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Kalka-Shimla line Kalka-Shimla line

The Kalka-Shimla Line: photographs taken from the train on the way up. The viaduct seen on the right disappears into the hills, with their dense vegetation, on both sides.

Surveys for this narrow-gauge hill-station railway, probably the most celebrated of such railways in India, were made in 1884 and 1885, and plans for the 68-mile track were drawn up in 1887. The line from Delhi-Kalka was laid in 1889. But the contract for this further stretch was finally awarded only in 1898, over ten years later. Even then negotiations continued until construction actually started in 1900. Taking the track from Kalka at 2,100' above sea level, to Simla, at 7.000' was clearly going to be a challenge: "works involving engineering skill of the first magnitude had to be undertaken" (Vaidyanathan 143). Moreover, there were worries about how many more people would come flooding into Simla, which was already such a popular summer resort. However, with H. S. Harington as the Chief Engineer, the work finally went ahead, and the line was opened in November 1903 (see Kanwar 40). [Click on the images to enlarge them.]

Kalka-Shimla line Accident Tool Van

Left: Barog Station on the Kalka-Shimla line. Right: Accident Tool Van, Kalka, now "retired" at the National Railway Museum, Shanti Path, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi, India.

Barog, near the start of the Kalka-Shimla line, is a small hill station, now popular in its own right, that grew up around the time the track was being laid. It is named after the unfortunate British engineer Colonel Barog. According to local history, the Colonel was in charge of the tunnelling here but miscalculated: the ends of this tunnel, which was to be the longest of all the tunnels, failed to meet. He was fined for wasting government money, and was so shaken by the experience that he committed suicide. With guidance from local holy man Baba Bhalku, who made his own kind of survey of the rocks, a new tunnel was then successfully built. The Colonel's story has clearly passed into legend (he is said to haunt the tunnel), and Bhalku's contribution, both here and elsewhere on the line, also seems the stuff of legend. But the Viceroy is known to have presented Bhalku with a medal and turban (see Dhatwalia), and the new rail museum in Shimla bears his name. As for needing an Accident Relief Train, it is not hard to imagine slips and accidents of all kinds occurring both during the construction of the railway and afterwards. The tool van on display at the National Railway Museum in Delhi was probably as helpful in its own way as Baba Bhalku, with his special powers, was in his.

Summer Hill Simla view

Left: The delightfully named Summer Hill is the last stop before Shimla, and just on its outskirts. The station sign, with its red roundel and blue bar, is remarkably like the one refined by Frank Pick (1878-1941) early in the twentieth century for the London Underground: another little bit of home for the expatriate British. Right: Simla Railway Station, Christmas 1903, the month after it was opened (Buck, facing p. 24).

Laying the track to Shimla in the Himalayan foothills was indeed an incredible feat of engineering: despite changes over the years, there are still 102 tunnels now, as well as close to 900 bridges and an even larger number of curves. The tunnel at Barog is 3,753' in length, and this is at an altitude of 5,000' (see Vaidyanathan 143). The Kalka-Shimla Railway was included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site listing in July 2008. It is not alone: the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway and the Nilgiri Mountain Railways were already there (the latter in Southern India), and the Matheran Hill Railway in Maharashtra is likely to follow. All were tremendous engineering feats.

View from Shimla

View of the Himalayas from Shimla.

Related Material

Sources

Buck, Edward J. Simla, Past and present. Calcutta: Thacker, Spink and Co.., 1904.

Dhatwalia, Dr. Vinod Kumar. "A great Unknown Railway Engineer — Baba Bhalku." Sciencebeing. Web. 13 March 2014.

Kanwar, Pamela. Imperial Simla: The Political Culture of the Raj. 2nd ed. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Northen, Stephanie. "Destined Not to Meet." TESconnect (website of the TSL Education, Ltd.). Web. 13 March 2014.

"The Soul of Himachal — Kalka Shimla Railway." India Heritage Sites. Web. 13 March 2014.

Vaidyanathan, K. R. 150 Glorious Years of Indian Railways. Mumbai: English Edition Publishers, 2003.


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Last modified 13 March 2014