Shimla-Kalka Toy Train
The first time I experienced travel on the Unesco World Heritage train to Shimla was roughly two decades ago when I surprised a college friend on her birthday. It was a journey I undertook from New Delhi. A five-hour ride on the broad gauge Himalayan Queen brought me to Kalka, a quick switchover was made to the toy train, and another six-hour chug to my destination. Arriving after dark, coupled with tedium at a never-ending journey, I recall being hugely disappointed at having missed the fabulous vistas that this mountainous route is famed for.
A more recent one was no different, leaving me guessing at what I might have missed out the previous time. My cousin and I decided to hop on for a return trip to Chandigarh. Given the morning departure, we hoped excitedly to capture as many of them wonderful views that had long been promised to us. Also, given the time of year (early December) we presumed mistakenly that we would be two of very few passengers aboard. Hoped, more like it, and so you can imagine the rude shock we received when we boarded. We found ourselves squashed amidst a large group of loud, inconsiderate and hygiene-challenged tourists. That really is the point where we should have got off, but…
Saving Grace: A few, very few, breathtaking moments before visibly apathetic development blocks them out.
Verdict: Too slow (you could grow roses before stopping to smell them!), too long (seven hours versus four by road), too little green (post monsoons may be a good time to go, if at all), too much construction (read concrete monstrosities), too many people (self explanatory).
Note To Self: Never again.