Something that we’d seen on television back home in the UK, and had personal recommendations for, was the toy train up the mountain from Kalka to Shimla. Well, if it’s good enough for Portillo, it’s good enough for us!
It’s a narrow gauge railway built in the 19th Century when Shimla used to be the capital of British India during the summer months when it was too hot in Calcutta and the British Raj used to move up into the mountains for the cooler climate. It is still the state capital of Himachal Pradesh today.
It was an early start for us. The particular train we caught departed at 5.10am and they run about four other trains up the mountain each morning, and then they come down again later in the afternoon.
When we purchased our tickets we were told the train was full, and we were being put on a reserve list which we didn’t like the sound of too much, but we were assured by the ticket office man that we had a good chance of travelling. So, we arrived early and approached the guard to ask him if we had made his list. Thankfully we had, and in First Class to boot!
We got ourselves to our carriage and seats and off we went at a leisurely 10 mph! Obviously starting out at just after 5am it was dark, but the days first light came very quickly. We had heard the views from this train as it snaked it’s way though the mountains were breathtaking, but we had to climb a bit first and clear the residential and commercial areas of Kalka.
After about 30-45 minutes we started to see the back of the more widely populated areas, and entering into more rural areas which is what we came for. We’d also read that the best views came from sitting on the right side of the carriage, and luckily for us our seats were assigned there.
As the sun started to come up we were afforded some wonderful views of the region, just on the edge of the Himalayas. A place in the world that neither of us ever thought we’d see. But here we were, sat in this little train climbing though these great mountains experiencing the most amazing views. This is what we travelled so far from home to see, things like this!
As the crow flies, it’s only 23 miles from Kalka to Shimla, and it only actually takes 3 hours by car. This little train takes 5 hours to climb up the mountains! Obviously this is because of the speed it travels and the meandering route it takes. That said, it’s totally worth it, and the time actually flys by because of the ever changing views.
We had a short stop halfway up the mountain at a tiny station where everyone got off and bought snacks from a local guy who had a tray of home cooked samosas and a tea pot of coffee?! All prepped for us to buy quickly, providing you can forget the British queuing system, and push your way to the front! Very nice they were too.
We set off again climbing higher and higher until we eventually reached Shimla at at a height of 2076 metres above sea level.
After our journey up the mountain, we spent the day exploring Shimla. We were not disappointed at all as it’s a lovely place, although extremely steep. Market sellers display a wide array of colourful goods either side of the zig zagging narrow slopes.
These traders are a mixture of Indian and Tibetan villagers selling anything and everything, but as you go higher the market stalls turn into more boutique style shops.
We woke up the next morning to heavy rain, very low lying clouds and mist. It felt like being back home for a while.