An early start saw us at the station for 7am. Amazingly our train from Delhi to Kalka left only 10 minutes late. This time we had no Sleeper Class and no General ticket, this time we were in AC Chair. Chair cars are far more like the English version of a train, only on these trains you have a waiter who gives you bottles of water and you get fed. The food however was ropey, to say the least and neither Al nor I were particularly taken by it. We were heading to Kalka so that we could get the Kalka – Shimla toy train up to the hill station Shimla. Kalka was a 5 hour journey north of New Delhi and a pretty pleasant one at that. There was plenty of room, reclining chairs and most importantly no smell of shite! We had only 20 minutes between trains and as we were already 10 minutes late setting off we had resigned ourselves to thinking we’d probably miss the train and have to grab a bus. Amazingly we arrived in the station 5 minutes early and with 25 minutes to spare to catch the toy train.
Our attention was instantly drawn to how fresh and cool the air was. We were not in Varanasi now. The station at Kalka was beautiful, lots of flower beds and fancy railings, no rubbish and something we’d not seen on our travels so far.. dustbins! Kalka generally seemed like a very pleasant station and it looked exactly like a life size version of a Hornby Railway model.
Boarding the toy train there was a definite air of excitement in the train, news was spreading that it had been snowing in Shimla and a lot of Indian families were heading north for their first ever glimpse of the white stuff they only ever see in the movies. There was a really good vibe and everyone was in good spirits. We need not have worried about the train leaving without us as it seems we’re running on Shimla-time and with a sound of the horn we left the station 40 minutes late. Instantly we started the 2000 metre plus climb up into the foothills of the Himalayas. Although it happens everyday, families were stood outside their houses waving at us as we slowly chugged up the track and kids were leaning over bridges shouting and waving. It just seemed so exciting. Al and I were both grinning like mad and couldn’t wait to get there.
5 hours on a slow train up a narrow winding mountain track is a lot more interesting than it sounds, the views were breathtaking and the thought that this railway had been built hundreds of years ago was incredible as it crossed gorges and scaled the mountain. 3 hours in and it was starting to get pretty chilly and the coats came out. I think the Indians we were travelling with were thinking, ‘bloody hell, if the white boys have got their coats out it must be cold’. A short while later we pulled into Barog Station where we had a ten minute stop to buy Chai and potato cutlets.. refreshments bought, we continued to climb high into the mountains stopping at lots of tiny little stations along the way. It seemed to be common practice that when the train stopped people got off to have a look around and when the train started to leave everyone would frantically charge up the platform and dive on. Not ones to miss out, Al and I got involved and had a few near misses as the end of the platform fast approached and you still weren’t on the train.
As we finally started to reach Shimla we started seeing a dusting of snow, I have never heard people getting so excited about such a small amount of snow. Every little patch and they were leaning out the window trying to touch it and take photos of it. Everyone was shouting and laughing, there was lots of pointing and lots of photos. Even Al and I were getting all excited because they were, it was like watching kids on Christmas morning.
Pulling up at the station in Shimla it was now dark, we avoided the offers of all the porters, although got accosted by some random dude who wanted to take us to his hotel. We went with him as we had no idea where we were and by now it was dark and icy. We walked uphill for ages and finally to some ridiculously icy steps. “Careful friend” was what he kept saying to us, not like we weren’t already trying not to die. We looked at the hotel, decided that although it was very nice, after a few beers, certain death was a given whilst attempting to get back to the hotel, I was sober and had already fallen over twice! We went back into town, found an old place called Dalziels and checked in there. It was absolutely freezing in our room but we didn’t care, our room number was 007 and we were starving, we had exhausted our supplies of M&S Percy Pig Tails on the train ride. Having dropped our bags we headed straight back up the hill and ordered enough food for 4. Everything in Shimla shuts at 10pm, so like the good boys we are, we were back home and tucked up in bed by quarter to.