Imagine a snail-paced vintage train that was built by the British during the late 19th century, the smoky hiss of the steam engine, the jarring whistle, and the clatter of the carriages as the train winds up its way. Now place yourself sitting by the window, engrossed by the sight of every beautiful tunnel, bridge, and exquisite scenery that passes by. This can be felt for real in different parts of India. A singular journey in an otherwise relic of a toy train will engulf your senses in one such unique and transcendental experience.
The Kalka-Shimla Railway, the Nilgiri Mountain Railway, and the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway are collectively recognized as the “Mountain Railways of India” by the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This blog covers the famous five toy trains of India you simply cannot miss and everything you need to know before you board one.
The Best Toy Trains & Their Routes
Table of Contents
- Why The Name Toy Train?
- Points To Remember
- Kalka-Shimla Railway, Haryana – Himachal Pradesh
- Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, West Bengal
- Nilgiri Mountain Railway, Tamilnadu
- Kangra Valley Railway, Punjab – Himachal Pradesh
- Matheran Hill Railway, Maharashtra
- Useful Links of Indian Railways
Why The Name Toy Train?
These trains run on hill stations on a narrow gauge (the two-track line that is just 2 ft apart). The engines with small bogies are very small; like toys, and for these quirky reasons they’re known as Toy Trains. Interestingly, much like model toy trains, while going uphill, the engine is at the back, pushing the rest of the train, and while coming downhill, the engine is in front to stop the train from running off.
Points To Remember
- Toy trains have very little seating capacity that can accommodate only a few passengers. As a consequence of its growing popularity, last-minute tickets are very difficult to get. So, book well in advance, i.e. at least a month before, especially during the holiday season.
- Tickets can be reserved online on the IRCTC website/ app or in-person at the Indian Railways computerized reservation counters across the country. (Note: Book a window seat to enjoy the scenic beauty to its fullest).
- There are no overnight toy trains available.
- Onboard catering services are available only in luxury trains like Shivalik Deluxe Express. Refreshments can be availed when the train stops in between. However, food can be ordered online on the IRCTC website /app even after boarding the train by choosing the station. Food will be delivered to your seat.
- Toiletry facilities are available in the toy trains except on Darjeeling Himalayan railways.
- The network coverage will be poor to moderate in most of the routes.
- No onboard wifi is available.
- Don’t plan to board with heavy luggage as the luggage space is limited to the overhead racks and space under the seats.
- Train delays are common in India.
- Toy train schedule changes frequently. Do check the status before your planned arrival.
Also Read: 35 Things To Know Before Traveling Visiting India
Kalka-Shimla Railway, Haryana – Himachal Pradesh
Among the heritage trains in the world, this route connects Kalka (a major town in Haryana) and Shimla (the capital of Himachal Pradesh). The route is downright exciting and adventurous with breathtaking panoramic views of Shivalik hills and the enigmatic Himalayas along the way. The serene glimpses of numerous water streams and pine trees magnify the wondrous experience throughout the journey. If you decide to take this trip during winter there is the added treat of witnessing Snowfall, which makes you feel like you are on a train in Switzerland. Snow cutters are attached to the engine This is the top-recommended must-do train journey in India.
- Route: Kalka (Station code: KLK) – Shimla (Station code: SML)
- No. of trains: 5 + 2 (holiday trains)
- Highest Altitude: 2,205 m
- Distance: 96.6 Km
- No. of stops: 18
- Journey ETA: 5 – 7 hours depending on the train you choose
- Speed: 25 – 30 KMPH and 10 – 15 KMPH at turnouts
- Cost: Starts as low as Rs. 60 for the second sitting (2S), and Rs. 275 for first-class (FC) and goes up to Rs.725
- Timings: First train leaves from Kalka at 4 AM and the last train leaves at 12:10 AM. The first train leaves from Shimla at 10:30 AM and the last train departs at 6:15 PM
- Crosses through: 102 tunnels, 33 bridges, and 919 curves
Trivia: Out of 102 tunnels, the Barog tunnel (Number 33) is the longest tunnel in this route, nearly 3752 feet long. Similarly, bridges number 226 and 541 are worth mentioning.
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, West Bengal
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) is a wonderful way to absorb the beauty of Darjeeling as you traverse along the slopes of the hill town. There is no tunnel crossing in this region. However, there are three different rides that you can opt for.
Toy Train Joy Ride
A two-hour round trip ride from Darjeeling to Ghoom halts briefly at Ghoom station for 30 mins for the passengers to visit the DHR museum. While descending, the train stops for 10 minutes at Batasia Loop to savor the great views of Kanchenjunga and the hill towns of Darjeeling. Entry to the museum is included in the ticket. These tickets can be booked four months in advance. This route is popular among tourists and is perfect for those short on time.
- Route: Darjeeling (Station code: DJ) – Ghoom – Darjeeling (Station code: DJRZ)
- No. of rides: Dependent on the demand. During summers, runs 18-20 times per day
- Highest Altitude: 2,225.7 m
- Distance: 16 Km
- Journey ETA: 2 hours (two way)
- No. of stops: 2 – Ghoom and Batasia Loop
- Cost: Rs.910 for diesel engine rides and Rs.1360 for steam engine rides for first-class (FC). Free fare for children below 5 years.
- Timings: The first train departs at 9:25 AM and the last train to leave is at 2:20 PM
- Phone inquiry: +91 354 2252555
Toy Train Jungle Safari
The jungle safari takes you through the Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary. This roundtrip train is seasonal and is available only a few days a week. The train halts at Rongtong for 20 mins before starting its return journey. This ride is a great treat and a ‘DO NOT MISS’ for nature lovers.
- Route: Siliguri (Station Code: SGUJ) – Rongtong – Siliguri (Station Code: SGUD)
- No. of rides: 1, runs on demand.
- Train number: 52556
- Highest Altitude: 428 m
- Distance: 32 Km
- Journey ETA: 3 hours (two way)
- No. of stops: 2 – Sukna, Rongtong
- Cost: Rs. 1000 for first-class (FC). You can avail food by paying additional Rs. 200.
- Timings: The train runs daily from Siliguri at 2:45 PM and returns by 5:45 PM.
Regular DHR Toy Train
The narrow-gauge railway track and the road move in tandem as they criss-cross each other 150 times and are never too far in the entire journey. There are zigzags and loops along the way to help the train negotiate the steep gradients. This regular commuter’s train also includes the routes of Jungle safari and Joy ride train but doesn’t stop at Batasia loop where you get the views of Kanchenjunga and Darjeeling town.
No food is served on this train and you won’t find any food vendors along the way. So ensure to carry food and water. As this train has no onboard toilet facility, you can make use of the 10 minute stop at Kurseong for a quick break. It barely stops for a minute or two at other stations. It is not unusual for this snail-paced train to run late.
Note: If you missed boarding the train at NJP, you can onboard the same train (52541) at Kurseong at 2:30 PM and reach DJ at 5:20 PM, and still enjoy the best part of the journey. The down train (52540) departs DJ at 8:00 AM and reaches Kurseong at 10:30 AM.
- Route: New Jalpaiguri (Station Code: NJP) – Kurseong – Darjeeling (Station Code: DJ)
- No. of trains: 6, runs daily
- Highest Altitude: 2,225.7 m
- Distance: 88 Km
- Journey ETA: 7:30 hours (one way)
- No. of stops: 10
- Cost: Rs. 1420 (diesel engine only) for first-class (FC) and Rs. 1700 for AC chair car. Rs. 285 for a second sitting. Free for children below 5 years.
- Train Number – 52541 (NPJ – DJ) and 52540 (DJ-NPJ)
- Timings: Departs at NPJ at 8:30 AM and leaves by 8:00 AM at DJ.
Red Panda Special Train
A steam engine hauled toy train, the “Red Panda” runs on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturdays between Kurseong and Darjeeling. Journeying between Kurseong and Darjeeling is the best part as it has the picturesque Batasia Loop with views of Kanchenjunga and Darjeeling town.
- Route: Darjeeling (Station Code: DJ) – Kurseong (Station Code: KGN)
- No. of train: 1
- Distance: 31 Km
- Average Speed: 9 KMPH
- No. of stops: 3 – Ghoom, Sonada, Tung
- Journey ETA: 3 hours 20 mins (one way)
- Cost: Rs. 680 for first-class (FC), Rs. 60 for second-class
- Timings: Train 52570 starts from DJ at 9:15 AM and reaches KGN at 12:30 PM. Train 52571 departs from KGN at 2 PM and reaches DJ at 5:45 PM.
Furthermore, there is also a school train that runs between these routes. This diesel engine hauled train 52587 departs from KGN at 6:30 AM and reached DJ at 9 AM. Train 52588 returns from DJ at 4:10 PM and reaches KGN at 6:20 PM.
Nilgiri Mountain Railway, Tamilnadu
The Nilgiri toy train is the main attraction of the popular hill station Ooty or Udhagamanadalam in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It is the steepest rail system in Asia. The steam engine stops every one hour till Conoor for the engine to cool down. The passengers take this opportunity to jump out and take pictures of the train and surrounding hills. At Coonoor, the steam engine is exchanged for a diesel engine for the onward journey. It is the best way to discover the timeless beauty of the Nilgiri mountains. The toy trains between Ooty and Coonor are frequent compared to the only toy train that runs between Mettupalayam and Ooty.
- Route: Mettupalayam (Station code: MTP) – Coonoor – Udagamandalam/ Ooty (Station code: UAM)
- No. of trains: 1, runs daily. 3 between Coonoor and Ooty
- Highest Altitude: 2203 m
- Distance: 46 Km
- No. of stops: 7
- Speed: 30 KMPH on plains, 10-15 KMPH on slopes
- Journey ETA: 4.8 hours uphill and 3.6 hours downhill
- Cost: Rs. 600 for first-class, Rs.295 for second sitting, Rs.15 for unreserved
- Timings: Departs from Mettupalayam at 7:10 AM – 12 PM. Return journey from Ooty starts at 2 PM – 5:35 PM
- Crosses through: 250 bridges, 16 tunnels, and 208 curves
- Important stations: Coonoor, Wellington, and Lovedale
- Contact numbers: 07556610661, 07553934141
Kangra Valley Railway, Punjab – Himachal Pradesh
Kangra Valley Railway, completed in 1928, is the longest and last mountain railway to be built. It extends from Pathankot in Punjab to Joginder Nagar in Himachal Pradesh, via Kangra and Palampur. The route is developed as a cultural corridor that links important towns, holy pilgrimages, and the Tibetian Monastery of Dalai Lama at Mcleodganj. The train passes through lush farmlands and villages on one side and uninterrupted views of the Dhauladhar Mountain Ranges and spectacular Himalayan mountains on the other.
- Route: Pathankot Junction (Station Code: PTK) – Joginder Nagar (Station Code: JDNX)
- No. of trains: 7, runs daily
- Highest Altitude: 1289 m
- Distance: 164 Km
- Speed: 45 KMPH maximum and 20 KMPH on steeper parts
- No. of stops: 33
- Journey ETA: 10 hours (one way)
- Cost: Rs. 270 for first-class (FC) and Rs. 50 for general class
- Timings: The first train departs at Pathankot at 5:10 AM and reaches at 8 PM and the first one to depart from Joginder Nagar is at 1 PM
- Crosses through: 993 bridges, 484 curves, and 2 tunnels – Dhundi tunnel and Daulatpur tunnel
- Contact Number (Delhi): (011) 23701145, 23701101
Note: No online reservation of seats is applicable for this train. Passengers can occupy any seats in the booked class upon arrival.
Matheran Hill Railway, Maharashtra
Matheran Hill Railway is the main way to reach Matheran, a tiny peaceful hill close to Mumbai. The journey runs through the forests of western ghats amid the rich green trees. As Matheran is a no vehicular zone, cars/ bikes/ bicycles/ buses are not allowed after the entry point, 2.5 Km from Matheran. However, you can reach Macheran by rickshaw, horse ride, or on foot.
- Route: Neral (Station code: NRL) – Matheran (Station code: MAE)
- No of trains: 4, runs daily
- Altitude: 800 m
- Distance: 21 Km (One way)
- Speed: 30 KMPH Maximum and 20 KMPH at curves
- No. of stops: 3 – Jummapatti, Waterpipe, Aman Lodge
- Journey ETA: 1.5 hours (one way)
- Cost: Rs. 300 per adult, Rs. 180 per child for first class, and Rs. 75 per adult and Rs. 45 per child for the second class.
- Timing: The first train departs from Neral at 9:50 AM.
- Crosses through: only one tunnel named “One Kiss”
Note: Online reservations of seats are not available on this train and can be bought from the ticket counter at the boarding station. You can reach Neral from Mumbai by taking Deccan Express, 11007, or by the local trains that terminate at Karjat or Khopoli on the central line.
The train service between Aman Lodge and Matheran is frequent and runs 17- 22 times per day. During the monsoon season, only the shuttle is operated, but toy train services from Neral are suspended.
Useful Links of Indian Railways
- IRCTC help – Provides latest Indian Railway news on time
- Book tickets here – To book tickets online
- Status updates – To get all the status and updated information online
Disclaimer: Please note that the fare and timings are subjected to change based on availability and seasonal demands. To get the latest schedule, cost and timings, please visit the IRCTC website/ download the mobile application.
Toy train journeys are something to be cherished forever. The experience can be best described as a spectator journey, where you have the best seats in the house to witness the everlasting splendor of hills, forests, lakes, and every other kaleidoscopic fragment of nature. It is a salute to both men and mountains, as great things happen when these two meet. The best part is you get to go on this journey in an antique relic that encapsulates the entire journey into a transportive experience.
Have you taken a toy train ride? Which one is your favorite and how was your experience? Tell us in the comments below. Also, don’t forget to share it with your friends if you find it useful. As always continue to stick with your wandering twins for more great content such as this.