American novelist Paul Theroux, who wrote the popular 1975 travelogue The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Through Asia, had famously said: “I have seldom heard a train go by and not wished I was on it.” The difference between train journeys and air travel lies in the pace and perspective. While trains make you feel grounded and part of the story, flights offer you an objective bird’s eye view. That way, trains (provided they are safe and comfortable) are often preferred by travellers across the world, at least for shorter distances, compared to airplanes. Here are a few rail routes that may be worth exploring:
Glacier Express, Switzerland
The resort town of St Moritz can be reached in just three hours from the bustling metropolis of Zurich, on a Unesco world heritage train. While the part from Zurich to Chur on a Swiss railways train is scenic enough, what will blow you away is the next phase — from Chur to the Engadin valley aboard Glacier Express. Passing through Tiefencastel, with its helical tunnels and high viaducts — this is arguably one of the most scenic routes in Europe. In July 2008, Unesco’s World Heritage Committee added this line to its list of World Heritage sites, judging it to be of “outstanding universal value”. A one-way journey on Glacier Express from Chur to Moritz will cost you around Rs 3,000.
The Danube Express, Hungary
“The great trains are going out all over Europe,” wrote Ian Fleming in From Russia with Love (1957). To get intimate with the old-fashioned charms of Middle Europe, the plush private hotel train, The Danube Express, is a good option. It offers comfortable coaches, private suites and fine dining, hosting merely 65 passengers at a time. Destinations covered include Prague, Vienna, Berlin, Belgrade, Sarajevo, and Trieste. While the inaugural run in September 2008 was from Berlin to Budapest, the Express now operates more frequently from Budapest to Istanbul. An all-inclusive three-day trip costs around Rs 2.5 lakh.
Palace on wheels, India
Voted the fourth most luxurious train in the world in 2010, the Palace on Wheels starts from Delhi, taking passengers on a week-long ride to Jaipur, Udaipur, Bharatpur, and Agra. The super expensive luxury train was relaunched in August 2009 with a new decor, itinerary and cuisine. Its concept can be traced to the royal background of the coaches, that were originally meant to be the personal railway coaches of the erstwhile rulers of the princely states. Prepare for stunning, diverse views of more than a thousand-odd kilometres of terrain, though a huge part of the experience lies inside. The interiors of the coaches are a nod to all the princely states. Earlier this week, Palace on Wheels started its first trip of the season, with not many on board, though. What prohibits many from taking the trip is the cost, which starts at Rs 50,000 for a single ticket, and goes up to Rs 7 lakh for the entire itinerary. May be some lessons from the Danube Express could help.