Kalka-Shimla Railways is one of the perfect example of human abilities to overcome the obstacles to fulfill the desired dream. This 96-kms long railway track is built over 889 short to long bridges and passes through 102 tunnels in the foothills of the Himalayas. This railway line offers steep rise in altitude in the space of 96 kilometers between Kalka station (656 mtrs) and Shimla station (2076 mtrs). The line has as many as 919 curves,the sharpest being 48 degrees.This extraordinary marvel of mechanical engineering is one of the best gift given by the British to the Indians.
The small trains that run on this 2 ft 6 inch wide track and take 5-6 hours to complete the journey, may seem too slow to compete with the buses and the cars running on the adjacent highway, but the joy of travelling by these trains remains incomparable. This legendary railway line witnessed the movements of the who’s who of India including British Viceroys, Indian Dignitaries and Indian Children who studied in the boarding schools of Shimla. and it now equally enjoys the presence of honeymooners who come here with their sweethearts on the trip of the life-time and the common people for whom crowded Shimla is still an exotic hill station.There are children, there are youths, there are elderly people, there are men and women,whoever are there to travel in these trains feel a special bond with this small wonder in the hills. Everyone who visited Shimla and travelled on this line has their own set of stories.
The Kalka-Shimla Rail route is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Site under Mountain Railways of India along with Darjeeling Himalayan Railway and Nilgiri Mountain Railways. The other two mountain railways in India,The Kangra Valley Railway and Matheran Hill Railway, are also included in the tentative Indian list of Heritage Sites. Openned in 1903 and now 109 years old line passes through the trees of pines and lush green misty mountains and originally built to ferry the Indian Viceroy and his officers with British troops, when Shimla became the Summer Capital of India. This was the only option available for the faster movements, otherwise they have to travel using bullock-carts, which usually took 5-6 days to travel between Kalka and Shimla.
There are five trains running between Kalka and Shimla on this line. The trains are designed and maintained to keep the tourist in the mind.Even the passenger train running between Kalka and Shimla has the comfortable seats of the foam rather than the wooden seats like other ordinary trains in India.There are luxury trains also running on this route. Major trains are:
1. Passenger Train, 52457: Departs from Kalka at 04:00 AM to reach Shimla at 09:20 AM. Only train with unreserved seats. You can purchase the tickets from the ticket window and take a seat. Fully packed in the high tourist season with no available seat to sit. There is an option of reservation in First Class at the cost of INR 200, while ordinary seat cost you INR 18 only.
In return journey from Shimla, the train (52458) departs at 14:25 PM from Shimla to reach Kalka at 20:10 PM..
2. Rail Motor Car, 72451: Departs from Kalka at 05:10 AM to reach Shimla at 09:50 AM.It looks like a bus on the railway line.Carrying 14 passengers at a time and ticket cost is INR 260. The car is fitted with a transparent fiber-glass roof, for a clear view of the sky. Time-cum-temperature display unit, altimeter and route indication board gives valuable information while traveling.
In return journey from Shimla, the train(72452) departs at 16:25 PM from Shimla to reach Kalka at 21:35 PM.
3. Shivalik Deluxe Express, 52451: Departs from Kalka at 05:30 AM to reach Shimla at 10:15 AM. This train can carry 120 passengers on board. The coaches are equipped with wall-to-wall carpeting, wide glass windows and reversible cushioned chairs. Improved lighting and a music system creates a pleasant atmosphere. The train has only one stop at Barog.Ticket cost for chair car is INR 280. The fare includes a complimentary meal at the picturesque Railway Station of Barog.
In return journey from Shimla, the train(52452) departs at 17:40 PM from Shimla to reach Kalka at 22:25 PM.
4. Kalka Shimla Express, 52453: Departs from Kalka at 06:00 AM to reach Shimla at 11:05 AM.This is the oldest train service available on this track.Ticket cost INR 240 for the first class and INR 48 for the reserved second sitting.
In return journey from Shimla, the train(52454) departs at from 18:15 PM Shimla to reach Kalka at 23:20 PM.
5. Himalayan Queen,52455: Departs from Kalka at 12:10 PM to reach Shimla at 17:20 PM.This is an improved version with new coaches and this is the most popular train today. It has cushioned standard chair car seats with large windows for greater views and good ambience. Ticket cost for chair car is INR.167
In return journey from Shimla, the train (52456) departs at 10:30 AM from Shimla to reach Kalka at 16:10 PM.
The Shivalik Queen Tourist Coach (RA-67):Shivalik Queen coach has been launched for honeymooners in 1998. Each coupe offers exclusive privacy and big windows for panoramic view of hills.This coach has four coupe for two persons each. The coupe has wall-to-wall carpet and the windows are elegantly curtained. There is an alarm bell for communication with driver while microphone keeps you in touch with the guard. Free newspaper and magazines are provided at Kalka and Shimla.The fare for a couple is approximately around INR 750 per couple in which meals are also included, but you can not book a single coupe. One has to book the entire coach meaning all 4 coupe together, which cost around INR 3000. This coach can not be booked online.coupe can be booked at the office of station master Shimla and Kalka only. One has to give an letter with details of travel and make the payments in cash only. They don’t accept demand drafts etc. There is no time limit for booking of this coach. All depends on availability. This coach can be attached along with any mail or express from Kalka-Shimla.
Shivalik Palace Tourist Coach (RA-4): This is also a special coach like Shivalik Queen Coach. It consists in style-fully furnished bed, dinning table, chairs and a well-equipped on-board kitchen. There is also the provision of temperature cum time indicator and altimeter along with Channel music system, soothing lights and bath room with ultra modern fittings.Fare per coach for a party of six inclusive of meals enroute is INR 4970 from Kalka to Shimla, INR 3495 from Shimla to Kalka and INR 8465 both ways (including free one night stay at Shimla).
The contact details of the offices responsible for the bookings of these two special coaches can be find on this link:
Most departures from Kalka are early in the morning, while from Shimla most departures are in the evening. Except the passenger train, in all other trains you have to book your tickets as early as possible to get a seat. Tickets can be booked online three months prior to the departure at the website www.irctc.co.in. Passenger trains are unreserved and they are fully packed during the tourist season with the people also standing in the coaches.
Apart from these trains, the railway department operates 2-3 special trains to handle the summer rush during the peak season. The list of these trains are available at Kalka and Shimla Stations.
The toy train starts climb right after its departure from Kalka Railway Station.As the train chugs along the line with the speed of about 20 kms per hour,the real joy of this journey begins.The most exciting part of this journey is the experience of sitting by the window, breathing in the cool breeze and looking on the lush green forest and enjoying the sight of cattle grazing around the track.
The trains passes on the impressive bridge structures, known as the Arch Gallery Bridges having 3 to 5-tier galleries of multiple spans. After the inclusion of this line in UNESCO Heritage List, there are stone boards placed nearby the important bridges with the significant historical details about them.
Mostly the stations are built nearby the bridges. In this way, the labours, who worked on the site of bridges could comfortably rest in the stations building.Most of the stations en-route were built with the line, so they also exist from last 109 years.These impressive small stations were built in Gothic style and named as Taksal, Barog, Summer Hill etc.
The longest tunnel on this route is the Barog Tunnel near Barog Station. This tunnel was named after Mr.Barog, who started the digging of this tunnel, but only to commit a mistake. He started the digging of the tunnels from the both end simultaneously to only realized that these two ends were not aligned. The British government fined him INR 1 for wasting government time and money. Barog was upset by this humiliation and shot dead himself one day during the morning walk. After the death of Barog, Chief Engineer H.S. Harrington was given the charge to dig a new tunnel. The new tunnel was constructed about 1 km away from the earlier point with the guidance of Bhalku, a local saint. The remains of the old tunnel is still there.
The world is moving at fast pace around this line, but nothing seems to impact the functioning of this legendary line. The movement of the trains on this line is still being control by Neals Token Instrument System, to keep them separate on the tracks. Block phones are also used to establish links between two stations.The tunnels are still illuminated by the plane mirrors for maintenance as they were in the old age.The water supply to the coaches are supplied by two water tanks, that are kept behind the engine in a open coach.
As the area around Shimla and Kalka is growing fast in the race of development, the romance of this extraordinary marvel of engineering still continues.