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 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.
Kalka and Shimla are located just north of Chandigarh, in India's mountainous northern state of Himachal Pradesh. The captivating train route connects both places. It runs for 96 kilometers (60 miles) though 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.
Tourist Train Services
In addition to two passenger trains, there are three regular tourist train services that 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.
Do note that none of the trains have air conditioning, except for the new Vistadome carriage that's been added to the Kalka-Shimla NG Express passenger train (see below).
To have the most comfortable experience, choose either the Shivalik Deluxe Express or Rail Motor Car. 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. See train information.
- Shivalik Deluxe Express (52451) -- is timed to connect with the Howrah-Kalka Mail train, which comes from Kolkata via Delhi. It departs Kalka at 5.45 a.m and arrives in Shimla at 10.35 a.m. Although, it commonly reaches Shimla an hour or two late. See train information.
- Kalka-Shimla NG Express (52453) -- 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 a special new air-conditioned Vistadome carriage (details below) plus first class, second class and unreserved seating. People usually opt for this train if tickets are unavailable on the tourist trains. More See train information.
- Himalayan Queen (52455) -- connects with the Himalayan Queen train from Nizammudin station in Delhi. It departs Kalka at 12.10 p.m. and arrives in Shimla at 5.30 p.m. However, in reality the journey can often take up to seven hours. See train information.
- Rail Motor Car (72451) -- departs Kalka at 5.25 a.m and arrives at 9.25 a.m. See train information.
Timetable from Shimla to Kalka
To Kalka, trains run daily from Shimla as follows:
- Himalayan Queen (52456) -- 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.
- Shimla-Kalka Passenger (52458) -- departs Shimla at 2.20 p.m. and arrives in Kalka at 8.10 p.m. The train is usually on time. See train information.
- Rail Motor Car (72452) -- departs Shimla at 5.25 p.m. and arrives in Kalka at 9.35 p.m. See train information.
- Shivalik Deluxe Express (52452) -- departs Shimla at 5.50 p.m and arrives in Kalka at 10.45 p.m. Punctuality is excellent. See train information.
- Shimla-Kalka NG Express (52454) -- departs Shimla at 6.30 p.m and arrives in Kalka at 11.30 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.
- 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. One way in the new Vistadome carriage costs 130 rupees for adults and 75 rupees for children.
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.
One of these trains is the Shivalik Special, with premium carriages. Currently it runs from Shimla to Kalka, with one departure per day at 3.50 p.m. Travel time is about five and a half hours, with nine stops.
New Hop-On-Hop-Off Service
In October 2018, Indian Railways announced that it is introducing a hop-on-hop-off service, on a six month trial basis, on all trains on the Kalka-Shimla railway. Passengers are able to board any carriage of any train along the route, subject to availability. Tickets can be purchased from railway stations along the route. The cost for one day is 500 rupees for adults and 250 rupees or children. Two-day tickets cost 800 rupees for adults and 400 rupees for children. For three days, the cost is 1,000 rupees for adults and 500 rupees for children.
It will be interesting to see how it works, given the timings of the trains!
In December 2018, Indian Railways added a special Vistadome carriage to the 52453/52454 Kalka-Shimla NG Express. The carriage features a glass roof and modified windows to provide panoramic views. Initially, passengers will need to buy tickets at the counter until it becomes possible to make online bookings.
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.