The Kalka Shimla Railway, Himachal Pradesh, India
Barog Station, Kalka Shimla Railway: All Aboard the Choo-Choo Train
By Mirdula Dwivedi
There is a time in an academic calendar when the start of a new semester is just around the corner. And that makes me feel like squeezing in one more break before things become really hectic.
Racking my Brains!
As I had only three days to spare, I had to pick up a place that is not very far from Delhi. After bugging everyone around and wrinkling my nose at every suggestion that was offered, I stumbled upon a discussion about Barog at Indiamike. The possibility of staying at the Barog Railway Station on Kalka-Shimla route sounded just too good.
Buy Me a Ticket
Sesha (my husband) was not coming, but I asked him to reserve three train tickets from Delhi to Kalka and back. I was traveling with my two college-going nephews, Dilip and Sunil.
Reaching Kalka from Delhi is easy. Both trains as well as buses are available frequently. We boarded the Kalka Mail from Old Delhi Railway Station. It reached Kalka at 4:40 am.
All of us were still asleep when Sunil finally woke us up saying, “Let us get down before the train goes to the shed!” I woke up the two other sleeping passengers in our compartment.
We had no fixed plans. As we walked towards the center of the station we saw two toy trains. My nephews wanted to get the tickets for it.I asked a newspaper vendor if one could buy tickets immediately. He pointed out the ticket booth. I stood in the line and when my turn came the ticket examiner said I need to buy a general ticket (near the main entrance). Then he would convert it for the toy train.
By the time we did all this and stood in the queue again, a guy broke the queue (I realized later that he was a railway employee) to get his tickets. I protested to the ticket examiner but he ignored me. So when my turn came, he said, “The tickets are over, both the trains are full now.”
I told him, “OK in that case, I will wait just in case. Anyway everyone else should be going now!” Soon enough he found reserved tickets for us on the local train. And that is why I love the online booking facility of the Indian Railways: no such hassles.
The Toy Trains to Shimla
The toy trains from Kalka to Shimla are now part of the UNESCO World Heritage. They run on narrow gauge on slow speeds amidst beautiful mountains. Shimla is a popular hill station and full of honeymooning couples. We were quite glad that we were getting down at Barog.
When we tried to take our seats the fun began. My seat was taken by someone and they offered me another one because they wanted to be together. At that spot someone else was sitting and offered me one further down!
I finally sat quite far away from the original one but magically my non-window seat got converted to a window seat! I planned to sit by the door of the train anyway and that is what the three of us eventually did. I tired taking pictures from the moving train.
Traveling like this, after two and a half hours we finally reached Barog.
Give me a Room!
We got down and waited for the train to go. Then I went to the station master’s office and asked for a room. He was quite confused and could not put us together as a family.
My two nephews are 6 feet 3 inches tall and I for sure do not look like their mother. The station master asked for my identity proof and then decided to give us a room.
There are three rooms at the station itself (100 rupees, 2.05 dollars roughly) but they were already occupied. The Shivalik Cottage was vacant (750 rupees, 15.5 dollars roughly) and we decided to stay there. I would recommend that you pre-book by calling the Station Master at +91 179 2238814.
The cottage has a big room, a big bath room (with a big non functional bath tub) and a non functional kitchen. It is not well maintained, though; because of the relatively high price it is often vacant.
It is just about bearably clean but the linen needed a change. I told this to the station master while leaving and he said I should have asked for it at the beginning!
The flush in the washroom didn’t work, so we had to pour the water from a bucket and that was the biggest downside. But then rooms have always been secondary in our scheme of things.
What a Beauty!
The Barog station is such a beauty! The wooden buildings are small and painted in blue and white. There are purple and yellow flowers in plenty and the surrounding hills were shrouded in mist that day.
There is a refreshment room for food and a tea shop at the station itself. From early morning to 9.00 pm toy trains pass through. And the frequent visitors on the yellow/orange flowers were crimson sunbirds, bees and butterflies.
On Friday, day one, by the time we settled down there was a heavy downpour. But Dilip and Sunil went out in the rain and got breakfast.
We didn’t like the bread but the cutlets and the omelets were good. When the rain stopped we went to the station, watched the toy trains come and go and had many cups of tea.
In the evening we walked along the railway lines towards the next station, Solan. It seems that everyone living nearby takes their evening walk along the railway tracks. It was getting dark, so we headed back after a while. Soon it was time for dinner and sleep.
The Barog Tunnel
The Barog Tunnel is the longest tunnel (1144 meters/3752 feet) on the Kalka-Shimla route. The name of the English engineer in charge of its construction was, unsurprisingly, Barog.
However, the original tunnel built by him is at a distance of 1 km and the two ends of that tunnel didn’t meet. He was fined Rupee 1 (.02 cents or so) for this mistake and due to shame he committed suicide.
The tunnel currently in use was built under the supervision of H.S. Harrington with the help of a local hermit Malku between 1900 to 1903. There is a sign board next to the entrance (in Hindi) that tells this tale.
Silly Silly Me!
Around 10.00 am on the second day (Saturday) we were chatting with someone on the station. He said there were no trains coming till 11:00 am. Dilip and I (Sunil was still asleep) decided to walk through the tunnel.
It was dark inside after a while and I switched on my cell phone’s light. I could see the faint outline of the tracks. We had reached what felt like the middle of the tunnel.
Suddenly Dilip called out, “Bua (aunt) there is a train coming, I can hear it.” I moved the light around and saw a shelter (one of the many hollow arches within the tunnel where one can stand safely) right next to where we were.
We happily went inside it and the railcar passed by. Dilip staunchly refused to go any further.
We walked back and headed straight for the tea stall. Three tourists staying at the Barog Station came along and asked me, “Ma’am what happened inside the tunnel when the Railcar came?”
I told them about the shelter and they replied, “The station master was quite worried about an accident and was scolding everyone around because they let you go inside!”
Then they asked the tea shop proprietor what would happen if we could not find a shelter? The proprietor thought that chances of an accident were very high.
Another person thought that there is sufficient space for a train to pass if we just stood flat against the wall. We, of course, wish to believe the second version, but we are in no hurry to check out which one is true.
The group of three gentlemen told us, “You should party tonight. It was a narrow escape.” I did not tell this on phone to my dad who is an ex-railway man. But when I did later, he was not pleased at all.
I can only say I do not wish to repeat this experience ever again. But then the smallest of the kids around Barog have crossed that tunnel…
Pleasant Walks All Around
Sunil was still asleep through all this drama. After tea, Dilip climbed up and down on a nearby hill. I went on the route behind the Shivalik Cottage which was full of trees and birds.
Around 3:00 pm we all met at the station again, went down for a late lunch to a nearby dhaba (small roadside eating joint).
In the evening we properly walked up to Solan (4km) along the railway tracks and took a train back from there.
It was so crowded that I had to request a Sadhu (hermit) who was sitting on his blanket near the train door to give us some place to stand. We went to the dhaba for the dinner again.
Time to Head Back
We were heading back to Kalka on Sunday and we asked the station master how should we go? All the trains coming from Shimla would be packed with tourists like us.
The station master around 11:00 am called me and asked if we would like to go by a Railcar to Kalka?
They were finally convinced that we were nephews and aunt and everyone at the station was quite friendly to us.
We had the entire Railcar to ouselves and had a pleasant ride. But on the Kalka to Delhi Train (Shatabdi Express) an elderly couple decided to play bhajans (Hindu prayer songs) loudly on their cell phone for the entire journey.
And though I am back to the city I still can remember the blue buildings and the crimson sunbirds at the Barog Railway Station without even closing my eyes!
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