Queen of hills amidst beauty of Himachal - Shimla
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.
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.
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!!