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Shimla to Kalka


Part of the attraction of reaching Shimla was in the leaving it. The Brits had very quickly tired of the arduous journey up from the plain and so another mountain railway was ambitiously built to serve it, a narrow gauge engineering marvel now dubbed the Viceroy's Toy Train. In order to make the most of the experience, I wanted to make it a daytime departure but that would mean catching the 1425 train with still plenty to try to fit into the preceding morning. It was a long hoof out past spectacular colonial carbuncles such as the ostentatious Railway Board Building and the now sadly facelifted and revamped venerable old Cecil Hotel, along pleasant alpine roads to the State Museum of Himachal Pradesh.


Pahari miniature paintings similar to those I had seen in Lahore Fort. Buddhist carvings and bronze statues, ornate wood carvings, scary wooden face masks, excellent bronze miniature statuettes and face masks, Ladakh jewellry, 17th century copper plates of written pacts made between Rajas, swords, daggers, 2 shoulder held cannon that would have probably dislocated them! Photos of Gandhi in Shimla, this is where a lot of the pre-partition negotiations were held, copies of letters written by him too.

After that I took a walk further west in the now drizzly rain to the Institute of Advanced Studies, a fantastic Elizabethan style palace on a par with any English stately home, which as the Viceregal Lodge had previously served as the seat of the British government of all India during the summer months. Sods law once again applied however, I had hit it just at the start of the hour long lunch break closure and out of time I had to make do with a fleeting glance of the grandness I had seen earlier on approach to the town. True to form, after legging it to the far reach of town to grab my bag it was a mad dash back the way to the train station where the moment I stepped aboard it started to pull away. I'd had to forego the posh coffee shop on The Mall I'd promised myself and wondered whether I was being ruthlessly efficient in my schedule or just pushing my luck.

The Toy Train was a dinky affair, seemingly a standard style diesel loco reduced in scale, it pulled half a dozen carriages maybe only 10 feet wide on a narrow gauge of just 2 foot 6". Also known as the DUK Railway as it was built by the Delhi-Umballa-Kalka company, it descended from 2076 metres to just 655, with a 100 metre climb halfway along. It steadily snaked its way through the alpine forest, negotiating over 800 bridges, 100 tunnels and tiny stations where nobody seemed to get on. By the time we had reached diminutive Shoghi the weather had turned from drizzly to even worse, perversely as we descended through the cloud layers there was more of the stuff to fall on us. At nearly 6 hours to cover the 103Ks to Kalka it wasnt exactly an express, but allowed a handy connection with the main line to Delhi. After a few hours in unremarkable Kalka where a beer shop was as much as could be hoped for, another night train would get me there at dawn. It was chucking it down in Kalka and all through the night, another cold blanketless night meant I was glad to be heading straight South. It had been mad to be still cold in India of all places. A boy jumped as he first clocked the mice scurrying about the carriage, I had done so too, but it was remarkably unoccupied for India I mused, I had expected a throng of folk. Approaching Delhi, it felt like I was entering ambush country such was its reputation for touts and scams.

Posted by andyhay 00:00 Archived in India

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