If you have summer vacations, are on sabbatical leave or simply have some spare time, take a ride on Indian Hill Railways or Narrow Gauge (NG) lines. I assure you that you will be making your way through tunnels, little hamlets and over breathtaking bridges. These rail journeys involve an exhilarating experience where you pass through quaint mountain ranges, and cross over mangroves with thick and evergreen leathery leaves. Sitting inside a toy train can be a lifetime experience. The tighter curves, grandeur water bodies and wide variety of flora & fauna in three of the five mentioned lines have been earlier broadcasted by BBC. So, here is an opportunity to enjoy the grand tour of 5 entertaining Indian NG tracks, widely mentioned by prospective visitors.
5. Pathankot to Joginder Nagar State: Himachal Pradesh
Kangra valley is known for its dramatic views of the magnificent villages and surrounding Dhauladhars. The Kangra Valley railway currently runs at a 2 ft 6 NG line in the sub-Himalayan region. The 164 km Pathankot-Joginder Nagar route is in the tentative list of World Heritage Sites.
It was originally planned by Raja Joginder Sen and Col. B.C. Batty for transporting machinery to build a power project on the river Uhl. There are 7 stations in between the line. The most popular Ahju station lies at an elevation of 1210 meters. You can have a mesmerizing experience of watching graduated terrace steps used to farm on hilly mountains irrigated by local rivulets. The famous paragliding valley of ‘Bir-Billing’ lies close to Baijnath and Joginder Nagar railway stations.
4. Neral to Matheran State: Maharashtra
This hill railway track is a 2 ft NG line covering 21 km in the midst of thick forests of Western Ghats (UNESCO World Heritage Site). It has been more than 100 years since it was opened back in the year 1907.
One can enjoy the scenic view of vistas as the train wheezes up into clear mountains amidst mangroves. This would be a peaceful treat to your eyes and become part of the most cherished moments you’ll ever live.
3. New Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling State: West Bengal Award: UNESCO World Heritage Site
This is a world renowned track famous for little train linking the plains of New Jalpaiguri to the lovely hill station of Darjeeling. Toy trains regularly trace here through a 2 ft gauge. An amazing fact about this narrowest gauge line is that it has no tunnel in 78 km long track.
The 13 railway stations in between Darjeeling railway line offers an uninterrupted view of the Himalayas, spectacular gradients, spiral loops and reversing Zs in the North-East Region by climbing over 7000 ft. This route has been featured in numerous films and BBC documentaries, especially meant for rail buffs.
2. Mettapulayam to Ooty (Udhagamandalam) State: Tamil Nadu Award: UNESCO World Heritage Site
Established in 1908, the Nilgiri Mountain railway climbs steep gradients using a meter (3.3 ft) wide gauge with the help of rack and pinion system operated by steam locomotives (Coal operated Engine) as well as by diesels. This begins a journey full of twists and turns through 42 km long track covering 16 tunnels and 250 tall bridges.
The train climbs over 6,000 ft on its way to the hill resort located at Ooty. Crossing nearby running water gushed streams of Nilgiri district is a quite dazzling and an extraordinary experience. Mettapulayam is easily accessible from Coimbatore by frequent train and bus services.
1. Kalka to Shimla State: Himachal Pradesh Award: UNESCO World Heritage Site
This 2 ft 6 in (762mm) railway lies in fairly mountainous area exposed to extreme weather conditions. Landslides are normal during monsoon (rainy season) and heavy snowfall is capable of blocking this line. Bridges are a common phenomenon of this British-made track.
The 96 km long track runs from Kalka to the Himalayan foothills of Shimla at the northern edge of the plains of Punjab and Haryana. The journey transcends 5 hours to cross 102 tunnels and 864 bridges. The train amazingly climbs 4,659 feet while in the process. Kalka is connected to other stations such as Chandigarh and Delhi with a broad gauge line, facilitating visitors to plan their travel in varied directions.