Friday, November 26, 2010

Toy Train and lost Curry : Danger On The Shimla Toy Train Ride.

The following story appeared on a good friend's site -Trains On The Brain recently as my guest post contribution-Lost Train of Thought and Flying Curry. In April 2006, our tour from Delhi to Kathmandu with Intrepid Travel was diverted as we could not cross the border into Nepal. The height of the pro-democracy demonstrations and strikes had caused massive traffic snarl ups and delays at the border, and there was no surety of even crossing into Nepal. So, sadly our tour diverted, and spent more time touring Northern India instead. There were many good compensating places of interest, but Kathmandu and hiking in the Himalayas was an experience we had long dreamed about. So we took an impromptu trip up to Shimla, to at least get up off the hot plains, and go hiking in the foothills of the Himalayas. We had heard about the Toy Train and never realised what a great trip it was. Really interesting. But, those carriages were hot and cramped. And after a long, frustrating day of delays, a husband should heed the warning signs....
BTW the first part of the title was arrived at courtesy Ray Wylie Hubbard, a well know Country singer. I was thinking of a title and realised I was listening to his CD by the name- Lost train of Thought.  It seemed to fit so well. Man I love this guy!

Shimla Toy Train by A.M.Hurrell

Lost Train of Thought and Flying Curry.

On the train from Kalka to Shimla, nestled at 2,067 metres in the Himalayan foothills of India's Himachal Pradesh state, one can easily daydream into that time of the Raj in India, when the colonial administration and it's baggage would transfer annually to its summer capital of Shimla to escape Delhi's desiccating heat. Completed on 9th November 1903, the 96.5 KM, 2' 6'' narrow gauge track snakes over 864 bridges or viaducts, and through 102 tunnels, the longest being 1143 metres. As you ascend from Kalka, you'll find yourself viewing the same point several times, but each time passing by a little higher up, on a tortuous route that winds in hairpin bends from one side of the valley and back upon itself again and again, until finally cresting and into the next valley.

We had caught the train from Delhi to Kalka, and there transferred onto the Shimla Toy Train. Passengers crowded aboard and crammed their luggage into any available space. I had insisted on buying a curry and rice before boarding for Shimla, and placed it very carefully in the overhead luggage nets. In the tiny, cramped, knee-touching compartments, more luggage got shoved up there. The young Indian couple next to us were making the most of this enforced intimacy, with a very uncommon- for Indians- display of fondling each other. But Shimla does have a magical, romantic mood about it, and I guess some people can't wait.

I was fascinated not just by the feat of engineering, but by the views from the heights out over the valleys where April displayed Nature's springtime colour palette. One valley painted purple with flowering Jacaranda, the predominant tree. Then into the next valley where yellow and gold glistened through the azalea thickets, and a change again to deep orange when slowly entering the next, as the flowering tree species changed with the altitude. I was spellbound, in a deep reverie at Nature's marvellous display outside, almost hypnotised by the clicketty-clack, and constant transfer from gloom to brilliance to gloom as we exited one tunnel, over a viaduct, and then into another. Perhaps I should have paid more attention to a very familiar female voice complaining of something dripping on her head, but I was sure she'd sort it out easily ...and we were just entering into a valley of huge candelabra tree euphorbia and they just looked so wonderful to me.

As I moved to get a better glimpse of a particularly statuesque specimen, my train of thought was lost abruptly, as a very cold, drippy curry and rice missed me by a centimetre and went flying out my window! Thrown by my very tired, hot and furious wife. Dang! I was just starting to feel peckish.

The look of incredulity from our fellow passengers is etched in our minds. A fiesty European lady throwing a perfectly good curry out the window, and myself wiping the splatters from my face must have provided some welcome entertainment from the amorous couples antics next to us. So much for being eco-conscious and not littering the environment also.

Ladies do not like curry hair shampoos, and will not let their man forget about it for a long time either. Luckily for me, we would spend 4 days at magical, romantic Shimla, making it up.

Shimla from our hotel window.

Shimla station is a short walk to the city. Negotiate with the baggage wallahs who will crowd around to carry your bags. They are a good investment as the walk uphill in the thin air at 2067 metres altitude is tiring. They also know the best hotels or backpacker places to stay to suit your budget. You will have many options, and we found it was a simple matter of stopping and inspecting rooms at the many hotels we passed until we found good, clean rooms, rather small but with exceptional views looking out over the city and the mountains.

Our room ceiling.

Our room was mirrored around the walls and ceilings, truly suitable for magical, romantic Shimla, a city that we found was a honeymoon destination for Dehli's newlyweds, and amorous train couples. An added bonus was the troop of languar monkeys that slept every night outside our windows, which explained the bars and netting, neccessary to stop them ransacking our room. Must have been some holes, as a couple of happy languar were spotted cavorting across rooftops.... with our travelling companion's brassiere.

View looking out over the Mall.

Shimla itself is built upon several ridgelines, and quaint, pastel-painted, crammed together housing literally tumbles down the hillsides. Narrow, winding streets, and alleys lined with shops and street markets make it highly interesting to explore. A very good place to buy woollen knitwear and other winter clothing.

Places of Interest.

The Mall. Shimla's city centre where you'll find a good range of restaurants, and Post Office. At the Tourist Office ask about the area's local treks and walks. Also day and longer tours around the region.

Christ Church. Located at far end of The Mall. The stained glass windows are very worthwhile viewing.

Temple of Hanuman or Monkey Temple. 2 kms walk from The Mall, to the highest hill at 8,000 feet. Be wary around the monkeys. They are known to bite so don't have any food visible to tempt them.

While Shimla's places of interest can be cruised through in a day, it's main attractions are the train ride getting there, it's atmosphere of decayed colonial beauty, or as a point from where to enjoy hiking in the surrounding hills. Shimla is the ideal place for rest and recreation after your hard slog around Northern India.
The local shoe repairer just off the Mall.



Red Nomad OZ said...

What an amazing spot! But I reckon I'd be hearing warning bells if I was thinking about boarding ANYTHING with 'Toy' in its name ...

Happy travels!!

zablon said...

i have always been fond of trains, but i dont like them being too full

Expat in Germany said...

It sounds like a very eventful but memorable trip! I haven't made it to this part of the world yet, but hope to one day!

Devin the Travel Writer said...

I love that first shot at the top of the page. Was the photo taken by a friend (AM Hurrell)?

Jim said...

The photo appears on Wiki. So photo credits go to A M Hurrell.

India tour packages said...

This blog is very nice. I like it blog.Avail best India tour packages with us, the solitary tour operator in India that serves with customized India travel packages and offers opportunity to unveil myriad of tourist options.

Jools said...

I like the re-dux even better Jim, thanks for linking to it here! I like the Hubbard ref too, I've quite a taste for a bit of country twang myself so I'll look the tune out. :)

Jim said...

He's been around the country scene a while so there's a great choice of his CDs available. Just ordered 2 more of his.
Yeah, I expanded the post a bit, and dropped in a few more photos.
Thanks for asking for the guest spot Jools, as I've had fun writing about Shimla, the Toy Train and Kay and I had a great laugh over the flying curry.

Manoj Kumar said...

see thats always the condition in India...where ever you go either by train or by bus, they will be crowded....and you will see a warmth and intimacy between the people in India...

S. Susan Deborah said...

I'm glad that you experienced the jostles and other things peculiar to Indian terrain.

Warm regards,

P. S. Tell me when you come to Chennai.

Unknown said...

I've never been on a train and only 2 years ago had my first airplane ride....

The pictures are amazing... I couldn't imagine working in such a little area as the shoe repairer shop in the last picture.

Alpana Jaiswal said...

Shimla is fascinating...we have a similar train here in Darjeeling,the highest railway station in the world is here,that is some experience.

Neneng Tarigan said...

Very interesting story. I have been to India but only to Delhi and Agra, so this story really has attracted me to come and visit India again. I think Indian people have to thank u for this Jim.

Unknown said...

Jim, Shimla used to be so much prettier a few years back. Its too populated now. There are a few hills in India that are still virgin - like Kasauli.
I was born in the hills of Darjeeling and I just adore the place. You may say I am biased but even with its concrete growing by the minute - there is no place like it. It used to be called the Queen of the Hills till the construction revolution took over. Have you visited Darjeeling ever?

Alisha said...

Your blog is amazing and describes of an event so memorable. Shimla is indeed a beautiful place and it's really overwhelming to read about your great time here. I do wish you visit Shimla next time again, whenever you come to India.