My trip started out in Delhi where I was in town for business. I had a longer weekend and had heard about this "toy train to Shimla" and decided thats how I would spend my free time(10.5 hours on a train why not). I took a taxi from the hotel to the train station in Delhi for a 515 am departure time. I was thinking I would be a head of most people and it wouldn't be crowded. I guess I had forgotten I was Delhi so of course it was a little crowded but not to bad for Delhi standards.
The ride from Delhi to Kalka took about 5 hours and 45 minutes on a pretty comfortable seat in the first class chair car. This is first class for India, not the states, it is assigned seating and it does have air-conditioning but thats about it for first class. Most people don't realize till they are in the restroom that its basically a hole in the floor with a door. The nice part is that Shmila is the last stop on this relatively non-scenic easy ride, so if you so happen to fall asleep as I did you will be woken up at the end of the line.
Once in Kalka the station it was less crowded and it was a lot easier to find your platform for the toy train to Shimla. You do have to pay for the restrooms and they are not as clean as most would prefer. I would recommend the station however though to the train. The station isn't moving down a track and wobbling side to side as you try to go. There are a couple little food stands in Kalka that sell both packaged goods and food made right there. I went for the packaged Bour Bon chocolate cookies and I was not disappointed. Then again I am rarely disappointed with any cookie. (had the Twin Cream ones on the way back and pretty good there too)
Once the train left the station, right on time I might add, it started going up right away. The views at first were just regular rolling hills but after about 30 or so minutes the valleys started to open up and the panoramic views were amazing at times. The seats on the train are crowded and tight. I am 6' tall and 200lbs and it was a squeee with me and couple of friends the same size. I decided at one point about an hour in to get up and sit in the door way of the train just to not have a window in my way and to feel the breeze. This might have been the best move of the trip. The freedom to swing your feet and lean back against the car with the door open gave this true sense of freedom and exploration and it seemed I was floating in space when going over the bridges. If you do this you have to watch your feet at times though. The tunnels are tight and my toe did hit the wall of one tunnel. Another plus to sitting like this in the door is when you come into the couple of stops on the way your can just hop off and be first in line to scout the vendors. I liked hanging back and watching everyone barter over the price and then get what looked good. I have a very strong stomach so I handled the food ok, one of my friends is not so strong and he ended up a little sick from the food so once again eat at your own risk and tolerances. About 3 hours in though there was a vendor selling a garlic fried flat bread with some sort of tomato dipping sauce for 30Rs ($0.54 USD) is was pretty darn good.
After 5 hours or so you end in Shimla. One thing we forgot about it going from Delhi to Kalka to Shimla is a 7,000' gain in altitude. We thought we would be able to take off and just do a quick hike to the hotel. Ha, more like a leisurely stroll that winded us. We made a some excuses to see the views and catch our breath but we made it.
All and all it was a great trip and great sights. The down falls are the seats are about as comfortable as the floor and the bathroom closet isn't that great. The cost for me to go from Delhi to Kalka to Shimla round trip was only $11 US (500 Rs). So in keeping things in perspective its one heck of a deal for the ride, experience and views.
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