The tracks to Shimla
The start of our summer vacation in Himachal Pradesh: Plane to Delhi, train to Chandigarh, and it was now time for a train (special one, though) to Shimla.
Off we headed from a hotel in Chandigarh to Kalka station. The auto zoomed (a bit shakily) on the Chandigarh-Shimla highway toward Kalka, often overtaken by flashy cars. We held on tight until our route turned off the highway and onto the narrower road to Kalka. The auto almost crawled along the narrow crowded streets in Kalka before reaching the sought-after destination, the railway station. Inside, we were greeted by a host of locomotives. The sight of the narrow gauge railway was Junior’s cue for action. Every railway car, every train was examined and admired.
Sights to Behold. At Kalka Railway Station, Kalka, India
It’s all about the journey, honey!
Our train had now arrived and we were ready to board. We settled down by the windows, eager and ready to experience the Kalka-Shimla mountain railway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Families with excited kids and parents, couples on a romantic holiday, locals heading from one town to another – everyone was looking forward to the journey.
In addition to the regular train, a rail motor car and heritage coaches also run along the route. We had chosen to travel by the Himalayan Queen, which takes a little over 5 hours to reach Shimla.
The Himalayan Queen chugged out of Kalka and maintained a leisurely pace throughout the journey, as we ascended from the plains to the mountains.
From the Plains to the Mountains. Kalka-Shimla Railway, India
Along the way, we halted at small, bright stations, where beautiful flowers peeped out of blue cabins.
Bright Blue. At Barog Station, Kalka-Shimla Railway, Himachal Pradesh, India
Passengers often alighted at the stations to capture pictures of the beautiful settings (and to click countless selfies!).
Stepping Out for a Photo-op. Kalka-Shimla Railway, Himachal Pradesh, India
Some folks even walked alongside the train as it pulled out of a station, before casually boarding it on the go. I wasn’t quite comfortable at the sight of this reckless behavior.
Too Close For Comfort. Kalka-Shimla Railway, Himachal Pradesh, India
Well, putting the agitation aside, I looked out the window. The landscape began with dry vegetation in the plains and then gave way to tall green conifers as the altitude increased. Some traces of the forest fires from the previous week still remained. Some smoke, some embers, some sadness…
Outside the Window. Kalka-Shimla Railway, Himachal Pradesh, India
We noted station names - Taksal, Gumman, Dharampur, Kumarhatti Dagshai, Solan, Barog, Jatogh, … Hamlets in the hills, with the prettiest of homes, sloping roofs, and scenic surroundings. At Solan, a family rushed into our coach. They had missed the train at Kalka and had hurried to Solan by taxi to catch up with the ride. Their initial anxiety and fatigue soon gave way to excitement as the train moved on.
We counted every tunnel (they are numbered, so even if you forget the count, there’s always a reminder!), peered at every bridge.
Tunnels galore. Kalka-Shimla Railway, Himachal Pradesh, India
While the longest tunnel at Barog was a much-awaited attraction, the multi-arch stone bridges did not escape our attention. Bridges, viaducts, tunnels, and a rail journey up the mountains - what more could you ask for?
The loooong Barog Tunnel. Kalka-Shimla Railway, Himachal Pradesh, India
Count the Arches. Kalka-Shimla Railway, Himachal Pradesh, India
Sharp bends in the track allowed us to look out at the engine and other coaches along the curve. So much fun! At times, the Chandigarh-Shimla highway passed alongside the tracks, at other times, we crossed paths (and the cars had to wait for the train, giving us a chance to smile smugly).
Curves. Kalka-Shimla Railway, Himachal Pradesh, India
The Kalka-Shimla narrow-gauge railway is a UNESCO World Heritage site, built by the British over a century ago. It has over 100 tunnels, around 800 bridges and viaducts, and offers picturesque views of the hills, valleys and hillside towns. Almost 5-6 hours later (was it time already?), the quaint station of Summer Hill was outside our window. We realized that Shimla was around the corner.
Towns in the Mountains. Kalka-Shimla Railway, Himachal Pradesh, India
Summer Hill Station. Kalka-Shimla Railway, Himachal Pradesh, India
Soon the sights of Shimla were visible and we pulled into the destination.
The end of this journey, but the beginning of another one.
Rewards on Journeys. Kalka-Shimla Railway, Himachal Pradesh, India
Planning a trip to Shimla? Or elsewhere in Himachal Pradesh? Do consider taking the train on the narrow-gauge railway from Kalka to Shimla. En route, you can sit back and enjoy the gradual ascent from the plains to the mountains, gaze at the changing scenery outside the window (different shades of green), admire the vibrant flowers blooming at every little station, and revel in “slow” travel.
Useful Tips: - Several trains operate on the Kalka-Shimla route. Bookings can be made through the website of the Indian Railways. Options such as luxury coaches are also available (http://www.indianrailways.gov.in/railwayboard/uploads/directorate/tourism/special_kalka.html). We opted for the day train, Himalayan Queen. - Overnight stay options in Zirakpur (Chandigarh) are convenient. Autos available from Zirakpur (Chandigarh) to Kalka railway station.