There’s something about travelling by trains in India that makes the journey as alluring as the destination. The exchanging of stories with strangers, tucking into the vegetarian cutlet and surprisingly delicious tomato soup, and passing through some little-seen landscapes are joys that make the heart nostalgic, yet cheery at the same time.
And now, the views are set to get even better, with IRCTC’s new coaches introduced in around 45 existing trains this year. These coaches come with 180 degree rotatable plush seats so you can move around and get chatty, large glass windows for lovely scenic views, glass roofs with anti-glare screens for a peek into the sky, and a Wi-Fi based system to offer passengers more information.
So if you’re planning a holiday within the country anytime soon, you could book a train with a Vistadome coach to make the most of your journey. Here are some beautiful destinations that you can reach via Vistadome trains.
Ghoom in Darjeeling, West Bengal
This small town is the highest point of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railways and is listed as a world heritage site by UNESCO. You might know Ghoom as the last stop on the charming Darjeeling Toy Train. Pulled by a steam engine, the one-and-a-half-hour ride in the toy train’s Vistadome coaches is filled with sights of sprawling mountains and greenery as far as the eye can see.
Getting there: Take a train or flight from your city to New Jalpaiguri in Siliguri, West Bengal. Then book train numbers 52593/95/98/44, 52541, 52540, 52556
Best time to go: October to December; with temperature between 10-15º Celsius
Top things to see/ do: Visit the intricate Ghum and Yiga Choeling Monasteries; take a toy train ride on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railways; pluck aromatic plants at the Herb Garden, get a sighting of Mount Kanchenjunga when you ride the spiral railway Batista Loops; take a stroll around Ghoom time to pick up knick-knacks to take home.
Patalpani in Indore, Madhya Pradesh
Patalpani Falls is perfect for vacationers who seek the comfort of crowds and holiday goers. Surrounded by a dense forest cover and rocky landscape, the water falls from 300 feet into a pool at the bottom. Legend has it that this pool is so deep that it goes all the way to hell or patal, hence the name Patalpani. It’s a great spot to spend the better part of the day floating in the pool, picnicking on the green patches around or for the more adventurous, enjoying the water sport activities available near the waterfall.
Getting there: Take a train or flight to Mhow in Indore. From there hop on to the 52965/66 Mhow-Patalpani-Kalakund heritage train
Best time to go: June to September, which is monsoon season so the water is flush.
Top things to see/ do: Pack a picnic basket, chit chat, and eat in front the beautiful falls; experience an adrenaline rush as you river raft, ride a hot air balloon or trek nearby; sign up for a camping trip near the falls; go bird watching at the Indore Ralamandal Wildlife Sanctuary an hour away.
Yes, it’s a commercial city called home by more than half a million people, but there is still a lot to experience in this southern destination. And it starts right from the time you board the train to Mangalore. The journey runs through the breathtaking Western Ghats and even takes you around high altitudes, which makes for an enthralling ride. Once you get to the city, there is much to see, including sparkling beaches, sprawling gardens, and ancient temples and churches.
Getting there: From Bangalore, take the 16539/40 Yesvantpur-Mangalore Express
Best time to go: October to February, when the temperature does not exceed 30 degrees Celsius
Top things to see/ do: Spot dolphins at the sandy beach of Panambur; pay your respects at the Mahathobhara Sri Mangaladevi Temple dedicated to Hindu god Shakti; ride the waves at Tannirbhavi Beach if you enjoy surfing; visit St. Aloysius Chapel and admire its artwork; try goli baje, churumuri kori roti and anjan fry at a restaurant that serves authentic Mangalorean fare
Ziro Valley, Arunachal Pradesh
The Ziro Music Festival first put the little-known Ziro Valley on the map. And now travellers go for the quiet, relaxing vibe, a taste of the local culture, the gentle walks through its many scenic villages, and to meet the Apatani tribe. This tribe was considered for a UNESCO Cultural Heritage listing and is known for its lively culture, with colourful festivals, cane and bamboo craft skills, and general good sense.
Getting there: Take the 15907/08 Tinsukia-Naharlagun Express to Naharlagun in Arunachal Pradesh. Take a 4-hour taxi from there to get to Ziro Valley
Best time to go: March to May and October to November, when the temperature stays cool and habitable
Top things to see/ do: Request a visit with the head of the Apatani tribe and meet him for a chat at his traditional cottage; rent a cycle and go around in the villages surrounding Ziro – the terrain is relatively flat; do the 4-day long Talle Valley trek that takes you through dense forests dotted with colourful wildflowers; camp near the Pange basin for a night underneath the stars
Colva in south Goa is a beautiful beach with palm trees lining the sand and beach shacks offering just about everything you need to enjoy the panoramic view. There’s something for everyone here – peace and quiet, beautiful sunsets, clean blue water, sports and activities and all the cold beer you can drink.
Getting there: Hop on train 12051/52 Mumbai-Madgaon Express. Take a 20-minute taxi ride from Madgaon to Colva.
Best time to go: Mid-November to mid-February, when the weather is perfect to roam around and sightsee
Top things to see/ do:Wake up early to take a swim before the beach gets crowded; walk around to find picture-perfect spots for holiday photos that will look great on Instagram; go water-skiing or parasailing to get your blood pumping; laze around at the many shacks with a plate of seafood and beer
Araku Valley, Andhra Pradesh
Surrounded by the Eastern Ghats, Araku Valley is a little-known hill station with lush green forests, stunning waterfalls, a sprawling landscape and weather that can put you in the best mood. Araku is also popular for its coffee plantations. In fact, India’s first tribal growers’ organic coffee brand can be found there – so make sure you load up on this treat.
Getting there: Take train 18551/52 Visakhapatnam-Kirandul Express
Best time to go: June to September to experience the monsoons, and September to January for some winter magic
Top things to see/ do: Visit the gushing Chaparai Waterfalls surrounded by a green forest cover; explore the Borra Caves with its stalactite and stalagmite mineral formations; buy cute souvenirs to take back home from the Araku Tribal Museum; have a freshly brewed cup of coffee at the Ananthagiri Coffee Plantation
If you want a city holiday with people, good places to eat, nightlife and some amount of chaos, Pune can be the place for you. It’s also famous or infamous for the Osho Meditation Retreat where you can get in touch with your inner thoughts while enjoying a luxurious stay. While the city has had a makeover post its colonisation, you can still find some colonial-era architecture here and there.
Getting there: Best time to go: October to February when the city sees cool, dry and pleasant weather
Top things to see/ do: Tour the Aga Khan Palace where Mahatma Gandhi, Kasturba Gandhi and Sarojini Naidu were once held by the British; marvel at the Pataleshwar rock-cut (cave) temple, dedicated to Shiva and dating back to the 8th century; climb to the 2000-year-old hill fortress of Sinhagad Fort for a picturesque view; try keema pav, misal pav, pohachaatand all kinds of street food of the city
Alipurduar, West Bengal
Bordering Bhutan and Assam, Alipurduar offers an immersive experience into the natural and animal world. There are many dense jungles to explore the flora and fauna, the Pumtse peak which offers far-reaching views of the Buxa hills and Bhutan valley, and the South Khairbari Tiger Rescue Centre where tigers are protected and treasured. So if you’re looking for a break from the chaos of the city, this place presents the perfect holiday opportunity for you.
Getting there: Book train 05777/05778 from New Jalpaiguri-Alipurduar
Best time to go: March to May and October to January when the temperatures are moderate and perfect for jungle safaris
Top things to see/ do: Spend a day watching and interacting with elephants at the Eastern Dooars Elephant Reserve; take a tour of the Buxa Tiger Reserve to see animals such as tigers, leopards, bisons, bears and pythons; spot the one-horned rhino at the Jaldapara National Park; take the kids to the Kunjanagar Eco Park
One of Assam’s only hill stations, Haflong is known for its rolling hills, colonial architecture, the sparkling Haflong Lake, and its bewitching valleys and mountains. If you’re looking for an alternative to Himachal and Uttarakhand’s hilly vacation spots, this is a great find. The topography is different, the flora and fauna are unique, and the best part is that it’s quiet and relatively unknown.
Getting there: Ride on the 05888 Guwahati-New Haflong Tourist Special Train to reach Haflong
Best time to go: October to February, when the temperature stays between 19-22º Celsius
Top things to see/ do:Dip your feet into the flowing Panimoor Waterfalls; watch the sun set near the the turquoise Haflong Lake; go shopping and bring home the most juicy pineapples and oranges that grow here; witness the curious case of birds falling dead in the small village of Jatinga; get to know the fascinating local tribes of Biates and Karbis
Barog, Himachal Pradesh
A weekend getaway destination from Delhi, Barog is located on the Kalka Shimla Highway. This is a restful, non-commercialised place with little to do besides walking its natural trails, picking pine cones, sitting by the bonfire and exchanging stories and listening to the voice of the valley.
Getting there: Take the 52459/60 Kalka – Shimla Express and get off at Barog
Best time to go: July to September to witness the beautiful monsoons, and October to January for the winter glory
Top things to see/ do: Visit the Dagshai Museum, which used to be a cellular jail; take a toy train ride to Shimla; hike till Choor Peak
Book a train with the Vistadome coach here.
Cover image by Tanaya Singh.
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Edited by Divya Sethu