Wednesday, 24 March 2010

The Kalka-Shimla Railway

Monday 22 March: UNESCO World Heritage Site listed and one of the great little mountain railways of India, the 1st class Shivalk Deluxe Express (47th mode of transport) departs Kalka at 5:30 am sharp to wind and twist her way up the steep mountain track through 102 tunnels and over 988 bridges gaining 6,808 feet in altitude on the 4 hour, 60 mile trip. In the tiny carriages the seat-backs tilt forward or back so you can always face forward or sit in family groups if you prefer. Tea and biscuits, a newspaper and breakfast are included in the ticket price, 300 Rupees (about £4.50). As I doze, relax and enjoy the scenery fragments of a poem from my childhood spring to mind:

Pulling up Beattock, a steady climb,
The gradients against her, but she's on time.
Past cotton-grass and moorland boulder,
Shoveling white steam over her shoulder.

In a farm she passes no one wakes,
But a jug in the bedroom gently shakes . . .

It's a tale about a steam train travelling from London to Scotland and each verse is best recited at an ever increasing pace to fully appreciate the author's intent - the rhythm of a train, and that's all I can remember - not even the title or poets name.
Finally we arrive and are greeted by hoards of luggage coolies at Shimla's little station. I avoid them and head straight for the tourist office where a nice little man gives me a map of Shimla and recommends a hotel high up on The Ridge in the centre of town. I happily walk but get out-of-breath quickly, I'm 7,234 feet above sea level (for the benefit of Joe Boyle and others that's one and a half times Ben Nevis) and realise this is my first ever sight of the foothills of the greatest mountain range in the world, the Himalaya.
Kalka to Shimla photos on the
Shivalk Deluxe Express and Shimla to Kalka photos on the Himalayan Queen Express.

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