Fondly referred to as the “Queen of the Hills”, Shimla has been a favorite summer vacation spot since the British era. It was declared the summer capital of British India in 1864 and possesses charming British architecture, showing another side of India’s cultural diversity. Here is why you should take the Toy Train from Kalka to Shimla for a unique experience of this picturesque town.
1) The Sunrise
Most trains leave in the early morning, meaning the journey begins in the dark and bears witness to a beautiful sunrise over the foothills of the Himalayas. The five-hour excursion weaves over the mountains, offering breathtaking views of steep valleys and majestic colors streaking the sky. The early morning presents Himachal Pradesh in soft lighting, just as the little villages awaken for the day. It’s a calming ride, and one of the best sunrises you can see in India.
2) The Train
For train enthusiasts, this is a unique adventure. The track is a 2’6” (762mm) narrow-gauge railway, part of the UNESCO ‘World Heritage Site’ Mountain Railways of India. Built on the mountains terrain during the 19th century British rule of India, the railway’s construction was deemed “outstanding examples of the interchange of values on developments in technology” and engineering marvel”. The small train carriage seats only a few people per car and definitely isn’t your typical Indian train.
3) The History
Shimla became the summer capital of British India in 1864. Construction of the railway began in 1898 and opened in 1903. The ride of the railways allows visitors to retrace History’s tracks and imagine the journey at the turn of the century. The journey includes 102 tunnels and 864 bridges, built over a century ago and rightfully deserving its UNESCO World Heritage status. Many stories surround the railroad’s construction. For example, the longest tunnel remained incomplete after the Chief Engineer misaligned the ends and committed suicide from shame.
4) The Villages
Perched along the hills and ledges on the winding journey into the Himalayas are small Indian villages. Their colorful roofs pop out from the greenery of the forests and the blue of the mountains to create a picturesque view. One can see villagers waving from the side of the track at passing trains as well completing daily activities such as visiting the temple, tending their gardens, or relaxing on their balconies. In train journeys throughout India, these villages have stood out as some of the most colorful and most charming in the country.
5) Statue of Hanuman and Jakhoo Temple
Once one reaches Shimla, the statue of Hanuman should not be missed. Built on the highest hill, reaching the statue and the accompanying temple is a bit of a trek. Jakhoo Hill is situated 2,455 meters (8,000 ft) above sea level. In 2010, the world’s tallest statue of Lord Hanuman was unveiled. At 108 ft and situated at 8100 ft, the statue surpasses that of Christ the Redeemer, measuring 98 ft at an altitude of 2296 ft in Brazil. It’s definitely not to be missed. But do watch out for the monkeys!
6) The Luxury
There are many trains departing from Kalka to Shimla daily. While most are quite basic, it is possible to book the elegant Shivalik Queen. This luxury coach can be booked by couples or groups up to eight and attached to regular trains. The coach offers four coupés, lavishly furnished, carpeted, and contains large windows.
So what are you waiting for? Let’s get packing and get on a Toy Train to Shimla soon. Just tell us your dates and preferences here and we’ll sort it all out for you.
An American expat dashing around the planet, currently living in Chandigarh, India. Found herself drinking chai with Indians, partying in the Middle East, and teaching English to Italian children in the last six years. Follow her global adventures below.