Relive old world charm of Kalka Shimla toy train
For the kids as well as for me, the day started with a lot of excitement. I have been to Shimla a few times as a child but always by road. Hence, I was excited to tick off one from my to-do list – Relive old world charm of Kalka Shimla toy train ! A lot of planning went into securing seats for the train. Railway booking opens only 2 months before the travel date and the seats gets booked real fast. Given our uncertainty at work, I enlisted the help of an agent to ensure we got the tickets ! Yes – I was that desperate :).
So, you can imagine my excitement as we got into the cab towards our destination, Kalka Railway Station. Enroute I saw a fort like structure and the curious me wanted to know more.
The driver informed me that I was looking at Pinjore Garden and the interesting story about how a local king drove the Mughals away from the area. The city of Pinjore is also known as City of Pandavas. They stayed here for a while during their exile and apparently dug some Baoris (water wells) which are still a source of water. It is said that there are about 365 Baoris in Pinjore! I wish I had time to explore this but I had a train to catch!
We reached Kalka Station well in time with a couple of hours to spare. Not one to miss out an opportunity to see something new, we headed to the Kali Mata Temple. Incidentally, the town takes its name from the ruling deity – Kalika mata.
Kali Mata Temple
The temple of the Hindu goddess Kali is within Kalka town and an 8 minute auto ride from the station. This ancient temple is believed to be built during the Mahabharata time by the Pandavas when they stayed in this area during “Agyat Vas” (staying incognito)! This is also one of the oldest Kali temple in India. You get a feel of the ancientness of the place and the serene calm of the temple stays with you for long.
My journey to relive old world charm of Kalka Shimla toy train
Finally, we were back to the starting point of the UNESCO World Heritage site of Mountain Railways of India – The Kalka railway Station.
Historical facts of the Kalka-Shimla Railway
This narrow-gauge railway line was built in 1898 to connect Shimla, the summer capital of India during the British time. Lord Curzon, the Viceroy of India, inaugurated it in 1903 and was one of the first passengers as the train started its maiden journey towards Shimla. Originally, 107 tunnels were constructed out of which only 102 tunnels remain in use today. The line goes through 20 railway stations and has 864 bridges and 919 curves, the sharpest being 48 degrees. The train climbs 4660 ft during this 96 km journey!
Kicking off the toy train Journey from the Kalka Railway Station
Our journey started with a lot of clapping in the coach! We rode the Himalayan Queen which would cover the journey in 5 hours and 20 mins. The excitement in the coach was palpable.
The coach had a mix of Indian and Western tourists. We were all well prepared with food and drinks, for which I was thankful. While we could buy food at the Kalka station, we were not sure of the stoppage time and food availability at other stations.
As the town gave way to the charm of the Shivalik ranges, the view quickly changed from civilization to the dense forests of pine and deodar.
The whistle of the train, the numerous curves and bridges, the darkness of the tunnels and the joyful shrieks within its darkness, the riot of colors of flowers growing in the wild, the stopping at various railway stations all took me back to the charm of unhurried life.
Some of these stations along the route are located next to bridges, rising like Roman aqueducts from deep ravines. Some of them have as many as four storeys.
The tunnels that come at regular intervals between the stations are illuminated by sunlight which is reflected in by mirrors.
I sent a silent thank you to the British for introducing this to us and enabling me relive old world charm of Kalka Shimla toy train. Was it a coincidence that I made friends with a British couple, from the Isle of Wight on the train?
The Barog Station
This quaint station took my breath away. I was yet to see a station this neat and picturesque as this old-worldly blue and white gothic station with its red roofs and wooden porches. The train stops here for a good amount of time, giving all of us in the train an opportunity to explore it on foot. Interestingly, the station was devoid of travelers and we were the only ones there.
Tunnel no 33 (The Barog Tunnel) is the straightest tunnel in the world. The Barog Tunnel, at a length of 1143.61 m, is the longest tunnel on the Kalka Shimla Railway route. At a speed of 25 kilometers per hour, trains take about 2.5 minutes to cross the tunnel.
Legend surrounding the Kalka-Shimla Railway
Colonel Barog, a British railway engineer, was in-charge of Tunnel No 33. He employed the technique of boring the tunnel from both (opposite) ends of the mountain to speed up construction. Unfortunately, he miscalculated and was fined Rs 1 by the British govt. Also, the miners were not happy about their effort going waste. All this amounted to him ending his life with a shot gun. Locals believe his friendly ghost has been seen near the abandoned tunnel (about 1 kilometer away from the current operational tunnel) and is known to chat up visitors!
This tunnel could not be completed without the guidance of Baba Bhalku, a local saint from Jhaja, near Chail. After the death of Colonel Barog, Chief Engineer H.S. Herlington was assigned to bore a new tunnel but he also faced problems in finding proper alignment of the railway track. With the help of Baba Bhalku, he surveyed the mountainous terrain and started work about a kilometer away. Baba possessed natural engineering skills and had helped the British railway engineers to bore other tunnels on the Kalka-Shimla railway track. A railway museum known as Baba Bhalku Rail Museum is present near Shimla Old Bus Stand.
Kalka Shimla Toy Train Service options
Himalayan Queen and Shimla Express
This Chair Car is the connecting train for the Delhi – Kalka Shatabdi train and Delhi Kalka Himalayan Queen. As it is non-AC, it can be hot in summer until you reach Barog. The seats are not as comfortable as the other trains but we thoroughly enjoyed the journey despite the coach being super packed. It stops at about 10 stations and that added to the charm for me! As there are just 6-7 coaches, these get booked almost as soon as booking opens up.
Shivalik Delux Express offers a comfortable and enjoyable ride from Kalka to Shimla, and has plush seats, carpets and large windows . Total fare includes a bottle of water, breakfast and tea. The train has a single stop at the picturesque Barog Station. Shivalik Deluxe Express is the official connecting train to Howrah – Kalka Mail (via Delhi) and can get delayed if Howrah Mail is running late
Rail Motor Car
A single, self-powered carriage seating just 14 people has glass ceilings offering panoramic views of the Shivalik range. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Indira Gandhi had traveled in the Rail Car during the historic meeting that led to Shimla Agreement! The train has a single stop at the picturesque Barog Station. This is a connecting train to Howrah-Kalka Express and can get delayed in Howrah Express is running late
Visiting Shimla is equal parts of both – journey and destination. Chug back in time on the narrow-gauge Kalka Shimla Railway, one of three Indian lines on the World Heritage List. Kalka Shimla Toy Train made its maiden journey in 1903 in the month of November with the Viceroy Lord Curzon on board. To reach Shimla, it takes about 5.5 hours to cover 96 kilometers, crossing 102 tunnels, 864 bridges, 919 curves and crossing 20 railway stations. The Kalka Shimla Toy Railway was declared UNESCO World Heritage Site Mountain Railways of India on 8th July 2008. You will explore the Gothic Barog Station and learn about the legend connected to the famous Tunnel Number 33. Oh, and enjoy the glorious views as the toy train clings to sheer mountain sides and weaves leisurely through dense forests of pine and deodar. Have you had the opportunity to relive old world charm of Kalka Shimla toy train ? I would love to hear your experience in the comment’s section !
Things you may want to know before the travel (Travel tips)
- You can book the train tickets for the toy train via IRCTC . Booking opens up 2 months in advance and get booked real quickly as the toy train has limited capacity
- Consider using an agent for assured booking, despite the additional cost
- You must plan an overnight stay and take the train in the morning. Kalka has very few accommodations to choose from. Parwanoo, a few kilometers away from Kalka and Chandigarh are other options to consider
- You should pack your own food as chances of getting some at the stations are iffy
- You must plan to visit in April/May/June or September/October for a clear views of the picturesque Shivalik range
- The best views are on the right side of the train when going to Shimla, and the left side when returning
- If you are looking for the most comfortable experience, travel aboard either the Shivalik Deluxe Express or Rail Motor Car
- You enjoy getting down at the stations and exploring ? Then Himalayan Queen should be your choice
- Common complains about the Himalayan Queen are overcrowding (last minute seat allocations by TT), hard bench seats, not-so-clean toilets and no place for luggage storage
- If you are taking the Himalayan Queen, be prepared to sweat it out until you reach Barog as the train starts post noon and it can get hot
- The auto guy had agreed to wait 30 mins at the Kali maa temple and dropped us back to the station. It is quite walkable at 1.5 kms, if you are not strapped for time
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