Kalka-Shimla rail line bags Unesco heritage status

July 8th, 2008 - 3:36 pm ICT by IANS  

By Vishal Gulati
Shimla, July 8 (IANS) The century-old Kalka-Shimla rail line, a 96-km-long narrow gauge railroad built to ferry Europeans to and from this hill town - then the summer capital of British India, has been chosen by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) as a world heritage site. After a survey, the 30-inch gauge rail line was constructed in 30 years by a private company under the supervision of chief engineer H.S. Harington at a cost of Rs.16 million. In 1903, the rail line was opened to traffic by Lord Curzon, the then viceroy of India. At that time, only Europeans were allowed to use the rail link.

The Kalka-Shimla narrow gauge railway was approved Monday in addition to new sites in nine other countries that received the nod from the panel meeting in Canada.

This rail route also features in the Guinness Book of World Records for offering the steepest rise in altitude in the space of 96 kms.

More than two-thirds of the track is curved, sometimes at angles as sharp as 48 degrees. The glorious journey along the rail line from 640 metres above sea level at Kalka to the lofty heights of Shimla at 2,060 metres takes your breath away.

Meandering through deep ravines, verdant forest of pines, alpines, deodars, oak and maples, magnificent scenery of the Shivaliks, a ride on the Kalka-Shimla train is memorable.

Shimla station superintendent B.S. Gill said each ‘toy train’ has about seven coaches and can accomodate nearly 200 passengers. Everyday, five trains run between Kalka and Shimla. There are 102 tunnels on the rail line. Initially, there were 103 tunnels, but tunnel number 46 does not exist any more.

A train takes about three minutes to cross the longest tunnel at Barog town, 56 kms from here. The other three big tunnels en route are at Koti (2,276 ft), Taradevi (1,615 ft) and tunnel number 103 (1,135 ft), which is near Shimla town.

Some semi-porcelain, hand-painted crockery made in Britain and colonial era furniture have been preserved at the Barog railway station.

Ancient communication and track-control system, called Neals Token Instrument System, is still in use on this rail section. Block phones are also used to establish link between two stations. Lanterns, like the ones used in the last century, are still being used to signal the trains to stop or move.

Another special feature of this line is the multi-arch galleries, which have been built instead of conventional bridges.

Unesco had sent a team last year for an on-the-spot evaluation of the rail line. The two-member team had inspected the entire stretch between Shimla and Kalka, including 869 bridges and 18 stations, during their visit.

Indian Steam Railway Society’s (ISRS) executive member P.J. Singh said the selection of the rail line as a heritage site is a big achievement for India and attract international attention.

The Delhi-based ISRS is in the forefront in preserving steam engines and heritage railway lines.

Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation managing director Ram Subhag Singh said: “The heritage status would attract tourists from abroad in large numbers. The place will become a major global tourist hub.”

There are numerous tales associated with the Kalka-Shimla railroad. One is that the track was built on the path traced by Bhalku, an illiterate labourer. According to folklore, he used to guide British engineers and abruptly stop to indicate the exact points where a tunnel or bridge was required.

Another folklore is that an engineer, who was engaged in the construction of the Barog tunnel, committed suicide when the two ends of the tunnel failed to meet. His grave is believed to be located at the entrance of the incomplete tunnel.

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