What to Expect on Mountain Railways of India
This article is a guest article by Jess from Tripelio. She went to India and is telling us about her trip with mountain railway and provides tips how to organize it.
Hi everyone, this is Jess from Tripelio.com! I started following the Backpacker’s Guide to the World originally as a way to practice my rusty German, and I’ve remained a fan because there are so many really great posts here, on such a variety of different places—and they really cover everything from basic information like how to get your visa to Myanmar to information about things to do once you get there! I’m so excited to add to the wealth with my own information about taking the trains in India.
India is an amazing and beautiful country to travel no matter what, but the time I spent in the north of the country, on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR), is hands-down one of the best experiences I’ve had in my whole life—that’s right, step aside Trans-Siberian adventure! There’s nothing more scenic than a train ride through the Himalayas, and part of what makes the DHR and the four similar Himalayan trains (two of which, alongside the DHR, are collectively known as the Mountain Railways of India, a UNESCO World Heritage Site) so special is that they’re relatively unknown to tourists. Trust me, you don’t want to be missing these on your travel bucket list!
What exactly are they?
The Mountain Railways were built in the late-19th and early-20th centuries by British colonial forces, but they remain in use today. You might not expect them to be much compared to the trains you’re used to, but you’d be surprised. They’re some of the greatest engineering feats in the world even today. The railways connect those difficult-to-reach destinations that were important to the British Raj: Shimla, the “summer capital” of the colony; Darjeeling, which I honestly think is basically paradise on earth, with its spectacular views and delicious tea; and other equally impressive sites. If you’re looking for a way to step back in time, hop aboard one of these trains—many of the original steam locomotives are still in use, and the lines (especially the DHR) keep pretty true to the originals!
How did I end up there?
A common question that I’m asked when I tell people what I’m up to or where I’ve traveled recently is, how did you find out about that? The thing is, travel is basically the focal point of my life, so I have a lot of friends who travel, a lot of blogs I follow and a lot of other ways of hearing about cool and unique experiences. I first became interested in traipsing around India by rail after watching the movie Lucky Express. The movie is an amazing documentary about children who grow up living on the trains of India because they have no place better to go. It’s definitely a tear-jerker, so make sure you have your tissues handy.
Planning your Journey
I needed a visa to go to India, but because I was planning to be in the country for less than 30 days, I was able to apply for an India eVisa rather than apply at a consulate, which vastly simplified my planning. However, I still had to go about acquiring tickets for the DHR. Because I only had a few weeks in India, I didn’t want to wait to book tickets in person; instead, I went on the India Railway company’s website and booked tickets there ahead of time. You’ll need to create an account to even look at fares or anything else, and if you book tickets online, you’ll need to have them delivered somewhere in India, but I had my tickets sent to my hostel and found that it’s all a pretty straightforward process. The most difficult part was honestly figuring out which route I wanted to take, but I played it safe by taking the most popular route, the Darjeeling Himalayan route. I was glad I’d booked my tickets online because our train was pretty full!
As I’ve said, my time on the DHR was phenomenal. It’s a pretty short rail line, only a little over 50 miles in length—so it’s nothing like the week-long ride on the Trans-Siberian. But in those 50 miles, you coast past some of the most spectacular scenery in the world, all the while surrounded by a depth of culture like I’ve rarely seen elsewhere. You can book short “joyrides” on the trains which take you up to Darjeeling and back over the course of a day, or you can do what I did and stay in Darjeeling and the surroundings for a little while longer exploring the monasteries, Singalila National Park and, of course, the tea gardens. You really can’t find a better cultural experience in all of India!
Have you explored the railways of India? Share your experiences below!
About the author: This article was written by Jess Signet, a long term budget traveler. Jess loves exploring and has been lucky enough to see India by rail. Jess hopes these tips will help you plan your own trip and inspire you to see this beautiful country. You can follow Jess on Twitter at: @Jessstravels