Shimla- Kalka Heritage Toy-Train Journey

 (sanjay austa sanjayausta@gmail.)

Romancing on the Toy-Train

All hill stations have attractions that the locals steer clear off. They are left exclusively for the starry eyed tourists to revel in. In Nainital its boating, in Darjeeling its Kanchenjunga -gazing and in Shimla its the Shimla- Kalka toy- train ride.

No Shimla resident goes on    the toy-train.  That’s a journey for the    monkey –capped  Bengalis and foreign tourists to make. If the locals have to get to  Kalka they would rather  drive down or would prefer to hop on to any available public transport.  The toy- train ride is just too much of a touristy thing to do.

Its also a more leisurely thing to do. A journey which normally takes two and a half  hours at medium pace takes more than five hours on the train. But one would expect the slow train journey to be the natural choice of travel for the temperamentally relaxed , laidback  and slow moving Shimlaites.

But apparently the train is a bit too slow even for them. The train is designed not to exceed the maximum speed of 25 kilometers per hour.  Some of the curves are too sharp on the hills for the train to meander safely   at higher speeds.

The train therefore chugs along sluggishly giving enough time for the DSLR wielding tourists to capture the scenery without having to worry about motion blur. The speed is also slow enough for anyone to hop off and on the train if they wanted.  On an earlier journey several years ago, I remember the driver getting down from the moving train and to the raucous cheering of the Bengali tourists chase cows off the railways track,  and having chased , hopped back on.

 (sanjay austa sanjayausta@gmail.)

The Train goes over 864 bridges.


This time when I boarded the train I found myself in a compartment full of foreigners. The other compartments- expect for an odd honeymooning couple and the ubiquitous Bengalis  -were full of them too.

This is just as well. Foreign travellers in India have an uncanny ability to ferret out places of cultural significance much before Indians begin to take note of them. But the Shimla-Kalka train journey hit the international tourist consciousness in a big way in 2008 after UNESCO recognized Shimla-Kalka Railway as a world heritage site.  Anticipating an inspection by the UN body,   the Himachal Pradesh government had declared it as a  heritage site two years before in 2006.

Now the toy-train journey has made it to the must- do list of all prominent  Indian guide books.

The narrow-gauze Shimla- Kalka  railway track was laid down at the start of the 20th century to  first  ferry up the heat harried British residents who had found in Shimla’s cool climes a perfect respite from Delhi’s  sweltering summer.  Laying down this railway track which stretches to 96 kilometers , on the hills was an onerous task but surprisingly it took less than half a  decade to finish. Work began on the track in 1898 and in 1903 it was ready for use.

And in the slow trundle  past  pines,  conifers and rhododendrons,  the Raj nostalgia looms up past the windows.  It is there in the multi-tiered stone bridges -a marvel of British engineering -and it is there in the dark damp tunnels – the darker and longest of them have legends that  remain fresh to this day.   Among them the story of Colonel  Barog, an engineer involved in laying the track, is the most popular. In designing one tunnel he made a miscalculation  that cost him his life.  He ordered digging at both ends but failed to align the bores. For this  blunder he  was fined rupee one by the British government. He felt so humiliated by the public reprimand that he committed suicide. The locals here say you can hear the shrieks of the engineer  in the tunnel at night. The tunnel- the longest at 1143 meters – was named after the engineer.

 (sanjay austa sanjayausta@gmail.)

The train doesn’t  go over 20km per hour

A  total of 103 tunnels were bored into the hills. Today however there are only 102 tunnels after tunnel no 46 was dismantled in 2006. The railway line goes over 864 bridges which are both an architectural  and engineering delight.

The railway line climbs from a modest 656meters at Kalka to an altitude of 2076meters in  Shimla.

Because of their popularity with the tourists,  burgeoning now with the world heritage status, there are at least five trains each day running in either direction. However bookings have to be made  much in advance if you want a confirmed seat.  The train cabins are modest and you can sit anywhere. The best place is however at the doorway. Tourists like to sit  here feet dangling , cheering, clicking, laughing  as if the are not making a  journey but are in a toy-car in an amusement park.  Little wonder then that locals give the toy-train a wide berth.

The Trains:

All train  bookings can be made at website. All trains with the exception of the Himalayan Queen depart from Kalka very early in the mornings.

Kalka Shimla Pass:  4.00 am.

Rail Motor : 5: 10 am.

Shivalik Delux Express- 5: 30

Kalka Shimla Express-6:00

 Himalayan Queen-12.10

 (sanjay austa sanjayausta@gmail.)

You mostly see foreigners on the train and Bengali tourists.

6 Responses to “Shimla- Kalka Heritage Toy-Train Journey”

  1. Tarun Goel says:

    Even the Kangra Toy Train is a mesmerizing ride, especially during ‘this’ time of the year. When the Dhauladhars’ are accumulating snow for long winters.

  2. Rohit Sharma says:

    He he some Shimla resident goes on – Yea the toy train journey is amazing, its ambiance really adds some romance – I compiled pics clicked as a small video with a song to dedicate it to my wife –

  3. Kamal Thakur says:

    ‘left exclusively for the starry eyed tourists to’… well said! I boarded the Himalayan Queen last week (kalka to Shimla) after having thought of taking a toy-train-ride many many times before (i’m from Himachal).. glad i did!

  4. Dear Sanjay,
    I wonder if you can help? A few years ago I watched a British TV programme called Indian Railways. The train in this case was the “toy train” from Kalka to Simla and was largely about the station master’s hopes for promotion and severalothers connected directly or indirectly with the station.
    I was very taken by the programme and swore that one day I would take the train and hopefully meet Sanjay the station master and his wife. I am finally about to come to India and the number one place on my list is Simla.
    I know they live in Summerhill. How do you think would be the best way to try to get in touch? I have no e-mail for the station directly. Would an old fashioned letter to the station be the best idea and if so I wonder if you would be good enough to let me know the address? The date I am thinking of will be around the 27th/28th February.
    Thank you in advance for your help and I very much enjoyed your article. I too am a writer with several books to my credit two of which have become best-sellers in Spain.
    Tracy Saunders

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