As a part of my short North India trip last year, one item on my must-see/do list was to ride the toy train from Kalka to Shimla.
The railway line was built in 1898 in order to connect the summer capital of the British Raj, Shimla, with the rest of the Indian rail system. The building of the line was complete in 1903 and that year marked the train’s first journey.
This gorgeous and quaint piece of history winds it’s way up 96km ( 60 miles) of steep hills with spectacular views of the surrounding countryside and mountains. The train travels through no less than 103 tunnels, over 864 bridges and around 900 curves!
The train itself is only 2ft 6″ wide and with seating capacity for around 22 people, so, if like our journey where the carriage was full of folk, things can get a little noisy and cosy, which I don’t mind at all!
We arrived at Chandigarh airport from Delhi early in the morning and took a taxi ride to Kalka. The 43km ( 27 miles) journey cost 1200 rupees which equates to roughly £15.
Once on the station, it turned out to be a bit of a mad rush to actually get on the train and even then we weren’t certain we’d get a seat. The ticket for the six-hour long train ride up to Shimla cost an incredible 25 rupees each! It was quite funny actually, running like mad along the station to jump aboard before the train left. Anyway, we managed to secure a couple of spaces in the corner of a carriage which was full to the brim with other families.
The journey starts at Kalka, just North of Chandigarh and ends in Shimla, both places being in the mountainous region of Himachal Pradesh. We were headed for Shoghi, 15km South of Shimla, as we had booked a room on the very top floor of a guesthouse there. Apparently, our room had a large balcony area with wonderful views of the mountains so I was really excited to see it.
As we were heading out of Kalka, I was very sad to see the sheer amount of rubbish which lay strewn along the side of the train track. I don’t mean a little bit- I’m talking hundreds of yards of mountains of crap! The Shimla toy train is a UNESCO Heritage site and it seems such a shame that that particular area isn’t a little more cared for. I know it’s India and India is full of mountains of litter, but still, a bit of a clear up job wouldn’t go amiss. A sad first impression. In fact, the family sitting opposite us threw a sweet wrapper out of the window without a care. Anyway, I digress. India’s MAHOOSIVE litter problem and the debate on why perfectly educated, well dressed and clean individuals with spotless homes, think nothing of throwing litter on the ground, is not for me to write about in this post – although, do feel free to leave a comment if you can shed any light on the matter!
I felt so happy to be on this little train whilst in snaked its way up through the foothills of the Himalayas. Not least because I’d always dreamed of seeing these mountains and this was a small start. A very far cry away from my life for the previous 5 years in the UK where I had fought tooth and nail to secure the correct services for my twins and had barely left the house whilst Rune wasn’t attending school for over two years. But as I left the litter by the train tracks behind me, so did I leave that part of my life and instead, here I was in this small carriage of the quaintest little train I’ve ever seen.
I loved to watch the families, all chatting together, laughing and sharing snacks. I love people watching, especially those whose language and culture are so different to mine. I wonder about their lives, their relatives, their hopes and dreams and I hope that they’re happy. I watched the face of the woman in front of me as she slept. ‘I’d like to draw her face’, I thought to myself. With her beautiful high cheekbones and her colourful scarf wrapped over her head, I thought she was stunning.
As the train climbed higher, the views became more spectacular. Passengers, including myself, took turns to stand in the open doorway and take photos, shoot videos or simply stand there and watch the world go by. Heaven.
The train stopped off briefly at various stations along the route. I particularly liked Barog. It was very picturesque and I remember we stayed there for quite a while and bought food from the stalls which were lined up on the platform.
I had only two weeks in India this time and we wanted to pack quite a bit in, so we had left Goa and flew to Delhi in the early hours of the morning, instead of catching the train ( which I would have preferred to do), and then waited in Delhi airport, trying to not fall asleep over our early breakfast before flying on to Chandigarh. A few hours into our journey on the toy train, it became hard to keep our eyes open anymore so we slept as best we could as the train trundled higher into the mountains.
Finally, after a six hour journey, we were nearing Shimla and stopped briefly at a station which name, at that time, I hadn’t taken notice of. It was only when we were heading off again that I realised it had been Shoghi, the town where I had booked our homestay. I hadn’t realised that Shoghi had a station so it was a case of heading back down the tracks on a different train with slightly larger carriages.
We reached Shoghi and there we left the train. There were an incredible amount of steps to walk down and I’d long since realised that my rucksack was far too large, so carrying that didn’t make for an easy descent.
We reached a lovely little coffee shop and sat for a while there while I took some more photos and made another vlog for my YouTube channel.
I felt so incredibly happy to be here in Shoghi, looking over at the mountains I had been longing to see for as long as I can remember. I had absolutely loved riding the toy train, I love India, I love everything I experience here, the good, the bad and the ugly and now I was ready to head to our guesthouse, eat, shower and sleep.