Toy train seems an odd thing to call the Himalayan Queen (our ride up to Shimla), but it’s certainly a very narrow guage railway. One of the reasons we wanted to see Shimla was a Michael Palin documentary called Himalayan adventure, he visited Shimla by the Himalayan Queen train and we were going to as well.
We arrived at Kalka station (where the train starts from) about an hour before the train was due and the station was deserted, Dawn wandered off in search of our train in a seemingly large but empty station, 10 minutes later she returned and off we went to the train. Indian railways post a print out on each carriage with the names of all the passengers, we knew where we were sitting but checked the posting and sure enough there we were.
With 40 minutes to go, we were the first on the train, and to say it was basic was an understatement, the seats were vinyl covered benches with upright backs and virtually no cushioning, we had read warnings of this and were prepared, but five hours was certain to mean back ache for me!
With about 10 minutes to go the engine was coupled to the cars and the train started filling up, fortunately no one sat opposite us so we had a little leg room. The train started climbing steeply almost straight away through Kalka, past the back of peoples houses, past dozens of workmen doing various jobs on the line, and eventually into open coutryside and more pleasant vistas. The pace was slow (95 kilometres in 5 hours), but fairly bumpy, however the views just kept getting better and better.
We stopped at a station about an hour out and were joined by a mother father and daughter all dressed in white, we think they were Jain’s, but they didnt speak a word of English, our legroom was severely restricted and it felt a little cramped. We stopped at a station 2 hours in and had 15 minutes there to take a break. I got out to take some photographs, as this was a quiet line I had no problem walking about the tracks and taking photos, when done Dawn and I swapped seats so I could be next to the window.
I was now sat opposite the little girl and noticed that she was staring intently at the camera that was hanging around my neck. I had noticed earlier that she had some modelling clay and was making amazingly good dragons and dinosaurs out of it. Now I noticed that she was making a model of my camera, we watched here for a while, and I looked at her dad who smiled and I said that she was very good, there is a picture below, it doesnt look much, but it’s worth noting that the girl was only about 6 or 7 years old and she made the whole thing in about 4 minutes, making the letters (canon G10) in one hand whilst barely looking at the model herself.
What the photo doesn’t show is the back of the model, I had turned the screen around and she had added the dials on the rear, the screen and a little man in the screen. I smiled and gave her a thumbs up and her dad showed me some pictures on his phone of the Taj Mahal and a map of the world that she had modelled out of clay. She then gleefully squashed the model of the camera and made a model of a bald man taking photos, talented girl.
The further we got into the journy the more spectacular the scenery became, the door to the carriage was open so I along with others took our turn standing at the door looking out, taking photos, enjoying the scenery and just breaking the journey, hooray for the lack of any health and safety on the train.
When we left Kalka it was 32 degrees, but it got significantly colder as we went up the Himalayas, and you needed a jacket for the last hour, but the scenery was getting more and more mountainous.
We arrived at Shimla half an hour late, but uncomfortable though the ride was at times, it was well worth it for the views, it’s not surpruising that this is a world heritage train journey (who knew they had such things).
On the way down we booked the evening journey on the luxury Shivalak Express (express really isn’t the right word), this was a first class only train, with bigger seats, tables and a steward serving dinner. Like most things in India all of the above was true, but with a slight twist. The seats were indeed a lot bigger, but they had long seen better days, the steward was a bloke in a seventies jumper but serving excellent food and a cup of tea.
The journey was great, we saw the sunset whilst at the station and the sky was glowing ember during the first 30 minutes on our way down. The seats were so much more comfortable than the Himalayan queen, and to make things even better we had four seats to ourselves.
If you are looking for mod cons on a train, dont bother (squat toilet should give you a clue), but this was something truly different and felt a little bit special. Now where’s the ibruprofen?