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Posted on April 16, 2016
Shimla, one of the most famous hill towns of India, is a relatively easy journey from where we’ve been riding on the Hola Mohalla ride, so everyone on the exploratory ride takes the opportunity to visit. And also to ride the world famous “toy train” which runs from Kalka (just two hours’ drive from Anandpur Sahib) to Shimla.
Shimla is famous as the former summer capital of the British Raj. From the 1860’s the Viceroy of India would move the entire administration between Calcutta and Shimla, a journey of some 1000 miles! And all to get away from the heat on the plains. As I write this (in mid April) India is in the midst of a heat wave with temperatures in Kolkata (Calcutta) reaching 40C while the temperature in Shimla is 20C. It’s easy to see why the journey would be made.
And also easy to appreciate what an amazing difference the train must have made. This marvel of engineering was opened in November 1903. Some facts: it is 96kms long, goes through 102 tunnels and over 886 bridges and climbs from Kalka at 655m to Shimla at 2,100m.
It doesn’t travel very fast (25kms/hr) and there is plenty of opportunity to watch the world go by.
Some of the stations we pass through – at others we stop and get off to stretch our legs or buy tea.
It’s a single gauge railway and there is a clever system to make sure there is only ever one train on the line. As we pass through a station the train driver collects a token which is held in a ball within a circular frame. If there is already a train on the section ahead, then we have to wait until the train arrives and we get our token. At other stations, we continue moving along and our driver simply throws one frame out of his window and collects another from the guardsman standing on the platform.
There are a number of different types of train on the route. As a group of 12, we are in a private Motorail car – a 14 seater carriage which runs by it’s own diesel engine – formerly the Viceroy’s mode of transport.
There are many highlights – Bridge 541 is the highest arch gallery bridge in the Indian railway. It has a total of 34 arches in a four storey construction.
After a relaxing and fascinating journey we see Shimla in the distance – a sprawling town stuck onto the hillside although in fact, it’s almost another hour until we arrive into the station.
We take the train in both ways to Shimla and back again and I enjoyed it very much. But it is a slow journey (between four and five hours), and so, with the benefit of hindsight, I would probably suggest taking the train journey into Shimla and coming back to Kalka by car (car is about 3.5 hours).
We are in Shimla for the Holi festival and that is another story again.
You can read all the posts from the Hola Mohalla trip by clicking on the links below:
We do hope to do it all again next year, with only a few modifications to the itinerary. For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.inthesaddle.com