India is a diverse country with so much to explore and discover. It’s a mystical place, a raw and awakening place for all of your senses. You could travel 50km outside of a city and already experience a different culture, different language, different food and different mode de vie.
I spent a few months exploring this vast nation, here are my 74 days of train travel around India.
Four days is a long time if you don’t know anyone living local. I met with my colleagues based in the New Delhi office of my previous company – really great to put faces to names.
I also caught up with my Couchsurfing host from France who happened to be studying in New Delhi! It’s a small world after all.
I timed my arrival into India for this event in particular. The Holi Festival is a celebration of colour, love and life. Perhaps we were in the thick of it (and I am being very polite when I say that), but Mathura and Vrindawan should best be avoided by tourists expecting colourful fun. Instead we had mud and dirty puddle water thrown at us (and everyone else too) – the intensity was almost unbearable.
Train #12190 Mahakoshal Express
H Nizammudin > Mathura Junction | Sleeper Class
Banke Bihari Temple
Birthplace of Lord Krishna
There is no need to stay in Agra, you can take a one-day tour from New Delhi quite easily and at a reasonable price. It will take you to all the main monuments.
Agent to arrange with bus operator
Return journey from New Delhi | Luxury AC Coach
Full-day tour starting from 6:30AM
150-200km each way
1000Rs + Monument entry fees
Take a day to recover here.
Now we head into the Punjab state up to Amritsar, the religious capital for the Sikhs. Nearby is the national borders between India and Pakistan – there is a performance at the Wagah Border daily, a spectacular display of each country’s pride and strength.
Train #12497 Shane Punjab Express
New Delhi > Amritsar Junction | 2AC Chair Car
The Golden Temple
Wagah Border (between India and Pakistan)
Purportedly, the best planned city in India. Having been a military training zone prior to its residential days, law enforcement is strict here and drivers (usually) stick to the road rules!
Not far from here is the Birthplace of the Baghavad Gita, a discourse delivered by Lord Krishna. The temples and sacred lakes are quite beautiful.
Train #12242 ASR CDG SUP
Amritsar Junction > Chandigarh | 2AC Chair Car
Best planned city in India
Kurukshetra, the Birthplace of the Baghavad Gita
Bring warm clothes! The foothill station was the one-time Summer capital during British Rule. The heritage toy train is still in operation and is a great way to see the mountains and the hill-region (though it takes five hours compared to a two hour bus).
Train #14095 Himalayan Queen
Chandigarh > Kalka | 2AC Chair Car
Train #52455 Himalayan Queen
Kalka > Shimla | 2nd Class Non-AC Chair Car
2076m above sea level
Heritage Toy Train
One-time Summer Capital during British Rule
Jakhu Temple dedicated to Lord Hanuman
Views of the Himalayan Mountain Range
Indian Institute of Advanced Study (IIAS) – where the Partition was drafted
A holy city that was made famous by The Beatles during their stay at a yoga ashram during their heyday. ts still there, but has since been abandoned – though it is worth a visit to explore the dilapidated buildings.
Want to get in touch with your more spiritual side? Then take a yoga retreat here, the yoga ashrams operate by donation (even their suggested donation is very affordable) and you are provided a private apartment and all your food + yoga classes daily.
I loved it here so much. The whitewater river rafting was incredible and the water was revitalising and crisp.
Luxury AC Coach, ask at Central Bus Stand
Shimla Central Bus Stand > Dehradun Central Bus Stand
Taxi or Auto-rickshaw, hail from the road
Dehradun Central Bus Stand > Rishikesh Ram Jhula
On my birthday, I decided to go on a Tiger Safari. Unfortunately it is very rare to see a tiger on one of these safaris – there are just so many jeeps driving around the park at any one time.
We did however, see many other wild fauna which was amazing!
Private AC Car, arranged by agent
Rishikesh Ram Jhula > Jim Corbett National Park
Private AC Car
Best samosas in India, in my opinion
Another very sacred city, here you’ll find many temples and scams galore!
Train #15034 RMR HW Express
Ramnagar > Haridwar | 2AC Chair Car
Mansa Devi Mandir, dedicated to Lord Shiva
Giant statue of Lord Shiva
The holiest of all the cities in India and probably the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. The eastern bank of the River Ganges is an open flood plain, which the government has thankfully protected from any major developments. So you have the ancient city overlooking the open plains as the sun rises – it’s really quite a sight to behold.
Train #14266 DDN BSB Express
Haridwar > Varanasi Junction | 3AC with bed
Paddling in the river
This city of temples was left untouched by the path of destruction left by the Moghuls – having been located so far from the main routes, no wonder they didn’t bother to come here.
The Temple Complex was once a religious capital of the local Indian Kingdom – largely preserved, many carvings on the exterior of the temples depict scenes from the kama sutra.
Train #21108 BSB KURJ Link Express
Varanasi Junction > Khajuraho | 3AC with bed
The (not so) Pink City. Its hot and dusty. If you like sightseeing, there are plenty of forts, palaces and temples to explore here.
Apparently the best Lassi in India is sold here at Lassiwala – sadly, it was closed on the day I went! 🙁
Train #19665 KURJ UDZ Express
Khajuraho > Jaipur | 3AC with bed
The (not so) Pink City
Mughal Forts : Amber Fort, Nahagarh Fort, Jaigarh Fort
The desert, seemingly never-ending plains and bulges of sand. Take yourself on a camel safari and camp overnight in the sand dunes under the stars. You’ll have your own experience, but I simply loved the serenity of being in the middle of nowhere and the almost sublime sensation of stillness and solitude.
Train #14659 DLL JSM Express
Jaipur > Jaisalmer | 3AC with bed
Camel Safari, with overnight camp in the desert
The Rickshaw Run
Pushkar is a holy city built around a sacred lake. Do try to find the man giving cosmic head massages – he directs the energy of the universe into your soul.
Train #15013 Rahnikhet Express
Jaisalmer > Ajmer Junction | 3AC with bed
Taxi, hail from railway station
Ajmer > Pushkar
Pushkar Sarovar, the sacred lake in the centre of the town
Cosmic Head Massage!
Sunset and Sunrise Temples
This is the city of lakes, so many closed bodies of water are plotted around this place.
Taxi, hail from road
Pushkar > Ajmer Junction
Train #12992 JP UDZ Express
Ajmer Junction > Udaipur | 3AC with bed
The City of Lakes
There are two main things to see and do here – Ajanta Caves and Ellora Caves. Both are archaeologically significant as there are enormous and ornate temples carved from the rock. You’ll need at least a day for each site (they are not near each other).
Udaipur Central Bus Stand > Ahmedabad Central Bus Stand | Non-AC Chair
Ahmedabad Central Bus Stand > Aurangabad Central Bus Stand | AC Sleeper Coach, with bed
Where do most Indians aspire to live and work? The answer is Mumbai. A populous city displaying a stark contrast between old and modern – the slums right next to and beneath rising skyscrapers worth billions.
Also, the Elephanta Caves are just a short one hour ferry ride away.
Train #17058 Devagiri Express
Aurangabad > Mumbai CST | 3AC with bed
Love the beach? You’ll love Goa. There’s such a relaxed feeling here, you’re far removed from the craziness of Delhi or Mumbai.
Train #10111 Konkan Kanya Express
Mumbai CST > Thivim
Taxi, hail from Prepaid stand
Thivim > Candolim Beach
200Rs in shared taxi
The famous Stone Car is the main monument to see in this town, but the bouldered landscape is what you really want to see. Find yourself the highest point you can find and wait for the sunbursting sunset.
Local Bus, every hour
Candolim > Panaji (Panjim) Central Bus Stand | Non-AC Chair
Luxury AC Coach, arranged by agent
Panaji (Panjim) Central Bus Stand > Hampi Central Bus Stand | AC Sleeper, with bed
In the low season, you basically have the entire beach to yourself. And you can stay right on the beach, with the sand right at your doorstep for a very, very, very low price.
Luxury AC Coach, arranged by agent
Hampi Central Bus Stand >Canacona Bus Stand | AC Sleeper, with bed
Local Bus, every hour
Canacona Bus Stand > Agonda Beach Bus Stand | Non-AC Chair
Enter Kerala. We no longer speak Hindi here, but English is more prevalent. In fact, this state has the highest literacy rate in the country!
Go down to the docks and watch the fisherman in action – they are still using traditional netting methods to catch the fish.
Train #12618 Magla Express
Madgaon (Margão) > Ernakulam Junction | 3AC with bed
Largest Shopping Centre in India
The Backwaters of Kerala are a place full of natural beauty – many tour operators take chartered boats up and down, but you can take the public ferries that cost only 15Rs each way.
Train #16605 Ernad Express
Ernakulam Junction > Alleppey (Alappuzha) | 2AC Chair Car
Ever seen rolling hills so green and lush, covered only with bushes of tea? The climate is cooler and lends to comfortable hikes around the hills that abound this area. You may even spot some wild elephants!
Ferry, from the pier
Alleppey (Alappuzha) Pier > Kottayam Pier | Open air, public commute
Auto-rickshaw, from the pier
Kottayam Pier > Kottayam Central Bus Stand
30Rs, in shared auto-rickshaw
Kottayam Central Bus Stand > Thekkady Central Bus Stand | Non-AC Chair
Thekkady Central Bus Stand > Nedumkandum Central Bus Stand | Non-AC Chair
Nedumkandum Central Bus Stand > Poopara Central Bus Stand | Non-AC Chair
Poopara Central Bus Stand > Munnar Central Bus Stand | Non-AC Chair
State border (between Kerala and Tamil Nadu)
The beautiful cliffs that dive vertically into the turquoise sea beneath, the clean sandy beaches permit gentle frolicking in the pleasantly tempered sea waves licking against the shore.
Direct bus to Varkala, via Trivandrum (Thiruvanathupuram)
I spent some time here to regroup and plan ahead for the next phase of my travels – but there are also many sightseeing opportunities – such as the large temple complex Aman Meenakshi Temple.
Train #16128 GUV Chennai Express
Varkala Siva Giri > Madurai Junction | 3AC with bed
Aman Meenakshi Mandir, large temple complex
Between Madurai and Delhi are many more places to explore: Pondicherry, Chennai, etc.
Train #12641 Tirrukkural Express
Madurai Junction > New Delhi | 3AC with bed
Lucknow is covered with Moghul architecture, the largest of which is the Bara Imambara which houses a complex labyrinthine ventilation system – fun to explore solo, but more practical with a guide.
Train #15910 Avadh Assam Express
New Delhi > Lucknow Junction | 3AC with bed
One of the most inexpensive cities in India, this place is a seething mass of manual labourers. Also, one of the cheapest places in India to fly international into Asia – the airport is pretty nice, too.
Train #13050 ASR HWH Express
Lucknow Junction > Howrah Junction | 3AC with bed