Published: April 14th 2012April 6th 2012
KALKA TO SHIMLA ON THE NARROW GUAGE RAILWAY, HIMACHAL PRADESH, INDIA. Friday 6 April, 2012.
We were up early and collected by Mr Barun who took us to Delhi railway station. We were travelling light again with only a backpack each. Mr Barun negotiated with a youth to take us to the platform and get us on the train. We could have done this ourselves but the deal had already been struck.
We travelled first class to Kalka where there was a guy waiting for us. He showed us to the correct platform where the train was waiting and found our carriage and seats on the narrow guage train (known locally is the 'toy train') to Shimla. We were booked on the Himalayan Queen. Our seats were already occupied by an obese Indian teenager. She moved to her correct seat (opposite)and we squeezed ourselves onto the seat which was meant for two but really only wide enough for 1 and a half people. Our knees were going to be doing battle with the now two large Indian teenagers opposite for the duration of the 5 hour 10 minutes trip.
Shimla is the capital of Himachal province. It is
India's largest and most famous Hill Station where much of the action in Rudyard Kipling's colonial classic Kim took place. Located in the Himalayan mountains, Shimla is the town where the British used to go to escape the burning heat of the summer down on the plains.
Before the construction of the railway the only way to get to the Shimla Hill Station was on the 'Cart Road' - a track trodden by porters and horse drawn carts. The 96 km narrow guage line was completed in 1903. We had seen it on Michael Palin's Himalaya program on the TV and M's aunts and uncles had done the trip fairly recently and had recommended it.
According to the Rough Guide the line has 103 tunnels, 24 bridges and 18 stations. We have since learned that this is incorrect. - there are only 102 tunnels. Number 46 which was the Solan Brewery is no longer there - the figure has been kept as a mark of tradition as there were originally 103 tunnels when the line was built in 1903.
Our train had no first class carriages so we had to endure the long journey second class. The
train was hauled along by a small diesel locomotive. It rattled along at barely more than jogging pace through stunning scenery. The first hour was quite a steep climb, the rest of the journey was less steep, following the contours of the Himalayan foothills.
The train did not stop at all 18 stations. The guard would change carriages at the stations in order to check the tickets. At Dharampur Station we stopped for a good 10 minutes to allow the passengers to alight and purchase food and drinks from the hawker stalls on the platform. We saw the guards and drivers exchanging small leather pouches. These pouches contain brass discs which the train drivers slot into special machines to alert the signals ahead of their approach. 'Neal's Token System' which has been used since the line started is a fail-safe method of ensuring that trains travelling in opposite directions never meet on the single track sections of the railway. D got off at Kandaghat Station (1432 metres above sea level) and had a stroll around the stalls until the horn sounded for everyone to get back on.
We were very pleased to arrive at Shimla some 10 minutes
early. The ride, although interesting for the first hour, had been extremely uncomfortable. The Indian teenagers hadn't stopped eating for the entire duration of the journey and their mothers had intermittently broken into song throughout the trip.
We were collected by the local agent who we dropped off in town and continued on with the driver who drove us the 30 minutes or so to Wildflower Hall. This would have been fine if we were staying at Wildflower Hall - but we weren't. Our hotel was called the Woodville Palace. Before our luggage could be whisked away by the waiting porters D got out the paperwork and flashed it at the driver. We turned around and drove 30 minutes back into Shimla to the correct hotel which was only 2.5 km out of the town! Still we had a free hour long tour of the hillside out of Shimla.
We eventually arrived at the correct hotel which is a 1930's mansion on the west side of town. Our room was huge with period furniture. Part of the hotel is private and still occupied by members of Shimla's Royal Famiy. The hotel is situated in lovely lawned gardens complete
with garden cafe (which was closed) and a badminton court.
There are more photos below