"Yew Kong say the train ride not nice one. Not worth it."Vincent
The photographs in this post are all taken by Joon Keat and I because we are just better at it than the girls who actually own the cameras.
I looked around today and realised that I'm in the thick of July, barely more than one more month before I embark on my next backpacking expedition (this time with Phoebe!) through the hill stations of the Western Ghats in the South. I also realised that I have yet to even reach the Taj Mahal in my travelogue updates, or rather backdates in this case. It'll seriously suck if I'm still writing about some half year old trip when I've already been on a new one - suck for you that is, because you're the one reading it. I've got a feeling that some of the sights I'll write about might not even exist anymore when I finally get down to them. We are a destructive race, us human types. What bastards we are. Given chance, some sleazy business guy will transform the Taj Mahal garden into a theme park with crappy rides and lousy cotton candy.
It was in Shimla that our backpacking team actually split for real because of an unforeseen conflict of interest and by "unforeseen conflict of interest", what I really mean is "I'm sticking to my own plan because I'm a stubborn dick, that's why". It's really nothing personal. I'm the sort of guy who would not cave in to a popular vote. I have a holiday in my mind which I meant to enjoy, and if I have to break from the main group on my own and then meet up in some other city later, I'd do it. I'm not a very good team player that way and I can be quite a pain to include in anyone's master plan, but the least you can say about me is that I am often interested enough to read quite extensively about the places I'm going to visit because I like to make informed choices and have a realistic idea of what I'm in for. So, if you can sift through most of the cock I talk, you'll usually find something that sounded like cock, but isn't quite entirely cock after all.
Anyway, the Kalka-Shimla railway takes a longer time to get to Delhi, our next stop, than say a bus, which the team opted for. Also, because the number of trains still servicing this old, old narrow-gauge line (it's more than a hundred years old!) are few, and the fact that I would like to take the ride in daylight so I can actually look outside my carriage's window and not just see black, my choices in departure time are pretty narrow. I had to wake up really early that day in Shimla to the railway office to get our tickets. It was pure luck that I managed to score not just seats for us, but a whole first class cabin as well (it was surprisingly pretty cheap per head by the way). The catch was that we had to leave immediately after breakfast, missing out on some of the other things I would have liked to see in Shimla but the way I figured, given the pittance of time we alloted for each town or city we stopped at, I had to be a pretty discerning and shrewd traveler. I don't know about discerning but I can certainly do shrewd very well.
Joon Keat, Josephine and Dhivya were the only three out of the other ten who decided that I'm the sort of guy who make kickass calls on a regular basis, and chose to let me lead them fearlessly into the wild,
So to speak,
Okay, here's the obligatory educational and boring bit which I insist on writing in ever travelogue but for you pleasure, I have condensed it into just one sentence;
The Kalka-Shimla (or in this case, Shimla-Kalka) Railway travels through a panoramic gallery of some of the most awesome sceneries on this side of the Himalayas and unlike the much more popular and very, very, very, very, very overrated Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (which I've also been on, by the way so you know that I know what I'm talking about), the Kalka-Shimla tracks does not run beside any roads or highways at all, charting a course right through the lovely hills with just the raw wilderness on both sides of the train throughout the journey.
See? That wasn't so hard to read through, right?
You know those awesome sets that obsessive model train hobbyists always try to build? They all have something like the Kalka-Shimla countryside in their minds; beautiful trees, rolling hills and valleys, a smattering of terraced farmlands here, and a spot of über quaint railway town there - y'know how the recipe goes.
I have this really, really annoying habit of gloating whenever I'm right about something and the reason I gloat at all is because I actually aim to annoy. I do it consciously and purposefully, and It's like I always say, you don't get many chances in life to gloat, so grab a glass, break the keg and let it spilleth forth.
Vincent, got regret or not? Here, have a big frosty mug of Root Beer Gloat - and another picture to go with that,
The picture above was pretty hard to snap but luckily, the croplands were located in a natural cul-de-sac in the mountains and the tracks went all around it in a huge semicircle. The engineers who built this thing seriously knew what they were doing.
The best part is that the whole ride lasted a whooping 8 hours! So, we get a full 8-fucking-unbelievable hours of this sort of view and quite unexpectedly, it wasn't monotonous in the least bit because of the rather steep descent, and the vegetations change in accordance to altitude. We started out at about 2000 metres above sea level in Shimla, and to put a scale on things, that's like a quarter of the height of Mount Everest.
Of course, nobody can sit quietly for 8 hours and just stare like a zombie at the scenery,
I have no fucking idea how people can stand having long hair without wanting to rip them out of their roots.
Here's Joon Keat messing up my camwhore moment with the moving train. He then accidentally bit off his freaky long tongue when the train accidentally ran over a conveniently placed plot device, and his girlfriend mourns its loss, ifyouknowwhatImean.
One of the cool things about the ride was these tunnels we passed through. There were like, 102? Josephine tried to count them but she stopped bothering at about 20,
You know what else is cool? We traveled over 864 bridges along the ride and most of them looked like this,
This is the only passable picture we got of any one of the bridges. It's a moving train, okay, and we had to like lean out of the carriage to take them.
These are old-school bridges, and I'm talking Ancient Rome old school, here. They are built viaduct-style, which is just fancy Latin saying, "We lack the tech to built a single bridge spanning across a chasm so we built one consisting of several smaller, manageable spans joined together."
You got to hand it in to these toga-wearing, olive-sucking, bulimia-inventing pinnacles of decadence and hedonism though. Their bridges look freaking awesome,
An ingenious dried leaf plate we ate curry and chapatis from in one of the hill stations we stopped at along the journey.
Some hill kid and presumably, his mom. If he was younger, he'd be waving like mad saying "HELLO!" over and over again to foreigners like us in a moving train, just like those kids you see in National Geographic Specials.
I'm going on a similar train ride in Ooty (short for Udhagamandalam) this August and it was reputedly as good as the one in Shimla though I have this preconception that the hills in the south of India won't be nearly as stirring as the ones they have up in the Himalayan north, but hey, I'll find out real soon, eh?
The moral of this post is,
Just joking only lah, Vince. I'll stop teasing you about it now. After all, you already missed one of the best parts in the entire trip. Okay, I'll stop gloating as well.
Readers, do you know the English word "glee"? I think it's coined just to describe how I'm feeling right this moment.
The irrepressible gloat,
k0k s3n w4i