Indian railways might not be as slick as the Swiss, but they are almost as extensive and equally exhilarating. The times of people crammed into cattle class, hanging off the roof and all round manic mayhem have long gone, although mayhem does still kick in from time to time. You can book in advance, there is air con, they are great value, the views are priceless and the banter is brilliant. This route that goes through the southern most states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu is one of our favourites. On a 19-day trip, starting in Cochin, Kerala, and after a couple of days chilling on a houseboat on the backwaters, you head to Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu by train, a busy seaside resort. Head out to its islands for a taste of what makes this coastal mecca so special. Ghandi loved it so much, his ashes were brought here. Heading north, inland, you get to Madurai by train, one of the oldest cities in the world. Famous for its Dravidian style temples, Madurai is a point of pilgrimage for India’s Hindu population. Back on the train to Tiruchirappalli, or Trichy for short, for more temples and cultural gems. Another highlight is the train journey from Tanjore to Pondicherry where you can enjoy the much lesser known coastal areas of Tamil Nadu and then by car transfer to Mahabalipuram, where coastal cultural heritage glimmers gorgeously. One of the final flings of this railway extravaganza is from Chennai to Mettupalayam on the overnight Nilgiri Express into a whole other world of colonial India. With tea plantation towns and the mountain steam trains that linked them, known as toy trains, which you can take to Coonoor. Ending back in Cochin by train, this is one of the most spectacular ways to take in southern India.