I may have mentioned once or twice how much I love trains, so you can understand that I was a little bit more excited than normal about the prospect of travelling on the Himalayan Queen along the World Heritage line between Shimla and Kalka. Unfortunately, the train from Jaipur to Shimla landed us in Chandigar (30 minutes from Kalka) at 6am, and none of us had the inclination to wait around for 5 or so hours until the next Kalka to Shimla train, so instead we decided to get the bus up.
There is really nothing like traveling up a steep and winding road on an Indian bus. Overtaking lumbering trucks on blind corners, avoiding the half-cleared landslides that have tumbled into your path at the last minute and breezily enjoying the view over the sheer drop-offs just outside your window. What larks. After all that fun we were dropped at the ‘new’ Shimla bus station, which is already so broken and desolate that it could be used to film scenes in some depressing post-apocalyptic zombie drama. I swore there and then that I would be getting the train down if I had to be dragged behind it on a tea-tray.
Happily, we did get the train down, and it was a delight. While doing some reading I had come across recommendations that tourists avoid the Himalayan Queen and get the (more expensive) ‘luxury’ Shivalik Delux Express instead. If paying extra to eat your dinner on the train and hobnob with other tourists about your holidays is important to you, then this is good advice, otherwise the Himalayan Queen is just fine. There is plenty of room under the seats for even the biggest backpacks, and the seats are booked in advance so you won’t be crushed in a throng. If you are peckish you can also buy popcorn and freshly cooked samosas from the vendors who hop on and off at the teeny little stations you pass on the way down. We were lucky enough to share our carriage for part of the way with two lovely Scottish guys and their charming Indian guide, who explained to us how the red and white choora bangles worn by lots of the women on the train signified that they were newlyweds, most likely returning home from their Shimla honeymoons, no wonder they were smiling all the way down the mountain.
Despite the beautiful views and top-notch people-watching opportunities the most poignant part of the journey is slowly clacking through the Barog tunnel. Named after the engineer who killed himself after he failed to line the two ends of the tunnel up correctly, this is the longest tunnel on the line. I cleverly used this extended cover of darkness to pull out my daughter’s pesky wobbly tooth that had been annoying her for ages. Definitely one for the memory bank.
Arriving at Kalka we had a short stroll across the station to find an empty bench to loll on while waiting for the Kalka Shatabdi express to whisk us back to Delhi. You can also catch the slower connecting Himalayan Queen service back to Delhi as well but it doesn’t arrive into Delhi until 10.40pm, a bit late for us. If you are thinking of taking this train make sure to check out my….
Really useful travel tips for taking the Himalayan Queen
- Shimla train station is a right old walk down from the mall. We paid a porter 200 rupees to carry our backpacks down for us. Despite the huge load and the fact that he was in flip-flops, he still had to keep waiting for me to catch up.
- For some reason this was the only train we couldn’t book online (we used Cleartrip for all the rest). We could still check the availability on the Indian Railways website though, so there was no danger of rocking up to the station trying to get on an already full train.
- It doesn’t really matter what side of the train you sit on as you get good views from either at different stages of the journey.
- Do not fill up at Kalka station if you are waiting for the Shatabdi Express to Delhi. We didn’t even get close to eating the endless stream of food that is included in the price of this train. We were served a sandwich, muffin and nibbles, then tomato soup and breadsticks, then a full veggie meal with two curries, rice and two roti, and finally tea and ice cream to finish!