish as you travel on the Nilgiri Mountain Train.
A distinct feature of this railway line is the fact that it is run on rack and pinion system, and powered by steam engine.
In the July of 2005, Nilgiri Mountain Railway was added to the prestigious World Heritage List by UNESCO. The journey takes you through a whopping 208 curves, 250 bridges and 16 tunnels. Tearing through the mist while being onboard this antique locomotive is an experience that you will enjoy for sure.
The Nilgiri Mountain Railway has had its share of glamour too. It was part of the famous feat Chhaiya Chhaiya in the movie Dil Se where Bollywood heartthrob Shah Rukh Khan lets his feet loose.