“My heart is warm with the friends I make,
And better friends I’ll not be knowing,
Yet there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take,
No matter where it’s going.”
-Edna St. Vincent Millay
Traversing through snow caped peaks to orange hued desserts – can there be a better perspective on the world than from a railway carriage? Huffing and puffing through the dreamy unknown lands, when the journey becomes a part of the experience – a train journey is seemingly one of the very few leisure times left to us in these chaotic times.
Most of us have a cherished childhood memory of a train journey. I remember, as a child not going to sleep unless we crossed a certain bridge on the Ganges while on a familiar train route. Ask any avid traveler about train journeys and chances are you see their eyes sparkle up, followed by a story of soulful experience. Most of us have vivid memories of blurring vistas and fading country side through a train window and most of us love it! More than anything else, train rides serve an authentic experience while travelling. They give you a flavor of the culture and bring you closer to the lives of the people of the country you are travelling in, while a flight across Malaysia, Norway or Brazil might feel similar in every detail. The flights we take to save time are indifferent to the Alpine scenery, the vastness of Australian desert, or to the west highlands of Scotland. Trains, unarguably, win at the most laid-back style of travel. They are an invitation to sit back, relax and enjoy the view. And do we complain? Everything about train travel is Romantic with a capital ‘R’. But let’s be clear – some train rides are more scenic than the others. Although this is not a complete list we have picked our current favorite, world famous, scenic train rides. There will be more to follow.
The Flåm Railway, Norway
The Flåm Railway, Norway – Frequently hailed as one of the world’s most beautiful train routes. When your train leaves from Oslo, clapboard farmhouses painted red and mustard yellow, landscapes softening into farmlands, earth shattering glaciers to countless coastal islands will leave you spellbound. Mydral is the station where you can board the historic flåmsbana. The train passes by deep ravines, cascading waterfalls and towering peaks. You can book your tickets at NSB website and look for route Oslo – Mydral – Flåm. Flåmsbana is one of the world’s steepest railway with regular gauge tracks. The highlight of the ride is the Kjosfossen waterfall with a drop of 93 meters, where a mystical huldra might be waiting for you in a red bunad with folk music in the background. Flåm line is so spectacular that neither your eyes nor your camera will be able to capture a fraction of the height and depth and width and breadth of the view soaring in front of you. You can further enjoy more sightseeing by taking a ferry from Flåm to Gudvangen and then arriving at Bergen. Sailing through Norwegian fjords is like being in a constant dream. The still cold waters of the fjords are so magical that it is hard to not indulge in kayaking, rowing or canoeing. It is always good to account for the weather when travelling to Norway and plan your activities around it as it is notoriously unfriendly.
The Rocky Mountaineer, Canada
The Rocky Mountaineer – The rocky mountaineer makes it to this list because its a journey to remember for more than one reason. The route is not only breath taking but also has a variety of scenery to offer. Not to forget the highly professional hospitality team on board which ensures you have a comfortable and a memorable journey. To serve to your taste buds, the rocky mountaineer has eight sous chefs and two executive sous chefs on board (perks of being on a privately owned luxury train). Things work differently on this train as it does not have regular train stops and you can not hop on and off. The idea here is that you sign up for a full trip which includes hotel reservations according to the package you choose. It is a full trip in and of itself. You can look up the train information here. The route runs through the west coast to the Canadian Rockies. The highlights of this picturesque ride, among others, are Fraser Canyon and along the Kicking horse river. If you get lucky on the ride you might get a peek at the Canadian wildlife and spot some famed grizzly bears, black bears, moose or eagles. Mountains, glaciers, rivers, pine trees, Ponderosa pines, Douglas firs, Rogers Pas, local wines, sumptuous desserts and the stunning scenery will not fail you.
Image source: Luxus-zugreise.de
Desert Express, Namibia – This train journey has an element of adventure that could only be found in the journeys of the by gone times. The train starts from the national capital Windhoek and runs through Namibia’s central highlands, across savannah, desert and gravel plains to the German colonial city Swakopmund on the Atlantic coast, covering a stretch of 220 miles. A longer safari option includes Walvis Bay and game drives in the Etosha National Park. The train stops in the middle of the vastness of the desert for the passengers to take a guided visit to the dunes. As many other sightseeing oriented trains, Desert express is not really an express service but runs at an unhurried pace complimenting the impressive backdrop – The Namib Desert. Regarded as the world’s oldest desert, Namib has red sand dunes that can reach impressive heights and has the world’s rarest and most bizarre flora and fauna. The train offers a comfortable stay and an outlandish, stunning view of the dessert. Watching the sun go down in the vividness of such a landscape through a train carriage has to be a lifetime experience.
Machu Picchu Expedition/Vistadome train, Peru
Is visiting the lost city of Incas, Peru on your bucket list? If it is, you probably know Machu Picchu is one of the 7 Wonders of the World, and the #1 attraction in Peru. Perched high amongst the mist-soaked mountains of Peru, these centuries-old ruins are steeped in mystery. Well, the dream is to hike your way up but for reasons like lack of time or health issues here is a beautiful alternative. The PeruRail services offer you three different cabin types to choose from to Aguas Calientes. The Hiram Bingham is one of the world’s greatest luxury train journeys but we don’t recommend it. Instead, there are alternative, more affordable options on the same route, like Expedition and Vistadome trains which take passengers from Poroy on the outskirts of Cusco to Machu Picchu Pueblo, the small town at the base of the world famous mountains. The expedition and vistadome trains are good value for money for one and half hour of a ride. The best time to visit Machu Picchu and hike the Inca Trail is from July-August. This is your best chance for clear skies and good weather. Can you say no to a beautiful train, to a world famous destination through some spectacular scenery?
Darjeeling Himalaya Railway, India
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway – This fascinating train has little changed from when it was originally created in the late 1800’s and was declared as UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999. The second railway in the world to receive such status. The romantic eight-hour trip on this whimsical “Toy Train” from New Jalpaiguri, in the foothills of the Eastern Himalayas, to the hill station of Darjeeling offers views of Himalayan peaks as high as 7,400 feet. You’ll traverse through dense jungle, verdant valleys, tea gardens, and forests of maple, chestnut, pear, cherry, and cardamom trees on this two-foot wide, narrow-gauge line. Majestic snow-capped Kanchenjunga, panoramic views of nature, enchanting waterfalls, thick forests, amazing hills, deep valleys are some other treats for your eyes. What makes a trip on this train so interesting is that for most of the journey, it rumbles along the old Hill Cart Road, sometimes only inches from buildings on one side and passing traffic on the other. The section from Ghum, is the most spectacular. At a place called Batasia Loop, the train makes a 360 degree turn (to lower the gradient of its ascent) around a beautiful garden with a War Memorial. There are also some fantastic views across the lower Himalayas en route. Riding the Toy Train has been a joyous experience to tourists for more than a century. During peak season, tickets have to be booked well in advance for this heritage ride that once provided the first mountain transportation link in the country.