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Posted by on Jul 18, 2008 in At TMV | 0 comments

India’s Train Route: World Heritage Site

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It is celebration time at my in-laws house in the hill State of Himachal Pradesh in India. A century-old Kalka-Shimla rail line that passes through their sprawling ancestral lower Himalayan farmland, has been finally chosen by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) as a world heritage site. More here…

During holidays I often walk along part of the rail track which, the Guinness Book of World Records states, offers steepest rise in altitude in the space of 96 kilometers, and whose more than two-thirds of the track is curved, sometimes at angles as sharp as 48 degrees. The picturesque rail journey begins at 640 meters above sea level at Kalka to the lofty heights of Shimla (former summer capital during the British colonial days) at 2,060 meters.

A living example of the extraordinary engineering feat of the early mechanical age, this narrow gauge train track – 2 ft 6 in (762 mm) – climbs steep cliffs and the train huffs and puffs at a leisurely pace of maximum 22-km an hour through deodar, pine, ficus, oak and maple woods and completes its 96-km journey in five hours. (The rail track passes through my in-laws farms where they grow apple, plum, apricot, walnut and cherries.)

The memorabilia of the British Raj in the form of old wall clocks, semi-porcelain hand-painted crockery, vintage communication and track control system, called Neals Token Instrument System, is still in use on the rail stations en route. In 1827, Lord Amherst, the Governor-General of India, spent the summer at Shimla and found the place to his liking. It was under his successor, Lord William Bentinck, that Shimla became the summer headquarters of the government of (British) India.

The Kalka-Shimla rail was formally opened on November 9, 1903. (The same year when Orville Wright flew an aircraft with a petrol engine at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.) Before the advent of this rail, the journey from the plains to Shimla was tough. The first major achievement in this direction was the opening of the Grand Hindostan and Tibet Road in 1856. Earlier, the mode of travel to the hills was by jampans (sedan chair fitted with curtains and slung on poles borne by bearers at an even trot) for women, and men usually rode the track. This was followed by horse-driven carriages (Kalka-Shimla Tonga Service). More here…

Another writer says: “The (Shimla-Kalka) grade is very steep and there are 102 tunnels. The engineering is extravagant, with massive stone viaducts. Some with four tiers of arches look like Roman aqueducts. It’s a masterpiece.” More here…

And for an article written in 2002 please click here…

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