Trundling, twisting and turning on the ‘Toy Train’ to the Himalayas
railway, has been held. We hurry along to find our carriage and get seated.
With a great blast on its hooter, the train sets off on its five-hour journey. There’s a holiday atmosphere. In every tunnel – there are more than 100 – children (and parents) shriek and shout “Whooo…”. The train trundles uphill, twisting and turning. It’s a serpentine switchback ride and a stunning feat of engineering, with 860 bridges, some as tall as Roman viaducts. Lulled by the train’s steady rum-tum-ti-tum-rum-tum rhythm, we thought it was going to be a small village; they didn’t know there are about 200,000 people there.”
As evening draws on, a party of half a dozen men loll asleep on each other’s shoulders. The sprawling town eventually looms into view, its houses stuck to the precipitous hillsides like fridge magnets. The street lights merge into the stars.
Next morning, our balcony at the Oberoi Cecil – Shimla’s finest hotel – gives us a bird’s-eye view of the train snaking in and out of the station, where I meet Sanjay Gera, the genial, trim-moustached station superintendent. A portrait of Gandhi beams down on him in his office across from a calendar of the East Lancashire Railway.
He shows me round the station, with its curving platform, its refreshment room (soup costs 15 rupees – 20p), its Coolie Shelter for porters and a stern notice: “Complaints should be directed to Director, Public Grievance.”
Everyone seems in a good mood, though I suspect the guava-peeling Rajeev Kumar may be feeling just a little disappointed: there is no snow.
Cox & Kings (020 3642 0861; coxandkings.co.uk) offers a six-night tour to Shimla and Delhi from £1,895 per person, including international and domestic flights, a Toy Train ride up to Shimla, transfers and accommodation with breakfast. It features three nights at the Oberoi New Delhi and three at the Oberoi Cecil Shimla
Passengers love to take snaps of the hillside from the Toy Train