The hill railways of India with the narrow tracks zigzagging on what might have once been cart tracks are certainly romantic. An antique steam engine hauls up the train slowly, huffing and puffing all the way. Within a few hours, the train reaches a colorful hill station surrounded by snow-capped peaks, waiting to be conquered.
There are five railway trains that ply in the hilly regions of India. These trains offer a rare experience of rail travel, popularly known as Journey to Paradise. The Darjeeling Hill Railway carries one to the Darjeeling mountains from the hot plains of Calcutta. Rolling on rails only 0.6096 m apart, these Tom Thumb carriages trail precariously behind Stephenson's Rocket. One wonders how this tiny, quaint specimen of rolling locomotive carries one up beyond the clouds.
The Kalka Shimla Railway was brought into service in 1903 to connect Shimla-the British summer time capital of India-with the plains. This line was mostly used during that time to transport the British rulers to the hills to refresh the European constitution and keep the mental faculties alert.
The third hill train connects Pathankot with the Kangra Valley in Himachal Pradesh. This train was opened to public on April 1, 1929. It runs on approximately 0.8-meter gauge and is 165 kilometer in length. The fourth hill train on the meter gauge is from Mettupalayam to Ootacamund or Ooty that runs only from September to April every year. And the fifth one carries passengers from Neral near Mumbai to Matheran.
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railways and its toy trains have immense heritage value. It still uses steam engines, some of which are original. It's 0.6096 meter gauge line covering the area from Siliguri to Darjeeling at a height of 2,074 m has been in operation for well over a hundred years. Both economically and in terms of engineering, this railway line is significant. It was the first of its kind in both areas and it was also the first to be built exclusively with Indian capital. From an engineering point of view, the obstacles overcome in the route automatically prove it to be an engineering marvel. At a number of places, it uses loops and 'Z' type reversing stations to gain elevation.
Running over a distance of 88.48 km, it is one of the longest hill railways that not only passes through the breathtaking Himalayan landscape but also stops at the second highest railway station in the world, the Ghoom station, at a height of 2,257.65 m. It is not just a historical, tourist attraction but also a fully operational line that even today is one of the most important means of transport for the locals.