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Mountain Railways of India
Mountain Railways of India - Natural Beauty on Rail
Apart from being a beautiful blend of man’s efficient technology advancements and the accessibility to the most beautiful hill stations in India, the mountain railways talk the success story of taking the tourist to the otherwise lonely village spots.
Ever since they were laid in the 19th and 20th century by the English, the rail lines have been functioning until date. They have now come under the control of the Indian Railway system in association with Kashmir Rail system that was founded in 2005. There are seven railway systems that are clubbed under the Mountain railway category and include four in North India, namely, Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (1881), Kalka–Shimla Railway (1898), Kangra Valley Railway (1924) and Kashmir Railway (2005) and two in the South that includes Tamil Nadu’s Nilgiri Mountain Railway and Maharashtra’s Matheran Railway and Assamese Lumding–Silchar line. All of these have in common the rugged terrains and the beautiful landscape as common points. UNESCO has announced the Darjeeling, Nilgiri and Shimla Rail Systems as World Heritage Sites.
There are numerous hotels and resorts atop the hills that are linked by these railway lines that run through dense jungles and uneven paths up the hills. Though they had the disadvantage of uneven lands, since they served in their connections, they were deemed to be exemplary samples of the advancements of technology as well as excellence in engineering skills.
The British always thought the mountain ranges of India to be the fortresses of safety and were aiming to use them to the fullest and this resulted in construction of the Mountain railways as a first step to access them. Sir John Lawrence, who was the Viceroy of India in 1844, encouraged the usage of the mountain ranges in the country as military stations. They formed a skeleton service called the Hill Railway with the motive of connecting and setting up good rail networks within the country. They had reasons to select Shimla, which was their Summer capital, Darjeeling, with this exotic tea estates and the stunning scenery of the mighty Himalayan range, Himachal’s deep Kangra Valley, Tamil Nadu’s Ooty or Ottacamund nestled in the Nilgiris and Maharatrian Matheran ranges.
The railway works started off in 1878 in a bid to connect the mighty and enchanting mountain ranges to the level lands and the Darjeeling Rail line was laid. In an effort to connect Siliguri and Darjeeling, Eastern Bengal Railway assigned Franklin Prestige the task of construction of the Hill Road. Work started with good gusto and by 1881, the railway line to Darjeeling was functional.
Though the rail laying working in Nilgiris in Tamil Nadu was supposed to be flagged off in 1854, the actual work began only in 1894, but the challenges in the steep mountains with differing heights of 326 mts and 2203 mts led to the continuation of the work till 1908. The Shimla Hill rail laying work was started in 1898 thereby completely connecting all the mountains to the other parts of India. This was opened by the Lord Curzon, the Viceroy in 1903 November. Matheran which was a beautiful hill spot a little over a hundred kms from busy Mumbai got Matheran Rail – real toy train launched in 1907 while the scenic Kangra rail line was set up in 1929.
The reason why three of these mountain rail lines have gotten into UNESCO’s world heritage site listing is because of the brave, clever use of technology and engineering science in a bid to connect the mighty mountains to the cities by building efficient rail systems. The first of the railways to get into the list was the Darjeeling Railway in 1999 followed by Nilgiri Mountains in 2005 and then in 2008, the Kalka Shimla Railway joined the band wagon. These three have been categorized into the Mountain Railways of India grouping, into the clause ii, IV in the Asia – Pacific region. We are waiting for the approval from UNESCO to include the Matheran Railway into this grouping as well and could expect a favourable reply soon.
How to Get There
Local buses and autos can take tourists up to the base location of the train stations of these mountain railways.
When to Visit
Since the railways in the mountain can be affected by landslides and heavy snow, the tourists should check on the service availability before the actual booking.
How to Visit
Though in most trips the traveller is focused on the destination, these mountain railways make the travel itself much more attractive.
Each rail trip has many interesting stations in between, giving the tourists ample choice to explore nature at its best on the way to the top. For those who do not want to get off, the railways assure a pleasant trip of continuous gazing and drinking in the nature at the reach of their hands.