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.
There are three main tourist train services that run on the Kalka Shimla railway. These are:
- Shivalik Deluxe Express -- a premium express train with carpet, wide glass windows that open, cushioned seats, and relaxing music. It fits 120 passengers. Food is provided. There are no stops along the way.
- Himalayan Queen -- a standard train service. Food isn't provided but can be purchased at the 10 or so stations that it stops at along the way. Owing to the number of stops, 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.
In addition to the normal train services, there two heritage carriages that run on the Shimla-Kalka route as part of the newly introduced 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. It runs on selected dates (around once a week) from September to March.
Timetable from Kalka to Shimla
Trains from Kalka to Shimla run daily as follows:
- Shivalik Deluxe Express (52451) -- is timed to connect with the Howrah-Kalka Mail train, which comes from Kolkata via Delhi. It departs Kalka at 5.20 a.m and arrives in Shimla at 10 a.m. Although, on average, it reaches Shimla two hours late. More information.
- Himalayan Queen (52555) -- 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. More information.
- Rail Motor Car (72451) -- is for early risers! It departs Kalka at 5 a.m and arrives at 9.20 a.m. More information.
Timetable from Shimla to Kalka
To Kalka, trains run daily from Shimla as follows:
- Shivalik Deluxe Express (52452) -- departs Shimla at 5.50 p.m and arrives in Kalka at 10.35 p.m. Punctuality is excellent. More information.
- Himalayan Queen (52556) -- departs Shimla at 10.25 a.m. and arrives in Kalka at 4.10 p.m. The train is usually on time. More information.
- Rail Motor Car (72452) -- departs Shimla at 4.55 p.m. and arrives in Kalka at 9.25 p.m. More information.
In addition to the normal train services, a number of extra trains run during the busy holiday seasons in India. This is usually from May to July, September and October, and December and January.
The Rail Motor Car is also a temporary service that only operates for part of the year, to serve the holiday rush.
You can make a reservation for travel on the Shivalik Deluxe Express, Himalayan Queen, and Rail Motor Car services on the Indian Railways website or at Indian Railways booking offices. It's recommended that you book your tickets 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".
Heritage Toy Train packages for travel on the Shivalik Queen and Palace carriages of the Special Heritage Train can be booked on the IRCTC Rail Tourism website.
The train fares are as follows:
- Shivalik Deluxe Express -- 420 rupees one way for adults. 210 rupees for children.
- Himalayan Queen -- 260 rupees one way for adults. 215 rupees for children.
- Rail Motor Car -- 320 rupees one way for adults. 205 rupees for children.
- Shivalik Queen and Palace -- starting from 2,200 rupees one way for an IRCTC package.
To have the most comfortable experience, travel aboard either the Shivalik Deluxe Express or Rail Motor Car. Common complains about the Himalayan Queen are overcrowding, hard bench seats, dirty toilets, and nowhere to store luggage.
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.