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The Kalka Shimla Railway

A journey by the Kalka-Shimla rail recreates the old world charm associated with journeys on mountain railways. This track still has all the grace and aura of an age when people traveled in leisure and savored every moment of it.

Like smoke wafting lazily from a candle, chugs the Kalka-Shimla train. The mist, held by the hills and pines, lowers itself in welcome to the travelers. Its freshness bring alive the sensations hitherto forgotten and buried under the fast pace of city life.

It was a newspaper correspondent who conceived the idea of a railway line here in November 1847. A passionate plea in the Delhi Gazette by this journalist advocated the provision of a railway line to Shimla. He wrote, "we may then see these cooler regions become the permanent seat of a government daily invigorated by a temperature adapted to refresh an European constitution, and keep the mental power in a state of health, alike beneficial of rulers and the ruled".

However, years were to pass before the construction of this railway line. The first surveys were conducted in 1884 and 1885 and the report submitted in 1887. Finally, a contract was signed on June 29, 1898 between the Secretary of State and the Delhi-Ambala-Kalka Railway Company for building and running a line on a 0.79248 m gauge. The expense was colossal, the company faced a severe financial crisis, and the line was finally purchased by the government in 1906.

As the track was stone ballasted, the bosom of the highly irregular Shivalik hills was parted by a 96-kilometer railway line on November 9, 1903. Three years of labor by dedicated engineers and laborers was put in to achieve this astounding feat. The hill track passes over 864 bridges, under 102 tunnels and around 900 sharp curves.

There are about seven coaches to accommodate about 200 passengers per trip. The extremities of weather do not dislodge the determination of the 700 horsepower B-B type diesel engines. They run to the call of duty in temperatures ranging from zero to 45°C and in snow, which averages two feet during winter, not to mention the annual rainfall of 200-250 centimeters received by the hills. The average speed of 25-30 kmph ensures that the word 'hurry' is removed from the psyche.

If one wishes to enjoy the beauty of nature in exclusivity, then the best thing to do is travel in the Rail Motor Car. There are four of them of which three date to 1927 and the fourth to 1930. A group of 18 can be accommodated in this vintage locomotive. The original White & Pope petrol engines fitted by Drewery Car Company Ltd., London, were replaced during the Second World War, as petrol was scarce. The Americans later supplied the diesel engines for the car from General Motors.

The track rises from Kalka at 640 meters to the cool climes of Shimla at 2,060 meters. A journey from Kalka to Shimla is simply out of this world. The toy train winds its way slowly through the hills up to the alpine reaches of the lower Himalayas. At the foothills one gets a breathtaking view of the Kushalya River and the tiny stations on the way-Koti, Barog, Kanoh that are characterized by neat gardens and gabled roofs. The passage through the Koti tunnel makes one hunt for a coat and the chilly air jabs him the moment one hits Jabli, 1,240 meters above sea level.

Three picturesque loops near Taksal, Gumman and Dharampur offer superb views for photo enthusiasts. The ascent is steady and each coach seems to have a chuckle under its wheels as the train huffs and puffs its way across green meadows, fields of capsicum, and red roofed chalets.

As the train meanders on, nature unrolls its bounty with gurgling brooks flowing down mountains, passing under stone bridges. The train chugs on through Kumarhatti then enters the Barog tunnel, which is 1,144 meter long. This tunnel crosses the Panchmunda ridge about 900 feet below the road. At Barog, it is mealtime on the morning trip. Though the English firm of Spencers, which built the restaurant at Barog, is no longer there, it still has the aura of the old times of the British Raj. From Barog to Kandaghat, the train runs downhill past the beautiful and quaint retreats of Solan and Saloghra. The final climb begins at Kandaghat and takes one through a lush forest of oak and rhododendron.

Past Taradevi, the train takes its way under Prospect Hill to Jutogh, winding its way till it pauses at Summer Hill. The prospects of a fulsome holiday lift the spirits of each traveler. Finally, it burrows under Inverarm Hill to emerge at Shimla where the bounties of nature await its passengers.

Special Trains in India