Toytrain from Shimla

View over Shimla.

View over Shimla.

After the luxury of Sunil looking after us in the jeep for 9 days the public bus to Shimla from Rampur was a bit of a shock – all the chai-wallahs, ice-cream-wallahs and give-me-money-wallahs shouting and getting on and off the bus. One child had a basket with a snake in it (live, but looked both shaken and stirred) – he shoved the thing right under my nose and I could see the tongue flickering in and out. Not sure if I was meant to buy it, eat it, or pay to photograph it but I opted for neither.. Sometimes I do wish I could photograph these weirdos (..don’t care about political correctness when it comes to animal abuse), but I don’t want to give money to encourage this “business”. We had seen a snake charmer with a live cobra in Manali also who wanted us to photograph him – usually the fangs of these snakes are ripped out or the mouth sewn shut – once the thing gets close to dying they toss it away to starve to death and just catch a new one.

The Viceroys toy train.

The Viceroy's toy train.

Our backpacks that had been stored in a box at the back of the bus arrived in Shimla looking like if they had plowed a field with them. We carried the big lumps of dirt on our backs up the hill in Shimla to a hostel where we spent one night before catching a famous narrow-gauge railway down to the town of Kalka the next day. The railroad is a relic from the days of the British, who used the tiny hillstation of Shimla at 2160m to rule the whole sub-continent from for the part of the year when the Indian sun proved to much for the British skin, which was quite a big part. Before they had finally completed the railway in 1903, a handy stretch of 96 kilometers with 103 separate tunnels through the mountain, they used to haul their entire administration up and down a horse-and-cart trail twice a year for 40 years. The train moves at a very relaxing phase, taking 5-7 hours to complete the short trip to the lowlands, and there’s some sort of interesting system in place with drivers and platform staff exchanging brass discs and leather pouches along the way which somehow ensures you can’t meet a train heading the opposite direction. Fail-safe we’re told. The first bit from Shimla is very scenic (you’re probably supposed to take it the other direction so the view gets nicer and nicer..) but along the route, with plenty of stops to buy drinks and food and everyone throwing everything right out the window, it starts to look more and more dirty. I don’t quite follow the reasoning in paying extra for a scenic trip (the bus is much faster and cheaper) and then doing everything you can to make it uglier along the way! But I’ve only been in India for two months of course.. The town Kalka at the other end of the line, complete with shanty-towns on the outskirts, looks entirely indistinguishable from a large rubbish heap.

Not longing to linger in Kalka we already had a train booked onwards to Delhi. This turned out to be the way to travel in style in India – we didn’t even have 1st class but they still served hot food twice on the just over 4 hour trip. In Delhi we walked to a hotel close to the train station recommended by the nice Irish lady we’d shared a taxi to Amritsar with – we weren’t hassled quite as bad by the touts as when we arrived at the airport the first time a month earlier, at 2am culture-shocked and paranoid, but it was still nice to have a place picked out in advance. From Delhi we flew to Port Blair on the Andaman Islands, but that’s for the next post.

2 Responses to “Toytrain from Shimla”

  1. Chris says:

    Shimla… one of the few locations I’ve managed to track down in Google Earth… I think it’s the correct Shimla, since GE mentions a ‘Central Potato Research Institute’, and that sounds very much like the thing the British would build in their ‘Summer Administration Centre’. Use the winter time well and study spuds while you’re at it.

  2. David says:

    Hi Chris,

    Thanks for all the comments – the North Sentinel clip was a great find, and I shall certainly look for the “Central Potato Research Institute” next time I go to Shimla 🙂
    If you want to hunt down some more of the places in GE here’s a little Google Maps app I hacked together that shows the route:

    All the best,