Maxx ImagesOne of the truly unique ways to see India is aboard the “toy” trains, narrow gauge railways that chug up to the hill resorts of Shimla, Ooty (Udhagamandalam), Darjeeling and Matheran. Settle in and enjoy the views of terraced fields and small villages and the panoramas from breathtaking bridges.
Darjeeling: The most famous of the little trains links New Jalpaiguri on the plains to the lovely hill station of Darjeeling. The 86-kilometre line has no tunnels offering an uninterrupted view of the breathtaking Himalayas during the 7.5-hour hour ride.
Matheran: The 77-year-old line connects Neral to the peaceful retreat of Matheran with a 90-minute ride that wheezes up into the clear mountain air to the scenic vista of hills and plains below.
Ooty (Udhagamandalam): The Nilgiri Mountain Railway follows a twisting, winding route for 46 kilometres between Mettupalayam and the hill resort at Ooty. The train chugs across plains, past plantations and through forested hills at a maximum speed of 33 kph.
Shimla: The journey from Kalka to Shimla covers 96 kilometres in six hours and boasts 107 tunnels and arched bridges, dazzling views and stops at picturesque stations like Dharmpore, Taksal, Gamma and Solan.
For a more opulent experience, there are the luxury trains that travel throughout the country. The newest of the luxury trains is the Splendor of the South, a seven-day roundtrip journey from Bangalore through southern India with stops in the temple cities of Mamallapuram, Tiruchirapalli, Thanjavur and Madurai; the former French Colony at Pondicherry; the beaches of Kovalam; and a cruise of the backwaters at Kochi.
Other new luxury trains include the Royal Rajashan On Wheels, a seven-night/eight-day itinerary that includes Jaipur (City Palace), Jaisalmer (Heritage Havelis, Sand Dunes), Agra (Taj Mahal) , Udaipur, Chittaurgarh, Jodhpur (Mehrangarh Fort), Sawai Madhopur (Ranthambore National Park), Bharatpur (bird sanctuary); and the Golden Chariot, offering eight-day trips that include Bangalore, Mysore, Kavini, Hassan and Goa.
Others include the Palace On Wheels and the Deccan Odyssey, both of which visit major historical, archaeological and cultural sites and pamper passengers with heritage cars and gourmet cuisine.
Heritage on Wheels offers a shorter experience exploring the culturally rich state of Rajasthan on a four-day itinerary that includes the forts of Bikaner, a camel safari and the palaces of Mandawa.
And for those with limited time, the Fairy Queen offers a small taste of luxury on a two-day excursion that features a jeep safari at a tiger sanctuary and the oldest running steam locomotive in the world.