I missed my very first Toy Train ride from Kathleeghat station by a whisker. The chugging toy train slowly curved its way, leaving me awestruck. I became impatient as it was my only chance to board the toy train to experience the ride. Without wasting time, the car was speeding high on that twisting road to catch the train at the next station. I felt as if I was running against time. The moment I reached the Shoghi Mandi (market), I was guided to take a shorter route that required me to run on those steep stairs. It was the fastest I could run breathlessly. And I made it just on time. A few seconds later, the chugs of the train dominated the surrounding and halted for barely five minutes at Shoghi station.
I literally tried not to jump in joy seeing the train but in vain. The childlike excitement had just outdone my whole poised persona and I could not stop smiling from there on. As the train left the station, I surrendered myself to the old world charm.
The whistle of the train, each sharp turn, the winding route through many tunnels, bridges, stations and the eye-arresting panoramic views of the Shivalik range, made it one of the great Indian railway journeys.
How it all started?
It was 1903, in the month of November; the very first Kalka Shimla Toy Train chugged its way up the hills with the viceroy, Lord Curzon, on board from Kalka station, negotiating the curviest single track to reach the summer capital of the British Raj named Shimla. The locomotive steam engine called the ‘Hill Puffer’ was used then to run this exceptional mountain railway that made it easy to connect the plains to the high ridge destinations for the British. With 109 tunnels, 969 bridges, 919 curves and crossing 20 railway stations, the Kalka Shimla Toy Train pulled into Shimla Station after seven hours. The train covered 96 kilometers and had climbed more than 4,800 feet. The first station it passed through was Dharampur.
While traveling in the most scenic mountain railway, I was wondering about the tedious work schedule of the workers and the masterpiece of engineering to develop the railway track in the most difficult terrain. Even after 114 years, the railway staff is using something called Neal’s Token Instrument System, which is used to establish communication between stations. I was amazed to see the dedication of the railway workers to maintain the tracks and keep the stations clean.
The blue and white painted gothic architecture, the tiny yet outstanding beautiful stations take you back to the old British Days in India. The well-maintained stations with the red roof, wooden porches, and the old clock, those painted blue colors, and comfortable wooden benches made me offer my gratitude towards The British Raj for bringing railways to India.
About Barog Station
One of my favorite railway stations on this route is the famous Barog Station in Solan district of Himachal Pradesh. This is by far the prettiest station I have ever visited. The Barog station is exceptional, unlike the regular Indian railway station. It is quiet, non-chaotic, non-crowded and clean. The blue and white colored postcard station with the green backdrop paints a picture perfect postcard for you.
Apart from the owner of the tea stall and a few workers, I could not find anyone in the station as just five minutes back the train had left the station and another was scheduled after one and half hours. I was spellbound.
Located at a height of 5,120 ft. the Barog has the longest tunnel on the Kalka Shimla route. With the speed of 25 km per hour, the Toy Train takes 2.5 minutes to cross this tunnel to reach the Barog Station. It is said to be the straightest tunnel in the world. There are many folklores and stories associated with this station.
The Story of Barog Station
The number 33 tunnel has a great significance in the history of Kalka Shimla railway. The tragic end of the tunnel engineer Colonel Barog, after whom the place and the station were named, was assigned the work of the tunnel. Based on his calculation, he ordered the workers to drill the mountain from both sides to meet at the center to construct the tunnel.
The workers kept drilling from both the sides in a hope to meet at the center to complete the tunnel, but unfortunately, his calculation had gone wrong and both sides of the tunnel never met. Realising the failure of his calculation, he went into depression. On top of it, The British Government fined him INR 1 for causing a loss to the Royal treasure and wasting government resources. He could not take the humiliation and the failure of the project. One day during his morning walk near the unfinished tunnel he shot himself. The tragic end of Colonel Barog still echoes his self-respect. It is claimed to be one of the haunted tunnels on the route by the locals. Later the project was reassigned to Chief Engineer H.S. Harrington, who completed the tunnel in 1903. The folklore says that he took the help of Baba Bhalku, a local saint from Chail, who apparently possessed natural engineering skills. It took three years to align the two ends of the tunnel and it finally got completed in 1903.
However, the six-hour journey on the curviest route, encircled by the pine and oak trees is one of most scenic train rides in India. Crossing the tiny hill stations, the toy train runs on the tiniest gauge track, carrying passengers from the plains to the hills, giving a taste of the lifestyle of British Raj in India.
Popping my head out of that small window, I was enjoying those endless spins in the hills. The hide and seek of the sunrays, flickering through the branches of the trees and playful winds, I was romancing with nature unapologetically. It was one of my most defining experiences to date.
- Kalka Shimla Toy Train made its maiden journey in 1903 in the month of November with the viceroy, Lord Curzon on board.
- The distance the train covers is 96 km.
- It takes more than six hours to reach Shimla from Kalka Station.
- The train runs on the thinnest gauge track (762mm), which is considered to be an engineering masterpiece.
- The journey covers 109 tunnels, 969 bridges, 919 curves and crossing 20 railway stations.
- The Barog tunnel is the longest tunnel on this route and is said to be the straightest tunnel in the world.
- The Kalka Shimla Toy Railway was declared UNESCO World Heritage Site Mountain Railways of India on 8th July 2008.
- The locomotive steam engine was used to carry seven coaches till 1971 when the Diesel Engine was introduced.
- The age-old “Neals Token Instrument System” is still in use to establish communication between stations.
Kalka Shimla Train Services
There are three main tourist train services that run from Kalka to Shimla on the same route.
Shivalik Deluxe Express
Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
This is a premium express train, mainly designed for the tourists. It has a wide glass window, cushioned comfortable seats. This train can accommodate only 120 passengers. Interestingly, this train does not have any stop on this route.
Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
This is a standard train, used mainly by the locals for their daily transportation. It stops at various stations. If you are someone who loves to get down to stations and explore the area, this train is a good option on this route.
Rail Motor Car
Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
This is one train which uniquely resembles a bus from the Second World War time. It stops only at one station and that is Barog. It has a transparent roof and only carries 14 passengers. This is another express railway.
Train: The most convenient way to reach Kalka is to take a morning Shatabdi Express from Delhi to Kalka. The journey will take four hours in total. There are several trains available from Delhi to Kalka.
Air: The fastest way to reach Kalka is to take a flight from Delhi to Chandigarh and from there, one can hire a private cab to reach Kalka.
Car: You can also opt for a private cab to enjoy the road drive from Delhi to Kalka. The drive will cover 257.7 km via NH 44.
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