Indian Puffing Billy: Kalka-Shimla Train
Running through 103 tunnels and 969 bridges, and 919 stunning curves, Kalka- Shimla railway track is one of the world's most unique and most scenic railway tracks. Having a total distance of 96 Km from Kalka to Shimla, this track has 18 railway stations and 5 level crossings. The rail track rises from Kalka at 640 m to the cool climes of Shimla at 2.060 m. Comparing with the Australian oldest railway of puffing Billy, I named for this article, Kalka- Shimla railway as Indian Puffing Billy.
Both railway tracks were built almost simultaneously in the early years of the twentieth century. Though the Kalka-Shimla route was completed on November 2, 1903, it was opened for the general public only on January 1, 1906. It is said that this railway line was first drawn in November 1847, almost 50 years before it was actually constructed. Lord Curzon, the then British Viceroy to India, inaugurated this magnificent train in November 1903. The Kalka-Shimla Railway was built to connect Shimla, the summer capital of India during the British rule, with the Indian rail system. The five-hour journey is one of the best train journeys for tourists operated by the Indian railway.
Natural beauty and pleasant weather greet you whole the way. A cool breeze sweeps across faces as the train crosses one station after another, like Taksal, Gumman, Dharampur, before reaching Barog, which is the almost mid-point of Journey. This journey encompasses a vast display of awe-inspiring landscapes. Barog is a colonial showpiece with bougainvillaea clusters tumbling down the walls. This station is one of the most beautiful and well-maintained on this track. From here, you can see the towering mountains. At Barog, we pass through the biggest tunnel.
A tragic story is associated with the construction of this railway track. The longest tunnel at Barog is named after engineer Barog, who sacrificed his life when he attempted to construct the tunnel but failed to result in wastage of government funds. Barog committed the mistake of digging the tunnel from both ends of the hill. The ends of the tunnels could not meet due to a mistake in alignment. It is said that a fine of Rs 1 was laid on him by the British authorities for wasting government money in the tunnel. The British engineer could not digest this humiliation and shot himself in sheer desperation during a walk along with his pet dog. He killed himself near what now is the state government-run Barog Pine Wood Hotel. After his death, tunnel work done by Barog has left aside, and a new tunnel was constructed a little far from the old one.
After Barog comes other beautiful destinations like Solan, Shogai, and Koti, all these have wonderful scenery with towering mountains with green and deep forest. You feel being amid nature throughout the whole journey.
It is a heritage train, a journey with breathtaking views and stunning scenery the entire journey. Track passing through beautiful surrounding takes you near to Nature and a wonderful experience. As the train ascends through steep mountains and curves, its speed slows down. This journey runs on a narrow gauge, treating passengers with breathtaking views of rugged mountains, lush pine forests, waterfalls, valleys, and picture-perfect hill stations along the way that will definitely tempt you to disembark and bask in their beauty. The whole journey takes about five and a half hours.
Earlier the train was run by the steam engine, but now it has been replaced with the diesel engine. It runs at the speed of 40 to 45 km per hour as against the earlier speed of 22 km per hour. To preserve the heritage roots of the railway, it is suggested that steam engines be preferred, like the Puffing Billy train of Australia.
In July 2008, UNESCO’s world heritage committee decided to add Kalka–Shimla Railway to the world heritage list. On 9th Nov 2008, this railway line was officially declared by UNESCO as a world heritage site. Also, the Guinness Book on Rail facts included this track as the greatest narrow gauge engineering achievement in India.
This train service is equipped with standard car seats and has nine halts. Passengers can get off at the stations along the way and nourish their eyes and soul with beautiful scenery.
There are also two heritage carriages operating on this route: Shivalik Queen and Shivalik Palace Tourist Coach. Both are luxury services, with ultra-modern facilities, including an onboard kitchen, refrigerator, dining table, and folding cushion beds. These trains usually operate once a week, from March until September. During the high season (May-July, September-October, and December-January), several special holiday trains also run on this route due to a heavy tourist influx.
When you plan to ride on this beautiful train, you can book a ticket for the Kalka-Shimla Toy Train at a railway station counter or online.
- Puffing Billy... A Bond between Past and Present
Puffing Billys steam rail is one of those things of past that are worth being preserved forever.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2010 Jaspal Singh