Table of contents for Shimla Tour
- Shimla by Toy Train
- Shimla – Kufri – Jakhu Temple and Back Journey
It seems as if it was only yester year when two and half years back, my bitter half ( No, it is not a typo! :D ) instructed me to plan a 4-days trip of Shimla so that she and her children may go and enjoy there. When I asked incredulously, “What about me?” she considered for some time and then gave in, “Okay, you are also invited. No harm in that! In fact, you could be useful once in a while!”
Having received the ‘instructions’ and the ‘invitation’, I happily dashed to the laptop (as usual) to find out on net, various options to reach Shimla AND once in Shimla, what to see, where to stay, how to get back. I used to be unaware of the existence of ghumakkar dot com in those days, so obliged some of my seemingly intelligent and well experienced friends to seek their valuable advice. One friend told me in his infamous cynical style, “Shimla? I won’t go there even if someone offered ‘All expenses Paid’ holiday plus Rs. 10,000/- as a top up.” “प्रथम ग्रासे मक्षिका पात् ! – पहले ही ग्रास में मक्खी गिर गई !” However, I concluded that someone in Shimla must have broken his fragile heart resulting in such a hostile feelings for the city. After all, he had got his heart broken several times earliar too!
Paying no heed to this discouragement, I contacted several more people and decided that in first leg of the journey, we would go up to Kalka by car and after leaving the car at the parking lot at Kalka railway station, we would board toy train for Shimla. No prior reservations were attempted or even deemed necessary either for the journey or for hotel. We had planned to stay one full day and two nights there and would be coming back on the third day.
Three days before the scheduled departure, my elder son expressed his inability (again, as usual!) to accompany us. My younger son Aditya got depressed hearing the news but my high and mighty wife consoled him and within fifteen minutes, produced yet another brother for him! No, no! you are getting me all wrong! What really happened was – my wife talked to my sister’s son Mayank, aka Micky, in Meerut who is already hand in gloves with Aditya and coaxed him into joining this trip. Voila! He didn’t really need any cajoling and happily consented and arrived from Meerut the night before of our scheduled departure from Saharanpur.
Well, I had taken print outs of DRIVING DIRECTION maps from Saharanpur to Kalka Ji even though most of the family members kept looking at me curiously while four sheets of paper came out of my laser printer. But, when my pre-paid Aircel phone (with google maps in it) went dead as soon as we left U.P. and entered Haryana, these print outs proved quite handy. A friend of mine had suggested me to watch for a place known as Saha a few kilometers before Ambala and take the right turn there so as to avoid jam packed roads of Ambala city and traffic lights of Chandigarh. This Saha bypass was to leave us at Panchkula on Chandigarh – Kalka Road. As regards the quality of this alternative route, I was assured that while the roads were not spill-free, there were no potholes either. According to S. Kuljeet Singh, a road is spill-free if you can drink hot coffee from a cup without burning yourself while driving at 60 km./hour. This advice was gratefully accepted by us and proved to be a boon. My plans to leave the car at Kalka Railway Station and get Kalka Queen toy train which leaves for Shimla at around 12 noon were also okayed by Sardar Ji.
This Kalka – Shimla toy train leaves Kalka at around 12 noon after picking up passengers from yet another Kalka Queen train arriving from Delhi. This Delhi-Kalka train is broad gauge whereas the Kalka-Shimla is narrow gauge. The way I learn, if you have booked your journey from Delhi to Shimla via Kalka Queen, you would be changing the platform and the train at Kalka station but would be travelling on the same ticket.
Well, soon after we packed everything in our old baby Maruti Zen early morning on the day of our departure and bid good bye to our neighbours, we had to have a lucky draw as to who would take the steering first. We were three drivers among the four of us and came to an amicable settlement that we would be changing seats every 60 kms. It was further agreed that if anyone stops the car anywhere for any thing like loo etc., the PM-in waiting (I mean, the driver-in -waiting) would take over the steering wheel. This ensured that not a single person attended any calls from nature during the entire journey! Being the most seasoned driver, I laid my first claim for the steering wheel and showing full dadagiri, didn’t handover the driver’s seat till Kalka on the pretext of reaching there well in time!
Since I have been to Yamuna Nagar (31 kms from Saharanpur) on a number of occasions, I didn’t need any guidance and also knew some invaluable shortcuts. For example, on Saharanpur – Yamunanagar road immediately before the Yamuna bridge which separates U.P. from Haryana, there is a railway crossing on your right at Pansara railway station. After crossing the railway line, there is a left turn which leads us to Jagadhari via Dashmesh Colony. If you don’t know this shortcut route and continue on the Saharanpur – Yamunanagar – Kurukshetra highway, you land yourself into a nightmarish traffic jam. There is at least one paper and board mill on the highway and hundreds if not thousands of trucks and tractor trollies keep the road blocked for hours together.
Jagadhari and Yamuna Nagar are twin cities and it is hard to know when one ends and another begins. If you are going from Saharanpur to Yamuna Nagar, your destination railway station is Jagadhari which happens to be in Yamuna Nagar! Let us understand it in Mohan Bhagwat’s way – Jagadhari is Bharat, Yamuna Nagar is India. ;)
Starting at 6 a.m., we were hoping to cover the 150 odd kilometers journey by car from Saharanpur to Kalka in not more than 4 hours so that there would be ample time for car parking, getting train tickets and breakfast which we were carrying with us and this speed was to be attained without inviting ire of the ARTO sitting with us in the garb of my wife! However, this didn’t prove an uphill task for us. Between Saha and Panchkula Road, I took one wrong turn somewhere and lost 15 km. worth of precious petrol and nearly 30 minutes of time. We made a U-turn and came back to the correct path. This gave the children an opportunity to tell me to mind the direction map and leave the task of driving to them.
We were at Kalka Railway Station at 10.30 sharp. We parked the car, locked it but didn’t get any token / receipt from the attendant. We weren’t even sure if he indeed was an attendant. But we left our car in the hands of God Ji. There were no valuables in it, not even more than 5 litre of petrol. Who would be interested enough to take our car?
The Kalka Railway Station bore a deserted look when we entered it and got our tickets for the much coveted journey by the toy train without having to stand in a queue. Although I had been to Matheran and had gone there by a similar toy train but that journey was undertaken somewhere in 1970. I was only in 7th standard at that time – much younger than my son who had completed 22 years at the time we undertook this journey to Shimla. All of us therefore, were feeling childlike curiosity for this train. When we reached platform no. 6 which is for Narrow gauge train, there was no train there yet. However, several coaches were in the yard. They looked as if they were some card-board model of a regular broad-gauge coaches and engines. Perhaps, any routine item, if drastically downsized or upsized, becomes an extra-ordinary item fit to be kept in a museum. We took many photographs of the railway station, the loco shed, platform, the coaches and of course, the engine. My son even confirmed from the loco driver if this miniscule engine is powerful enough to pull the train on its upward journey to Shimla ! The laughing driver replied, “Melody khao, khud jaan jaao!”
When a locomotive came to bring our Kalka Queen coaches from the loco shed to the platform, we jumped into a coach to enjoy a free 1 km. to-and- fro ride. Considering ourselves as tourists with camera hanging from our shoulder, railway personnel didn’t care to stop us from doing such bizarre things. When we arrived at the platform, we proudly invited the remaining two family members into our train and decided to finish whatever remained of the breakfast because most of it had already been attacked at while we were in car.
As soon as Delhi – Kalka train arrived, the station woke up as if from a deep slumber. There were hundreds of people rushing menacingly towards our train with quick strides. The platform No. 6, which till 5 minutes before, was an ideal site for kids to play cricket now looked like Kumbh Mela site having lots and lots of people trying to get into ‘bechari nanhi see train!’ Soon, our coach was bursting with more-than-needed-crowd. Till then, we were hoping to travel with legs fully outstretched on seats opposite us but now we were being asked to shrink our ribs by exhaling a little more to accommodate one or two more passengers! I told people again and again not to overload the train and to have some mercy over the locomotive which would have to haul them upto Shimla and may even die en route exhausting itself completely. However, nobody was in a mood to listen. A lady asked Aditya to get up and to give seat to her – claiming benefit of belonging to fairer sex but he was in no mood to oblige because it was a long-long journey of several hours in this general compartment and there was no mention that some seats were reserved for ladies, physically disabled or MLAs as normally seen in DTC buses. She then gave her son to my son (thank God, for an hour only) and stood by his side with sullen face.
At around 1 p.m. our diesel locomotive gathered enough courage to inch forward and a memorable journey ultimately started. Initially, we felt that the train was passing through some houses, play grounds and was disturbing people who were busy in their daily routine but soon, the Kalka city was left behind and we found ourselves in areas full of greenery. As the train ascended towards the hills, I clicked and clicked and clicked.
It won’t harm to know a few things about Kalka – Shimla Railway which is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site w.e.f. 10 July 2008. Constructed some 109 years before by Delhi Umbala Kalka Company (DUK) in 1903 against payment of Rs. 1.65,25,000/-, this 60 miles i.e. 95.5 km. long route takes us to Himalayan heights of 2076 meters where the then Summer Capital of British India – Simla (now re-spelt as Shimla) is situated. There are 8 pairs of trains (in fact, 7 trains + 1 rail car) running between Kalka and Shimla. Fondly called toy train that runs on 2’ – 6” wide narrow gauge rail track, the train has to go through 102 tunnels and 988 bridges. Longest tunnel of 1.143 km. length is in Barog – just before the Barog railway station. Some of the bridges have 4-tiered viaducts and none of the bridges uses iron with the happy result that the trains do not make any extra noise while running over a bridge. The 4-tiered bridge no. 541 near Kanoh is truly an engineering marvel. First train leaves Kalka at 4.00 a.m. and the last one has to leave Kalka at 12.45 p.m. The Rail Car is the cutest thing – just a locomotive-cum-coach. You could call it a bus running on rails. You can book it for your marriage party (don’t forget to invite me! :D). However, you cannot carry more than a suitcase with you if you want to travel in this Rail Car. Even that suitcase shouldn’t be bigger that 50cm x 30cm x 20 cm. Dropped the idea? By the way, please remember all these details. Who knows you may have to answer these in next KBC episode !
While clicking through the window of my compartment, I couldn’t help admiring the beautiful curves. (Again, don’t get me wrong please! I am talking of the curves our train was taking ! ) The sharpest curve our train took was of 48.12 meter radius. As regards fastest speed of the train, please don’t ever think that it can compete with Chinese Bullet Train. Its top speed is 25 km. per hour. If you want faster transport, try the Rail Car which has an admirable speed of 30 km. / hour! From Kalka to Shimla, in all there are 20 railway stations. Although our train was labelled as Express train, it stopped at most of the stations especially in later half of the journey. It was as if it was a private bus wherein the cleaner had the moral obligation to halt the vehicle to enable an old lady to disembark. I think the guard of our train was going an extra mile by accompanying her up to the road and seeing her off before flagging the train to move on.
In my personal opinion, one shouldn’t get irritated with the slow movement of the train. If you are in a hurry even in the idyllic setting of Himalayas, you are a wrong person at the wrong place. When we reached Shimla Railway Station, it was nearly 8 p.m. or a little more and my family was fed up with this small journey of 60 miles taking unbearably long time of 7 hours. May be we chose a wrong train or a wrong day!
Even before we came out of the Railway station, a hotel agent having physical and chemical properties quite similar to a fevikwik picked us as his target and started weaving his net around us. Although we didn’t exhibit any interest in his services, he walked with us for more than a km till we reached Victory Tunnel.
Right from the railway station, there was a service lane travelling along the main highway but it was 3-4 feet lower than the road. It didn’t seem to be hanging in air but we had the highway on our left and unimaginably deep valley on our right side. We stepped onto the main road near Victory Tunnel and this hotel agent didn’t leave us even for a second. Finally, we knew that we can’t get rid of him and in a way, we felt happy that at least there is one to show us around in this totally alien city at these hours. I told him to show us a few hotels to choose from and his face brightened.
By the way, Victory Tunnel is the first landmark we encounter when we reach Shimla – either by road or train. If we go through the tunnel to other side, we are in the city area. However, continuing further on the highway while completely ignoring the tunnel, we reach Main Bus Stand of Shimla. What is beyond the Bus stand? Well, it is known as Shimla bypass road.
After we mercilessly rejected three hotels and their overly priced rooms, our guide felt that he can’t hope to fool us and finally took us to Hotel Victory, which is predictably, on top of Victory Tunnel. Micky was with me while Aditya and her mother were asked to wait with the suitcases and bags at the last visited hotel. Hotel Victory people showed us a room and told its price and the divine knowledge dawned upon me in that momentous instant that we didn’t have to search any further. This is what we have been looking for and this exactly was the price we would have been happy to pay. It was a very happy looking large room with a double bed and an extra two-tiered bed with all usual facilities and they were asking us to pay Rs. 1,600/- per day! I enquired once more the tariff to confirm that I had heard correctly and when he repeated the same amount, I quickly signed in their register and went running to my wife shouting ‘Eureka’ but unlike Archimedes, I was dressed!
(To be continued)