For the most part, when we book last minute holidays, we think of countries not too far away from us. The usual suspects that appear on travel agents’ package holiday lists. Yet the dream of a tropical climate with white sandy beaches, crystal clear water and not another holidaymaker in sight rarely compares with the reality of a sub-standard hotel, holiday rep in a garish uniform and a beach that smells a bit funny.
If you’re really looking to escape the daily grind, why not pack your bags, get an Indian visa and fly on the cheap to one of the nation’s major cities? You can be there in nine hours, and if you play your cards right, can make the holiday whatever you want it to be.
India, like the UK, has an extensive railway network. You can travel anywhere in India by train.
You might have seen the movies Slumdog Millionaire or The Darjeeling Limited in which Indian trains feature prominently. While most train journeys don’t look like the Louis Vuitton-branded walk in the park that The Darjeeling Limited could have you imagining, there is always something to write home about after a train trip in India.
If you’re looking for beaches, Goa and Kerala are good bets. The best train journeys are from Mumbai, but be warned that at certain times of the year, the trains’ book up months in advance. One way around this problem is to book a hotel in Mumbai and visit the local train station at 10am the day before you wish to travel, in order to obtain a Tatkal (emergency) ticket. As a tourist, you are best off in either 1AC or 2AC. The number relates to the class of travel and AC stands for air conditioning.
The Mandovi Express between Madgaon in Goa and Mumbai travels past coconut palms and mango trees, small towns and over many estuaries leading out to the sea. This is the ultimate beach train.
If you’ve got cash and are looking for the luxury option, you could ride the Indian Maharaja Deccan Odyssey. This luxury train is now more popular than the Palace on Wheels. It travels from Mumbai to Delhi via the desert in Rajasthan and stops to see tigers. You can watch movies while feeling like you’re in one on board.
Another popular luxury train is the Golden Chariot, which travels between Bangalore and Goa. It stops at Hampi, a fascinating and ancient place as well as a World Heritage Site, one of several in Asia.
Possibly the most popular train trip in India, aside from the train to Agra and back to see the Taj Mahal, is the Toy Train. The Toy Train goes from New Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling. This little steam train passes through forests and tea plantations as well as travelling through the town. You’ll pass tea pickers, fruit sellers and glimpse breathtaking views as you loop round the track.
Another popular ‘tourist train’ is the small train that goes to Shimla from Kalka. On this train, you can follow in the steps of Victorian ladies and travel up to where the air is cooler.
Photo Credit: archer10 (Dennis)