Konkan Coastal Saga
The scenic journey between Mumbai and Goa traces the West Coast of the sub-continent. On the first leg, however, the train arrows through the urban sprawl of Mumbai and its outer suburbs.
Then suddenly, there's greenery all around: the picturesque journey begins in earnest. The train races down the narrow strip of land hemmed in by the rugged Western Ghats on one side and the Arabian Sea on the other.
It rattles over bridges that straddle blue streams and rivers, ducks into long dark tunnels and emerges into valleys draped in virgin forests and farmlands. Narrow roads, ribbons of tarmac, snake in and out of minuscule villages. Occasionally, one gets a glimpse of the sea. It often stops at little stations that stud the tracks at regular intervals. Vendors prowl the compartments ensuring that passengers don't go hungry or thirsty.
If it's Mumbai to Goa, or the other way around, it’s got to be the day train.
Desert Safari through Rajasthan
The Delhi-Jaisalmer Express pulls out of Jodhpur early in the morning, the imposing Mehrangarh Fort, surging out of a cliff, and the stately turrets and domes of Umaid Bhavan Palace, rise above the skyline. Soon the city shrinks into the horizon and the train cruises through a semi-arid desert peppered with shrubs and thorny acacia trees. Camel trains plod past little settlements, enlivened with women in brilliantly-hued local garb, men in colourful turbans and snotty-nosed kids huddled around morning fires. You may spot a peacock or two preening to attract a mate.
Train No. 14659
Occasionally, golden sand dunes rip apart the land like raw wounds. At Osian, you may see Thar desert's largest dune. The train briefly stops at quaint stations, including Pokhran, famous for its big nuclear bang, Finally, Sonar Kila (Golden Fort) rising over the horizon like an Arabian Nights dream, welcomes the train as it chugs into the border town of Jaisalmer, the last stop on the network.
Legendary Queen of the Western Ghats
It was India’s first superfast, long-distance, electric train, and perhaps the most celebrated. Today, many trains are much faster, but the Deccan Queen still has an aura of romance as it conquers the Western Ghats each day between Pune and Mumbai.
The most scenic segment starts at Lonavala when the train negotiates the mountainous terrain. It traces contours of the craggy landscape, teetering on the edge of cliffs and deep precipices. It arrows into tunnels and emerges on slopes draped with virgin forests streaked with silvery waterfalls and glides over bridges that span yawning chasms.
Train No. 12124
As it descends through rock-faced corridors, mountains around grow larger. The iron horse enters the plains, cruise past Matheran's forest hill resort and a row of jagged peaks called granny’s teeth. It stops only at Dadar before pulling into Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST), as it first did in 1930. Train buffs celebrate this legendary train's birthday every year.
Golden Odyssey through Karnataka
Gasps of disbelief escape motley lips as the sleek Golden Chariot, Karnataka’s Palace on Wheels, pulls into Bangalore’s Yeshwantpur station. With four suites to a compartment, two crystal service restaurants, a bar and spa, it gives you a taste of a champagne and caviar lifestyle as it travels through and takes in the state's best: the garden city of Bangalore, stately Mysore, Nagarhole Wildlife Park, the temple town of Belur, Halebid, Aihole, Badami, Pattadakal, the grand ruins of Hampi, and into Goa.
The seven nights / eight days itinerary is a surreal safari of tourist attractions (including UN World Heritage Sites) daubed with colour and history. Outside the curtain-draped windows, the landscape's wild beauty unravels. Returning to the comforts of the train each evening is like a homecoming. After a quick shower, a drink at the bar and a five-course meal, you check your mail (the train has wi-fi) and slip under cool clean duvets and fall asleep to its gentle rhythm.
Train No. 562 Mettupalayam - Udagamandalam Passenger
The Nilgiri Toy Train
It takes twice as long as the road journey and you're covered with soot by the end. It's a price that train buffs willingly pay to ride the Mettupalayam-Udagamandalam Passenger as it puffs up and down the Blue Mountains in Tamil Nadu, that it has done for over 100 years. In 2005, it chugged into UN's list of World Heritage Sites with three other Indian toy trains--Matheran, Kalka-Shimla and Darjeeling.
The journey starts at Mettupalayam where a vintage steam engine, like a brat who knows that he is the centre of attention, puffs self-importantly out of the station. It’s a slow and scenic trail.
Wheezing, coughing and belching great columns of smoke, The Nilgiri Passenger snakes through mountains, slithers through narrow passes and tunnels, clings to the edge of deep cliffs and crevices and rattles over archaic bridges…
Outside the windows, the mountain slopes are a patchwork quilt of deep green forests and manicured tea plantations. At Coonoor, the steam engine hands over the train to a diesel engine steaming onto its final destination, past a lake peppered with colourful pleasure boats and into Ooty.