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Shimla Toy Train: Lost Train of Thought Leads to Flying Curry


November 20, 2010 by Jools Stone

Today’s guest post comes from my good friend Jim Mcintosh, the travelling cobbler and conservationist behind Holes in my Soles. It tells of a lesser known peril of riding the Himalayan rails…and of ignoring your wife.

Shimla Toy Train

Shimla Toy Train by A.M.Hurrell


On the train from Kalka to Shimla nestled at 2,067 metres in the Himalayan foothills of India’s Himachal Pradesh state, one can easily daydream into that time of the Raj in India, when the colonial administration and its baggage would transfer annually to its summer capital of Shimla to escape Delhi’s desiccating heat.

Completed on 9th November 1903, the 96.5 KM, 2′ 6” narrow gauge track snakes over 864 bridges or viaducts, and through 102 tunnels, the longest being 1143 metres. As you ascend from Kalka, you’ll find yourself viewing the same point several times, but each time passing by a little higher up, on a tortuous route that winds in hairpin bends from one side of the valley and back upon itself again and again, until finally cresting and into the next valley.

We had caught the train from Delhi to Kalka ,and there transferred onto the Shimla Toy Train. Passengers crowded aboard, and crammed their luggage into any available space. I had insisted on buying a curry and rice before boarding for Shimla, and placed it very carefully in the overhead luggage nets. In the tiny, cramped, knee touching compartments, more luggage got shoved up there. The young Indian couple next to us were making the most of this enforced intimacy, with a very uncommon for Indians, display of fondling each other. But Shimla does have a magical, romantic mood about it, and I guess some people can’t wait….

I was fascinated not just by the feat of engineering, but the views from the heights out over the valleys where April displayed Nature’s springtime colour palette. One valley painted purple with flowering Jacaranda, the predominant tree. Then into the next valley where yellow and gold glistened through the azalea thickets, and a change again to deep orange when slowly entering the next, as the flowering tree species changed with the altitude.

I was spellbound, in a deep reverie at Nature’s marvelous display outside, almost hypnotised by the clicketty clack, and constant transfer from gloom to brilliance to gloom as we exited one tunnel, over a viaduct, and then into another. Perhaps I should have paid more attention to a very familiar female voice complaining of something dripping on her head, but I was sure she’d sort it out easily ……and we were just entering into a valley of huge candelabra tree Euphorbia, and they just looked so wonderful to me.

As I moved to get a better glimpse of a particularly statuesque specimen, my train of thought was broken abruptly, as a very cold, drippy curry and rice missed me by a centimetre and went flying out my window! Thrown by my very tired, hot and furious wife. Dang! I was just starting to feel peckish.

Ladies do not like curry hair shampoos, and will not let their man forget about it for a long time either. Luckily for me, we would spend 4 days at magical, romantic Shimla, making it up….

India 2006

Shimla station is a short walk to the city. Negotiate with the baggage wallahs who will crowd around to carry your bags. They are a good investment, as the walk uphill in the thin air at 2067 metres altitude is tiring. They also know the best hotels or backpacker places to stay to suit your budget.

You will have many options, and we found it was a simple matter of stopping and inspecting rooms at the many hotels we passed until we found good, clean rooms, rather small but with exceptional views looking out over the city and the mountains. Our room was mirrored around the walls and ceilings, truly suitable for magical, romantic Shimla, a city that we found was a honeymoon destination for Dehli’s newlyweds, and amorous train couples.

An added bonus was the troop of Languar monkeys that slept every night outside our windows, which explained the bars and netting, necessary to stop them ransacking our room. Must have been some holes, as a couple of happy Languar were spotted cavorting across rooftops…. with our travelling companion’s brassiere.
Shimla itself is built upon several ridgelines, and quaint, pastel painted, crammed together housing literally tumbles down the hillsides. Narrow, winding streets and alleys, lined with shops and street markets make it highly interesting to explore. A very good place to buy woollen knitwear, and other winter clothing.

Places of Interest

The Mall: Shimla’s city centre where you’ll find a good range of restaurants, and Post Office. At the Tourist Office ask about the area’s local treks and walks. Also day and longer tours around the region.

Christ Church: Located at far end of The Mall. The stained glass windows are very worthwhile viewing.

Temple of Hanuman: or Monkey Temple. 2 kms walk from The Mall, to the highest hill at 8,000 feet. Be wary around the monkeys. They are known to bite so don’t have any food visible to tempt them.

While Shimla’s places of interest can be cruised through in a day, its main attractions are the train ride getting there, it’s atmosphere of decayed colonial beauty, or as a point from where to enjoy hiking in the surrounding hills. Shimla is the ideal place for rest and recreation after your hard slog around Northern India.

About Jim Mcintosh
Married, we’ve found an ideal mix of work and travel. Three children, all world travellers. Custom footwear maker, African painted dog and elephant lover, pumpkin planter, and blogger at Holes in my Soles an eclectic mix of travel experiences and musings.


  1. What a wonderful recollection of a fascintating train ride and romantic Shimla, told with a bit of humor as well. I can understand why you were “spellbound” (I’ve always loved that word) by what you were seeing. But never, ever ignore your wife, gentlemen.

  2. Jim says:

    Thanks Cathy and Jools. Yes Kay has been reading this as I was compiling the story,….and she’s still fuming! LOL. Daily reminders now never to ignore her again. We’ve both been laughing about the incident , but the trip was really enjoyable.Shimla is a plce we;d love to revisit.
    Now is anybody gonna ask about the near death experience on the return luxury coach?

  3. Nicola says:

    Curry shampoo! Hahaha! Hilarious!
    Great blog as always.

  4. inka says:

    Curry shampoo!! I wouldn’t have taken kindly to that either. You are a great stroy teller with a lot of humor and a gift for words. Always love your stories and thanks for reading me too. Maybe Kay likes the glamour granny outlook.

  5. Ayngelina says:

    Wow Jim has done it all, love the photo of the train, looks like such a romantic ride 🙂

  6. Jim says:

    Thanks Inka and Ayngelina, it’s encouraging having your comments on my writing. I’m new at this and so much to learn so I have been reading a lot of your stories. In fact all the people I meet on these blogs have so much to teach me. I’ve just finally signed up for MatadorU but find it rather daunting, so any critique, suggestions etc please make them. I realize the story could have been tighter, but sometimes it’s better to let it flow and tell the story , rather than fit within expectations of how a travel piece should be written.

  7. Hi Jim,

    Looks like an incredible trip. I am with Ayngelina, beautiful photo of the train.

  8. I went on this train a few years ago now!! I was wearing light beige trousers and a white shirt! Why?? Who knows. By the time I arrived in Darjeeling I was charcoal all over!!! I don’t know if I’d agree with Ayngelina in that the train ride was “romantic” although you experienced a rare case of intimacy! A huge experience though – thanks for the memories!!

  9. Adam says:

    Sounds like an interesting train ride. We thought about doing the same one while in India, but we just didn’t have the time. Sounds like a very cool ride and experience, sans the curry throwing by the wife of course. 😉

  10. Jim says:

    Hi John, I’d love to hear more about the Darjeeling train ride as it’s a different trip to the Shimla. There’s something about train rides in india that grabs us. I guess it’s because you get so close to locals for so long there’s a bond formed which you wouldn’t achieve as easily elsewhere. We once took a ride from Ranchi to Delhi, we were told would be 12 hours….34 hours later, after many interesting incidents we arrived. Amazing how quickly the time passed though.

  11. Lovely story and well crafted.

    I can’t get the image of curry shampoo out of my head 🙂

  12. Andrea says:

    I really enjoyed this =) Never had a curry on a train, but I guess that’s par for the course in India. Such a fascinating country! Hope to get there someday…

  13. Jim says:

    Thanks Corinne for the ‘well crafted ‘ comment. Glad you think so.

    @Andrea, train rides in India are a real adventure. You’re missing out.LOL>

  14. greg urbano says:

    great “toy train ” photo

  15. I have taken both toy trains, the one to Shimla and the one to Darjeeling. They were very different, but both enjoyable …. and both very very slow moving. Personally, I loved the slowness, which acts like an antidote to the fastness of modern life. The Darjeeling train passes so closely to houses and stores, you could easily reach out and grab a snack from the counter as you pass! It’s really an experience. Also, it’s much more comfortable than driving up to Darjeeling by car because the road is so bad. I totally recommend the toy trains of India!!


  16. […] India and train travel is a match made in heaven – with a huge network spanning this enormous country, you can explore far and wide and see more than you could by other means of transportation. Whether you choose to do it in the luxury of your private cabin, or on the local trains, you will love exploring this country by rail. Click here to cancel reply. […]

  17. Love it Jim! I enjoyed Simla also, wonderful wandering about and imagine Rudyard Kipling’s Kim scurrying through that tumbling bazaar.

  18. Hmmmm, curry shampoo would sure be a mess. Good thing you were able to make it up to her!!! Great photos and very interesting post. I’d love to travel that part of the world. My son and his wife loved it!

  19. Nancie says:

    This has to be the most difficult commenting system I have ever encountered. What is it with this animal captcha?

    Jim, just wanted to say that this looks like an amazing adventure.

    • joolsstone says:

      Sorry about that. I might change it soon then, thanks for persevering, for the feedback and glad you enjoyed Jim’s piece anyway.

  20. I really enjoy trains but was drawn to the bridge in your picture! I love how it is stacked. Bridges are amazing.

  21. Train tours also make your tour more adventures in india.thanks for nice sharing

  22. Aashika Jain says:

    In India, toy train experience is very great experience. Specially if this is Shimla.

    Your experience looks great with lots of enjoyment. Great post!!

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