Kalka-Shimla Railways : A UNESCO Heritage Site

20th Dec 2015

The train journey from Kalka to India’s erstwhile summer capital Shimla, early in the morning is one of the best things happen to me in the hills of India. It was the month of december, when the cloud of fog has all but engulfed the hills around. One has to experience this journey while going to Shimla! It is simply amazing! The journey is around 5 - 6 hours. In between you get to see many breathtaking views which includes valleys, hills. If you take the train which starts at 5:30 AM or before sunrise you may get to see the sun rising behind the valley.

Photo of Kalka-Shimla Railways : A UNESCO Heritage Site 1/3 by Avinash Jha

Shimla, also known as the Queen of Hills, is the capital of Himachal Pradesh. It is located in the north-western ranges of the Himalayas at an altitude of 2213m. This toy train journey starts from Kalka, a town in its neighboring state, Haryana and ends in the magnificent Shimla. The Kalka –Shimla Railway is a narrow gauge railway that covers a distance of 96km. This 96-kms long railway track is built over 889 short to long bridges and passes through 102 tunnels in the foothills of the Himalayas. This railway line offers steep rise in altitude in the space of 96 kilometers between Kalka station (656 mtrs) and Shimla station (2076 mtrs). The line has as many as 919 curves,the sharpest being 48 degrees.

Photo of Kalka-Shimla Railways : A UNESCO Heritage Site 2/3 by Avinash Jha

The idea of having a train originated when a newspaper correspondent conceived the idea of a railway line here in November 1847. A passionate plea in the Delhi Gazette by this journalist advocated the provision of a railway line to Shimla. After the submission of the report in 1887, a contract was signed on June 29, 1898 between the Secretary of State and the Delhi-Ambala-Kalka Railway Company for building and running a line on a 0.79248 m gauge. The railway line was finally purchased by the government in 1906. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was opened for operation by the infamous Viceroy Curzon on November 9th,1903.

Photo of Kalka-Shimla Railways : A UNESCO Heritage Site 3/3 by Avinash Jha

Right from start to end, this train journey visually delights every passenger on board. Dharampur, Solan, Kandaghat, Taradevi, Barog, Salogra and Totu (Jutogh) are some of the beautiful destinations that you get to see through the glass panels of the coaches, during the journey.

Photo of Dharampur, Himachal Pradesh, India by Avinash Jha
Photo of Solan, Himachal Pradesh, India by Avinash Jha

The toy train starts climb right after its departure from Kalka Railway Station.As the train chugs along the line with the speed of about 20 kms per hour,the real joy of this journey begins. The trains passes on the impressive bridge structures, known as the Arch Gallery Bridges having 3 to 5-tier galleries of multiple spans.

Photo of Kalka-Shimla Railways : A UNESCO Heritage Site by Avinash Jha
Photo of Barog, Himachal Pradesh, India by Avinash Jha

Barog Tunnel at 1144 meters is the longest tunnel on the route and appears just before the Barog Station. This tunnel was named after Mr.Barog, who started the digging of this tunnel, but only to commit a mistake. He started the digging of the tunnels from the both end simultaneously to only realized that these two ends were not aligned.

Photo of Kalka-Shimla Railways : A UNESCO Heritage Site by Avinash Jha

The British government fined him INR 1 for wasting government time and money. Barog was upset by this humiliation and shot dead himself one day during the morning walk. After the death of Barog, Chief Engineer H.S. Harrington was given the charge to dig a new tunnel. The new tunnel was constructed about 1 km away from the earlier point with the guidance of Bhalku, a local saint. The remains of the old tunnel is still there.

Photo of Kalka-Shimla Railways : A UNESCO Heritage Site by Avinash Jha

Tunnel 103 is the last tunnel towards Shimla at the end of the line. It is believed to be haunted by a British gentleman’s ghost who likes chatting up individuals passing by the tunnel. Some people have got the story of Barog mixed up with tunnel 103 and say that it is Colonel Barog’s ghost that haunts the tunnel. But if Barog was to haunt any tunnel it would be his failed tunnel that lies closed today.

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Other ghosts, spirits and paranormal activities have also been observed near tunnel 103. Some talk about a woman wearing a black sari and carrying a malnourished baby.

The world is moving at fast pace around this line, but nothing seems to impact the functioning of this legendary line. The movement of the trains on this line is still being control by Neals Token Instrument System, to keep them separate on the tracks. Block phones are also used to establish links between two stations.The tunnels are still illuminated by the plane mirrors for maintenance as they were in the old age.

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There are five trains running between Kalka and Shimla on this line. Major trains are:

1. Passenger Train, 52457 - Departs from Kalka at 04:00 AM to reach Shimla at 09:20 AM.

Return Journey, 53458- Departs from Shimla at 14:25 Pm to reach Kalka at 20:10 PM

2. Rail Motor Car, 72451 - Departs from Kalka at 05:10 AM to reach Shimla at 09:50 AM.

Return Journey, 72452 - Departs from Shimla at 16:25 Pm to reach Kalka at 21:35 PM

3. Shivalik Deluxe Express, 52451: Departs from Kalka at 05:30 AM to reach Shimla at 10:15 AM.

Return Journey, 52452 - Departs from Shimla at 17:40 Pm to reach Kalka at 22:25 PM

4. Kalka Shimla Express, 52453: Departs from Kalka at 06:00 AM to reach Shimla at 11:05 AM.

Return Journey, 52454- Departs from Shimla at 18:15 Pm to reach Kalka at 23:20 PM

5. Himalayan Queen,52455: Departs from Kalka at 12:10 PM to reach Shimla at 17:20 PM.

Return Journey, 52456- Departs from Shimla at 10:30 Pm to reach Kalka at 16:10 PM.

The Kalka-Shimla Rail route is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Site under Mountain Railways of India along with Darjeeling Himalayan Railway and Nilgiri Mountain Railways. The other two mountain railways in India,The Kangra Valley Railway and Matheran Hill Railway, are also included in the tentative Indian list of Heritage Sites.

This post was originally published on Travel With Jha.