It is almost 10-00 AM. The Shivalik Express was bound to leave by 6-30. But since it is a connecting train to Kalka Mail, which is ultimately five hours late, the Shivalik, commonly known as the toy-train, was waiting for the passengers.
Kalka station is long, divided in almost two parts, - one for the express trains going to and coming from other parts of India, and another one for the toy-trains. As the passengers got off the train, puzzled, running to and fro, it was the middle-aged, tall, fair, handsome station master, already standing in front of his room, directing the passengers towards the Shivalik Deluxe, waiting at that part. Apart from the turmoil created by and among the passengers, the station and the morning seemed to be calm, peaceful--a feel of comfort was there.
The train was neatly decorated, nicely prepared for the tourists. The soft, padded seats are arranged face to face, by the window, with a small table in front of each, the windows large, without the barrier of rods, curtained. A carton of bottled mineral water is kept inside the compartment. The passengers get in one by one, have their seats according to the numbers put in their tickets. They are relieved now, becoming cheerful, also started expressing their excitement-- calling each other loudly, drawing out food packets from bags, and obviously taking out camera- privileged phones and real cameras. They couldn't even believe still now that they will have this toy-train-joy-train ride, the hope of which was almost discarded due to the several hours' late, couldn't ultimately made up by the train.
Taking all the passengers-- puzzled, scattered, shouting, excited-- the train started ultimately and the ambience changed all of a sudden as it was out of the station.
The landscape is changing, gradually, making the journey more and more exciting. After crossing a thin strip of city-- with car- jostled road several times, it was a journey through the hills, in the hills, amidst the lush green, velvet green, dark green. Frequently, we rode on bridges, beautifully designed in an old -fashioned way, reminding us of the architecture, typical in the British era; entered into the mystery of black tunnels. The train followed a winding course, -- with the result that we were often charmed to see the front or back end of the sweet, little reptile, going before or coming after us. The morning sun was still soft and soothing, with a comfortably bright weather, the sky clear-- the passengers joyful-- it was the atmosphere of mirth, of cheerfulness, of traveling, of exploring, of wondering, of becoming fascinated and having shots in cameras that seemed to be unputdownable.
"Painted stations whistle by" --Gumman, Koti, Sonwara. Sometimes we stopped, sometimes didn't. Occasionally, we met a few other trains carrying passengers; journeying, not traveling. It was our enjoyment, their necessity. Still, face to face, the drivers stop, exchange a few words, restart; the passengers exchange glance. The stations are picturesque-- clean, decorated with flowers in hanging pots, devoid of hawkers, architecturally designed in the old fashioned way, giving it a classical European look. It seems that it will be a great pleasure to sit on one of these benches at any station, quietly, lonely and watching the few trains passing through the narrow tracks, their passengers laughing and clamouring and taking photos; or the calm, soothing, soft, green hills standing behind and front, having a language of their own, under the clear sky and in the pleasant sun,-- a bridge or a tunnel can be seen at a distance.
As we reached Dharampur Himachal, the memories of my earlier journey by this toy- train flashed in my mind. The seat arrangements were different then, the train, more simply designed, yet, more seemed the joy and excitement. It was our first journey to hill's, first tour to Shimla. First sight of the Himalayas and Love at first sight. The fascination, the infatuation has changed to a pure love now, -- mingled with wonder and awe.
After Kumarhatti-Dagshai, we had the breath- taking experience of going through the 1135 mts long Barog tunnel, the longest in this heritage route. Passengers are almost behaving like kids, shouting and playing childish mischief taking the advantage of invisibility. And out we came, at last. Oh! Relieved, after the dazzling light of the sun, to discover that the nature was all the same beautiful, safe, bright.
At Barog, the train stopped, we were given refreshment, very quickly, yet cordially and smilingly-- bread, cutlet, packed juice, sweets and tea. We crossed numerous tiny drops of stations, with the sweet names like Solan, Salogra, Kandaghat, Kanch.
This journey, from Kalka to Shimla, can be made by road also, if we are in a hurry. But that will merely be reaching the destination, not traveling, not even journeying. Here, the path, the voyage itself is an experience. Romance and charm lie in the unhurried journey through the winding course, slowly but steadily taking us, through the greenery, up and up the hills, creating the feeling that we are hugging the Himalayas, -- tenderly, lovingly crawling on her lap, finding comfort, shelter, joy in his huge body. The journey is a memorable one.
Shimla became the summer- capital of the British India in 1864 and as a result, the broad gauge Delhi -Kalka line opened in 1891. Later, the Kalka -Shimla Railway line was build on 2 ft or 610 mm narrow gauge tracks by the Delhi-Ambala -Kalka Railway Company, beginning in 1898. The 96. 54 km long line was inaugurated by the then Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon, and was opened for traffic on November 9, 1903. In 1905, the line was regauged to 2ft 6 inches ( 762mm) to confirm the standards set by Indian War Department. In 2007, the Government of Himachal Pradesh declared this railway as a heritage property and the very next year, on July 8, this Kalka-Shimla railway was declared as World Heritage Site by UNESCO. This fabulous route had originally 107 tunnels, among which 102 are in use today. The record says that this is a route with 864 bridges and 919 curves, the sharpest being 48 degrees.
After Kathleghat and Shogi, we halted at Taradevi. We are reaching higher and higher, the weather is becoming charmingly cooler and cooler. The noon sun is shining at its brightest. The journey is revealing something new, something unexplored in each curve and turn. The Himalayas is exhibiting his beauty in front of my fascinated eyes. As the train stops, the passengers get down, roam, take photographs, excited with the aroma of traveling-- the kids in them are coming out. We are closer to our destination now. It is Jutogh. We started preparation for leaving. The five- hour amazing journey is coming to an end. I never expected to have this journey once again in my lifetime, I never know whether I will take this route again in future. But the memories will never fade away, --I am filled to the brim, I have drunk the nature to the lees.
It is Summer Hill and the train left and started for Shimla station.
It is 4 o'clock. The train has finally arrived at Shimla. Our journey by toy train is finished. We are waiting at the platform that has been hired to take us to the hotel.