The Kalka Simla Train Journey, the last outpost of romance
Joy Banerjee, Sep 17, 2010
'Small wayside stations have always fascinated me. Manned sometimes by just one or two men, and often situated in the middle of a damp sub-tropical forest, or clinging to the mountainside on the way to Simla or Darjeeling, these little stations are, for me, outposts of romance, lonely symbols of the spirit that led a certain kind of pioneer to lay tracks into the remote corners of the earth.'

- Ruskin Bond.

Eccentricity was the pillar of the Empire. It was the lubricant that enabled the machine to work. The ‘Season’ is finally over. The age has gone when osprey feathers nodded in rickshaws and waved their heads out of the exclusive compartments of the railway compartments. Now over 50 years since partition and the independence of India, the ‘toy train’ still manages to chug out of the Kalka railway station on its way to Simla.

Part of the European notion of civilization, the 2 1/2' gauge Kalka Simla Railway was built in November 1903, to ease communications between the ruling summer capital and the outside world. The most up-to-date and long-wished-for amenity was at last introduced - a railway from Kalka climbing up the precipitous heights where only tongas and bullock carts had once gone before. The engineering skill that went into its construction was a matter of considerable local pride.

The “exodus” to and from Simla made it imperative that a 60-mile long railway line be introduced. It involved the construction of 103 tunnels aggregating about five miles. The longest tunnel was the ‘Barog Tunnel’, a little longer than a kilometer (actual length 1143.61 metres). Lord Curzon, the then Viceroy took active interest in its completion, which was carried out under the supervision of Chief Engineer, Mr. H. S Harington.

The railway line was opened for goods traffic on March 31, 1891, while the first passenger train was flagged off on November 1903. Twenty intermediate stations were constructed; most of them still remain the prettiest little stations in India. The rail services run past Jabli, Dharampur, Barog, Solan, Salogra, Kandaghat and Taradevi, to name a few of the spick-and-span geranium and begonia bejeweled railway stations en route to Simla.

For six hours the train winds around the hills and darts through tunnel…It takes about four minutes to pass through the Barog tunnel: but the lights are switched on to prevent any furtive kissing. During the six hours you are kept wobbling by the oscillation of the carriage and occasionally lurch against a well-nourished lady passenger who tries in vain to sleep out the journey. You pass along some sheer precipices only a foot away from the edge. And just when you think you are going to have a lovely six hundred feet drop, the engine whisks you around the corner and shatters your dream. The train hugs the steep hillsides for support all along the way and thus numerous retaining walls were made.

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