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Queen of hills amidst beauty of Himachal - Shimla

Dad and Mom have just returned from an official trip to Shimla and so I thought what could be a better time to put down my memories from the winter trip to Shimla we had last December. With the thought came the enthusiasm to activate my writing side and here I begin at the stroke of the midnight!!

It was early December in 2012 when we were planning on how to spend the Christmas that year and after due thought came up the plan to visit Shimla – queen of hills. Younger brother Amit’s persuasive skills were tested and proved as he was the one to have insisted for the destination. As per the plan we booked our tickets and got the logistics arranged. We started from Delhi on the morning of 22nd by the Kalka Shatabdi which ofcourse would drop us at Kalka. As most of the hill destinations have, Kalka is the   base station for Shimla from where the climb for the hill actually begins.

One of the attractions of Shimla is the toy train ride from Kalka to Shimla and so it could not have been missed from the itinerary. We had planned to ride the toy train on our way up and return by road. No trip is truly memorable unless it has its ups and downs. Railway timetable had informed us of a good one hour time gap between Shatabdi reaching Kalka and the toy train leaving.  But then who thought that the train known for running on time could be delayed to such an extent that we were sure to have missed the toy train. However, on reaching Kalka we were pleasantly surprised to know that Indian Railways coordinates the departure of the toy train with Shatabdi and hence we had our own 15 minutes before the train leaves Kalka. Interactions with the local railway officials revealed that most of the passengers on the toy train actually arrive by the Shatabdi and hence it is futile to let it go without the ones for which it is run – some mind these people applied which is interesting to know heartening to learn with such abysmal expectations from the government departments. And thus we were nicely settled in our seats when the narrow gauge machine titled Himalayan Queen pulled out of the station with the familiar whistle announcing the start of the journey.

Kalka-Shimla rail route is one of the two narrow gauge mountain rail trips under Himachal Hill Railway. This 96 km track was first opened for traffic in 1930 and passes through more than 100 tunnels and around 800 bridges. Unsurprisingly this is what we would expect from any traffic path running up a hill especially one where rails pull up the load of half a dozen coaches.  So we were travelling on this toy train which though would take our entire day, was totally worth it. The scenic beauty it allowed to witness on the way was spectacular and we were left marveled by the power of science which allowed man to overpower the challenges offered by this terrain. On the way, the train had multiple stops as contrary to the tourist interests that this train ride was for us, for the locals it was means of daily travel and we were not complaining. Each stop had its charm and provided us with a chance to spring into the photo sessions amidst the beauty of nature. We also had one of the stops at the “Barog” station which is immediately after the longest tunnel on the way called the “Barog Tunnel” named after the engineer who was initially tasked to build it before he failed because of a mathematical miscalculation (we all know something about it right!). Gradually we were getting exhausted and sleepy after the long journey when came the pen-ultimate station of the journey – Summer Hill which is renowned for featuring the Bollywood movie Jab We Met. The locomotive slowly pulled into the heritage Shimla station late in the evening where we were welcomed and led to the guest house. Though we were yet to have three more days of site-seeing and stay in the heart of nature, we realized that this train journey would be one of the most memorable journeys we have ever had. This was the end of our first day and we went to beds to start the new day with enhanced energy.

We all woke up to the cool breeze and playful monkeys (in the balconies) for a start to the day which would see us around the city of Shimla. The weather outside was awesome with sun rising far behind the Himalayas and we began our day. After consuming the lovely view from the balconies of our rooms for some time, we left for the site seeing trip. Shimla with an altitude of over 2000 m above sea level was the winter capital of India for years when the entire government machinery would shift to this hill town for the summers to save itself from the heat of plains down below. Our first stop was the Army Heritage Museum located besides the beautiful expanse of Annadale Golf course. The museum provides a glimpse into various paraphernalia and history of Indian Army and the collection is really impressive. There is also a greenhouse near the museum which maintains a diverse variety of flora.

The next attraction we found ourselves was the Indian Institute of Advance Studies which was actually the Viceregal Lodge during British era and was the seat of power. Built in 1888, the marvelous structure reminds of architecture during English renaissance. The tour around the facility led us to many artifacts of Indian history – a table where Indo-Pak separation was finalized, a clock which provided moon position in sky, carpets with gold embroidery, conference rooms where scholarly had intense discussions and heritage electrical fittings. Around the structure is huge ground maintained to its best and it was while resting here we had some morning snacks.

Towards later part of the day we visited Mashobra where we were given a tour around the Regional Horticulture Research Station which was a pivotal institute in study of various types of apples and was involved in developing methods to improve productivity. The facility also offered a scenic pleasure with plethora of flora maintained meticulously to ensure their health and this was evident in the way they shone by the valley.

Other place we covered during the day was the Jhaku Temple and the ridge both of which provided a great view of snow clad Himalayas. We passed through the Baba Balkhu Rail Museum which is named after the local who is believed to be the one whose foot tracks are traced by the Kalka Shimla railway line. We ended the day with a walk over the Mall which had all its liveliness to offer and the following day offered the opportunity to have ourselves surrounded by snow.

Next day we had planned a trip to Kufri and Narkanda and we were determined to do everything possible to have our share of fun in snow. It was for very this reason we had added Narkanda to the itinerary. We started in the morning and the first break we took was at the Green Valley which had the best of picturesque view on offer. With backdrop of pines over the valley slopes in this morning sun, it was hard to avoid the temptations of photographs and neither did we try to avoid it. After spending some time there we continued our journey towards Kufri where we got to see the snow for the first time (on this trip ofcourse). Around 16 km from Shimla and over 2500 m high, it presented to us a close view of the hills with snow scattered around as if brought there by a stroke of a painter. After a quick hike around the place, visit to the Himalayan National Park and snacks at the HP tourism hotel we had to move on. The view of snow was not enough for us and we wanted to be surrounded by it all around. That was what we were hoping from Narkanda which was another 200 m above Kufri and 64 kms away from Shimla in total.

After a stopover at the Fagu valley and a couple of hours of ride we were there and it did not disappoint us a bit. With snow everywhere around, a good guide and a short hike we finally found ourselves in a snow field and skiing tourists. After bargaining for our share of fun, we immediately wore on the booths and skiing gear and off we were trying our hands at this wonderful but exhausting recreation. We were so involved in the activity that we did not realize that sun was preparing itself to go down far behind the mountains and it was time for us to leave. Durations of our stay at places was being monitored by the driver as it was onto him to have us back in Shimla safely and on our ride from Narkanda to Shimla we fully understood what he meant when he told us that. The snow which caught our fancy during the onward journey was now starting to set into ice on the road and any attempt to break down the vehicles speed was being met with an equal effort from the road to make it slid. It therefore took a considerable more time to return than while going but at last we were back to our rooms. After freshening up a bit we again went out to have a view of the Mall on the Christmas Eve which with all the hustle of crowd and lightening came true to the occasion.

Little did we realize that we have had our share of fun from this trip and it was time to return home next day. We started after a good breakfast and were headed to Chandigarh by road. On the way we stopped at the Pinjore Gardens to enjoy some peace and serenity with beautiful maintained lawns and fountains and finally reached the guest house in Chandigarh. Later we boarded Kalka Shatabdi to take us back home in Delhi!!


  1. thanks for a nicely written article

  2. Dear Tarun: Thank you for your kind comment re: my Shimla piece. I read yours over. It is fine. It would make great copy for a travel brochure. When I first got into Blogging I was always quoting hotel locations and prices with ancillary reviews of eateries and then I had an epiphany. I had a bad experience in Lombok, Indonesia. So bad an experience that I wrote a vicious little blog entitled; 'Fear and Loathing in Lombok'. The piece went viral because; As I discovered; The nastier the writing the more the blog reading public laps it up; .http://www.travelblog.org/Asia/Indonesia/Lombok/Sengigi/blog-344891.html

    The bottom line is; I always decide who I am writing the blog for before I start on it. Most are for my family and myself. Trying to capture the moment in time. The feelings I experienced. I'm visually oriented. James Lee Burke is a writer that had a great deal of influence on me for setting scenes. Colors, textures, the vibe in the air, the personalities I dealt with; Good and Bad. My creative writing teacher in Maryland in 1981 was Martha Grimes who went on to good success writing mystery novels. Back when I knew her she hadn't published anything. Now she has 34 books under her belt. She didn't publish until she was 48 years old. She kept pounding me with requests to re-write my material. I asked her how many re-writes were enough and she looked me dead in the eye and said "Michael. One can NEVER do enough re-writes." So now I'll do a half dozen reviews before I'll toss it out there and even then I know that I'm screwing something up but hey! What can you do? Nothing? I'm not cut out for that.

    Review your stuff. Throw out repetitive descriptions like 'Toy Train'. One of anything is usually enough. Use more colors, smells, sounds, tastes and impressions. We all share commonality of experience. Use that in your writing. Were you frightened by anything you saw? Mystified, impassioned, bored? Put it out there so at least the reader gets a feel for who you are. What you're about. Why you travel. Thanks again, Mike

    1. Thanks a lot for reading through my blog and for the suggestions !! Most of the points you have made are really well thought of and probably I would have not delved into had you not pointed them out. They would really help me better my writing and would definitely keep them in mind henceforth.

      Thanks again,


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