Taking a trip on the historic UNESCO World Heritage Kalka-Shimla toy train is like traveling back in time. The railway, built by the British in 1903 to provide access to their summer capital of Shimla, provides one of the most scenic toy train journeys in India. It enlivens passengers as it gradually winds its way steeply upwards along the narrow track, through rugged mountains and pine forests.
The train connects Kalka, just north of Chandigarh, to Shimla in Himachal Pradesh state. The captivating train route runs for 96 kilometers (60 miles) through 20 railway stations, 103 tunnels, 800 bridges, and an incredible 900 curves.
The longest tunnel, which stretches for more than a kilometer, is near the main railway station at Barog. The most spectacular scenery occurs from Barog to Shimla. The train's speed is greatly restricted by the steep gradient that it has to climb, but this allows for plenty of fascinating sightseeing along the way. Be prepared for a five to six hour train ride though!
Tourist Train Services
Four regular tourist train services run on the Kalka Shimla railway. These are:
- Shivalik Deluxe Express -- a premium express train with carpet, wide glass windows, cushioned seats, relaxing music, and upgraded toilets. It fits 120 passengers. Food is provided, and the train only has one stop at Barog.
- Himalayan Queen -- a standard train, with first and second class carriages. Food isn't provided but can be purchased at the nine stations it stops at along the way. Some of the stops are for 5-10 minutes, so this train is the most suitable for those who like to get out and explore. You'll be able to take plenty of photos.
- Rail Motor Car -- uniquely resembles a bus from the time of the Second World War. It's got a transparent roof, and fits only 14 passengers. It's also an express service, with food provided. There is one stop, at Barog. It can be difficult to get tickets though.
- Vistadome Him Darshan Express -- a new train with seven carriages featuring glass roofs and modified windows to provide panoramic views. It is the only train that's air-conditioned.
To have the most comfortable experience, choose either the Shivalik Deluxe Express, Rail Motor Car, or Vistadome trains. Unless you travel in first class, common complains about the Himalayan Queen are overcrowding, hard bench seats, dirty toilets and nowhere to store luggage.
Timetable from Kalka to Shimla
Trains from Kalka to Shimla run daily as follows:
- Kalka-Shimla NG Passenger (52457) -- is for hardcore travelers who don't mind a long journey through the very early hours of the morning. The train departs Kalka at 3.30 a.m and arrives in Shimla at 8.55 a.m., with 16 stops along the way. It has very basic old-style carriages, with first class and unreserved seating. This train is currently not running during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Rail Motor Car Special (04505)-- departs Kalka at 5.25 a.m and arrives at 9.25 a.m. See train information.
- Shivalik Deluxe Express Special (04527) -- is timed to connect with the Netaji Express Howrah-Kalka Mail train, which comes from Kolkata via Delhi. It departs Kalka at 5.45 a.m and arrives in Shimla at 10.25 a.m. Although, it commonly reaches Shimla an hour or two late. See train information.
- Kalka-Shimla Special (04529)-- is a general train that departs Kalka at 6.20 a.m and is scheduled to reach Shimla at 11.35 a.m., with 10 stops. However, it usually arrives, on average, about 50 minutes late. The train has first class and AC chair class. People usually opt for this train if tickets are unavailable on the tourist trains. More See train information.
- Vistadome Him Darshan Express/Kalka-Shimla Festival Special (04517) -- departs Kalka at 7 a.m. and arrives in Shimla at 12.55 p.m., with one stop at Barog. See train information.
- Himalayan Queen/Kalka-Shimla Festival Special (04515) -- connects with the early morning Shatabdi train from New Delhi Railway Station. It departs Kalka at 12.10 p.m. and arrives in Shimla at 5.20 p.m. However, in reality the journey can often take up to seven hours. See train information.
Timetable from Shimla to Kalka
To Kalka, trains run daily from Shimla as follows:
- Himalayan Queen/Shimla-Kalka Festival Special (04516) -- departs Shimla at 10.40 a.m. and arrives in Kalka at 4.10 p.m. The train is usually on time. See train information.
- Rail Motor Car Special (04506) -- departs Shimla at 11.40 a.m. and arrives in Kalka at 4.30 p.m. See train information.
- Shimla-Kalka Passenger (52458) -- departs Shimla at 2.20 p.m. and arrives in Kalka at 8.10 p.m. This train is currently not running during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Vistadome Him Darshan Express/Shimla-Kalka Festival Special (04518) -- departs Shimla at 3.50 p.m and arrives in Kalka at 9.15 p.m. See train information.
- Shivalik Deluxe Express Special (04528) -- departs Shimla at 5.55 p.m and arrives in Kalka at 10.30 p.m. See train information.
- Shimla-Kalka Special (04530) -- departs Shimla at 6.35 p.m and arrives in Kalka at 11.35 p.m. See train information.
The train fares are as follows:
- Shivalik Deluxe Express -- 510 rupees one way for adults, and 255 rupees for children.
- Himalayan Queen -- 470 rupees one way for adults, and 235 rupees for children.
- Rail Motor Car -- 320 rupees one way for adults, and 160 rupees for children.
- Vistadome Him Darshan Express -- 800 rupees per passenger, one way.
- Kalka-Shimla NG Passenger -- 270 rupees one way for adults in first class, and 135 rupees for children. 25 rupees for unreserved seating.
- Kalka-Shimla NG Express -- 295 rupees one way for adults in first class, and 150 rupees for children. 65 rupees one way for adults in second class, and 25 rupees for children. 25 rupees for unreserved seating.
Extra Holiday Services
In addition to the normal train services, special trains operate during the busy holiday seasons in India. This is usually from May to July, September and October, and December and January.
There are two heritage carriages that sometimes run on the Shimla-Kalka route as part of the Special Heritage Train. The Shivalik Palace Tourist Coach was built in 1966, while the Shivalik Queen Tourist Coach dates back to 1974. Both carriages were recently refurbished to become part of the new train service, which aims to recreate the bygone era for passengers. Charter tour packages are offered by Indian Railways. More information is available here.
Indian Railways has also announced plans to revamp the first class carriages of the Shivalik Deluxe Express.
Tickets can be booked online on the Indian Railways website or at Indian Railways booking offices. It's recommended that you book as early as possible, especially during the summer months from April to June.
Here's how to make a reservation on the Indian Railways website. The Indian Railways codes for the stations are Kalka "KLK" and Simla (no "h") "SML".
The best views are on the right side of the train when going to Shimla, and the left side when returning.
If you find it necessary to stay overnight at Kalka, there are very few accommodations to choose from. A better option is to head to Parwanoo, a few kilometers away. Himachal Pradesh Tourism has an unremarkable hotel there (The Shivalik hotel). Alternatively, it you want to splurge, Moksha Spa is one of the top Himalayan spa resorts in India.