When we think of travelling in a train, what we often picture is chai served in mud glasses, fried fritters with newspaper packaging, and the wind in our hair. For some, these symbols evoke childhood memories of visiting a grandmother’s house. For most, they are a fond reminder of simpler times. Be it the Mumbai local or the cross-country Shatabdi, we Indians have always romanticised train journeys. This charming affair is also reflected in the mainstream cinema and literature of the ’80s and ’90s. Time and time again, we have cheered as lovers are reunited on a moving train in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995), just as we have sobbed after turning the last page of Khushwant Singh’s Train to Pakistan.
But the romance of the Indian Railways has not been able to keep up with the growth of the civil aviation industry in the last couple of decades. Our modern, fast paced lives are far better suited to convenient and affordable air travel. Be that as it may, there are always reasons to go back to the nostalgia of locomotives chugging through beautiful landscapes and letting us enjoy travel at a gentler pace.
In an effort to promote railway tourism, the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) has recently introduced the all-new Vistadome coaches in 45 trains. With a 360-degree visibility of the surroundings and a host of other swanky features, these coaches are redefining local train travel in India.
What to expect
There are few visual experiences that beat peeking out of a train window in an uninterrupted whiz of scenic views. Equipped with a transparent roof, huge glass windows, and an observation lounge for sightseeing, the air-conditioned Vistadome coaches offer a magnificent sensory upgrade. You can enjoy the spectacular sights of the evergreen forests in the Western Ghats, tea orchards in North Bengal, or the snow-capped mountains in Shimla.
The rotating, reclining seats promise top-notch comfort formerly unimaginable in the hustle-bustle of Indian trains. The coaches also give you access to a digital entertainment system with multiple TV screens and WiFi – although we doubt you’d care to use it in the presence of such picturesque views.
First introduced in 2018 in the Mumbai-Madgaon Janshatabdi Express, the Vistadome coaches quickly became a tourist-favourite. In 2021, between the months of October and December, Central Railway officials recorded 20,407 passengers in Vistadome coaches all over the country. If you’re eager to check it out for yourself, we’ve curated a list of the five most scenic Vistadome routes across the country.
Mumbai to Goa
With over 2,000 bridges, 92 tunnels, and a handful of waterfalls in the monsoon, Mumbai to Goa via railway is a hugely memorable experience. The newly introduced Vistadome coaches let you immerse yourself in the lush beauty of these surroundings, from up close. The abundant greenery of the Western Ghats and the rustic landscape of the Konkan region will keep you company on this eleven-hour journey.
Naharlagun to Guwahati
Running thrice a week, the train from Naharlagun to Guwahati covers a distance of 343 km, stopping at seven stations along the way. Sit back and watch as the foothills of the Himalayas slowly give way to the pristine waters of the Brahmaputra river. Vistadome coaches were introduced to this and other routes in the North-East to attract more tourists to the region.
Visakhapatnam to Kirandul
Known originally for the transportation of iron ore from the mines of Chhattisgarh to the Visakhapatnam port, this route gives you a taste of the striking scenery of Araku Valley. It takes you over bridges and under waterfalls, through tunnels as long as 520 metres and above the million-year-old Borra caves.
Kalka to Shimla
The century-old Kalka-Shimla rail track was added to the Mountain Railways of India World Heritage Site in 2008 by UNESCO – so breathtaking is its mountainous route. Fondly referred to as ‘toy trains’, the narrow-gauge trains on this track have been a tourist magnet for years. The Him Darshan Express was launched in December 2019, featuring six superior Vistadome coaches for an elevated experience.
Yeshwantpur to Mangalore
If you’re travelling from Bangalore to Mangalore, consider boarding a Vistadome train from Yeshwantpur instead of the city’s main station. The weekly train takes you past the endless greenery of the Western Ghats. It makes a short stop at Siribagilu station to allow the passengers to soak in the views from the very top of the Brahmagiri range.
How to book
The IRCTC has put out clear instructions for Vistadome bookings. You can either visit a PRS centre or book your tickets online. For the latter, log into IRCTC’s website and fill out the necessary details of your journey. Under class, select ‘Exec. chair car (EC)’ or ‘AC Chair car (CC)’ from the drop-down menu and complete your booking.