s(h)imla

After all my efforts to get a train ticket, I almost missed the train! The Indian Railways website shows that the Kalka Mail is, on average, more than two hours late arriving in Delhi. I was a bit late getting dinner but I didn’t need to worry, the train would be late. I got a cycle rickshaw from Paharganj, where I had stayed, to the Old Delhi Railway Station (Delhi Junction, I think); not the quickest but certainly the most interesting. And the rider/driver told me it would take 10 minutes. Twenty minutes later, I was having an exhilarating shortcut ride through the narrow bazaar lanes of Old Delhi: it was like being in a Harrison Ford movie with obstacles coming head on, fast and furious, while I tried to keep my pack onboard. Occasionally the driver would look back to see by how much (not very much at all) he had missed some particular obstacle. Or to check I was still with him. Lots of fun! And I arrived at the station ten minutes before the trains scheduled arrival. Which, tonight at any rate, coincided with the actual train arrival. I had hardly caught my breath from the rickshaw ride before I was searching for my carriage.

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The toy train, in Kalka, at an ungodly time of morning.

The overnight ride was very comfortable and arrived only half-an-hour late in Kalka, where the toy train was waiting for its pull up to Simla (referred to as Shimla only by Indian Railways, it appears). It was just beginning to get light as we set off at around 5:45 am. This was a comfortable train, but cold! It was a dreary wet day and everyone but myself was bundled up. As I shivered in shorts and a thin shirt. At the stop in Barog, I retrieved a jacket from my pack and things improved.

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I managed to get the last available room at Spars Lodge, a bit of a slog from the main part of the town (which was centred on the Mall) but comfortable. The roads are some of the steepest I remember anywhere and, combined with the altitude of around 7000′, make for energetic walking. But the temperature is tolerable! Even pleasant in the shade.

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Lunch of parantha at a roadside stall. And I’m still here to tell the tale…

I spent a relaxed few days, wandering around the town and, after many false starts, getting at new SIM card. The wifi at Spars Lodge is unreliable (that’s actually a generous description) so it’s good to have access again.

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Simla may actually be the knitting capital of India

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With the weather more settled, I spent a day taking the toy train back down to Barog, had an excellent chicken karehi at a roadside restaurant (steeply) above the station and caught the 15:05 back up to Simla.

A train parked up on a twinned section of rail, waiting for us to pass.

A train parked up on a twinned section of rail, waiting for us to pass.

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This is a locals train, not full of affluent refugees from the heat of Delhi

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An ‘up’ train waits for us to pass

The train to take me back up to Shimla

The train to take me back up to Shimla

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Rail Motor Coach #3, 1992, at Barog

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Barog Station, 1992

I traveled this route in 1990. The ‘train’ I took then was the Rail Motor Coach, a truck converted to run on rails if I remember correctly. It wasn’t like being in a train at all, the gentle side to side rocking motion replaced by a harder truck-like suspension. This ‘train’ does still run but I got conflicting information about whether it was only for private parties or is still part of the regular schedule.

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A rail motor coach, on the go: I presume a private booking.

A fun day out, indeed. Relaxed. How will I ever go back to work?

Shimla is not just about the narrow-gauge railway line. There is an active bazaar, nice hikes (although I didn’t do any this time) and some tired old-English architecture.

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