Whilst in India I travelled all the way from Delhi to Shimla in one day via train. The day started far earlier than I usually care to be awake and began with a train ride from New Delhi train station to Kalka, where we boarded The Toy Train to take the last leg of our journey from Kalka to Shimla.
Until this point I had only ridden in fairly western style high-speed trains, such as the Shatabdi Express. These are, by all accounts, pretty much the same style of train you’d take in Europe, America or Australia (all except for the toilets, but that’s a story for another day!). Sure, the sights outside your window were far from what you would see on a train travelling through Europe, but I felt utterly removed from it inside the air-conditioned carriages of the trains.
As the train sped past slums, shacks and people defecating on train tracks it felt just as though I was watching it on a television screen. It didn’t feel just mere feet and a window pane of glass from me. It seemed to be a whole world away from the reality that I was living and I wasn’t, and I’m still not, sure how I feel about that.
This all changed on The Toy Train. I think The Toy Train is so-called simply because it looks a little like a child’s toy, and is so far removed from the high-speed trains I’d previously been used to.
The Kalka to Shimla railway is a 2ft narrow gauge railway and is listed as a Mountain Railways of India World Heritage Site. The Toy Train slowly climbs to over 7,000 feet to the foothills of the Himalayas and the city of Shimla.
The views along the journey were absolutely spectacular. I kept catching tantalising glimpses of the dizzying views through the trees as we climbed higher and higher during our almost 5 hour journey.
Along the way we saw countless monkeys (you won’t see them too often in the cities, but they’re everywhere in the Himalayas), cows, goats and more dogs than I’ve ever seen in my life. We passed through little towns, clinging to the hillsides and saw glimpses of how people in this area go about their day to day lives.
Whilst The Toy Train might offer incredible views of this gorgeous, mountainous region, it isn’t exactly the most comfortable ride. The seats are uncomfortable wooden benches and you have so little leg-room that every time you move your feet you’ll inevitably bash into the person opposite you and have to offer up apologies and bashful smiles. The only air-conditioning on this train is the open windows and doors offering a slight breeze as the train struggles uphill. And the toilets are just a hole in the floor. That’s definitely something I’ll never get used to!
The beauty of The Toy Train is that it offers a completely different train experience to its clean, comfortable, high-speed counterparts. When it gets to hot simply go and stand by the open door, poke your head out and enjoy the cooling breeze. There’s something wonderfully freeing about standing by the open door of a train. It also felt very Indian, like the scenes of train travel in India you see so often in magazines, TV and online. I certainly didn’t feel as removed from the scenes that we passed by on the way as I had done on the high-speed trains. It felt more raw, more real and thoroughly more interesting.
As The Toy Train ascends higher into the foothills of The Himalayas the temperature drops and by the time you step off the train in Shimla it’s wonderfully cool compared to the humid, oppressive heat of Delhi.
I spent a wonderful five days in Shimla enjoying the stunning views, delicious food and clear mountain air. I’ll be writing lots about Shimla in the coming weeks so stay tuned to find out more about this stunning city.