Thursday, April 19, 2012

15th April 2012 – Leaving Shimla

Laxman Singh was not a minute late with the bed tea. Serving it, he asked me what I would like to have for breakfast. He gave me the option of fetching either poori baaji or bread and omelet. I ordered for a 4 egg omelet and four slices of toast with butter. Laxman was bewildered. He said, “Sir, yahan omelet do ande ka hota hai.” The poor man’s Adam’s apple moved uncontrollably for a while, when I confirmed two omelets of ‘do ande ka’, before a nod of the head and a twitch of the moustache replaced it.
The ‘slightly’ heavy breakfast propelled me outdoors for a walk to digest the repast to make space for another! I met a Commercial Inspector as I was moving out of the ORH. Of him I enquired what had become of the erstwhile goods shed. He told me that a part of the area was recently converted to a Rail Museum to exhibit rare collections of the Kalka-Shimla Railway (KSR) link. Curiosity got the better of me and I took to the railway track that led to the erstwhile goods shed. The Baba Balkhu Rail Museum is in close proximity to the ‘old’ bus stand, a busy and crowded part of Shimla. I was the first customer through the gates today. The Museum was inaugurated in July 2011 and hence, is relatively new. From the registers meant for visitors I could make out that it was quite a hit with the visitors. The most common request in the entries was for a steam engine to be exhibited there. It is a valid request for a coach and a parcel van have been displayed; a steam engine is more esoteric and therefore, more appealing to a visitor. Maybe an inspection car could be displayed. The exhibits have been carefully chosen and documented for display. A letter from Mumtaz Begum the songstress of yesteryears add luster to the collection. The lighting could be motion controlled to save energy. Hopefully, the collection will be expanded over time. There is enough and more space for it. What could pull in more visitors is a sound and light show of the KSR link and the railway in general. Also, there needs to be a more appealing and classy collection of memorabilia for visitors to pick up. Overall it can be termed as a good beginning; it must be built on and maintained.
I took a short cut from the old bus stand to The Mall road and came across the Fontainblue Cottage of 1933. Presently it houses a Museum run by the Brahmakumaris. I went in out of curiosity and was treated to a 15 minute talk on the ideology behind the movement. 15th April is celebrated as Himachal day. The Ridge was full and overflowing. The State government had got up a function there to celebrate the event. Many folk dances and songs were showcased by students and mature artists from various parts of the State; it was a kaleidoscope of the culture of the various regions. I got back to the ORH and did the final packing of the bags and settled the charges for the stay.
The Rail Car is like a mini bus on the rail. It has a driver, a helper and seats for 15 passengers. It was a beautiful four hour drive from Shimla to Kalka. The thickly wooded forests, sun drenched long distance views of human settlements, engineering marvels like the multi-tiered arch bridge near Kanoh railway station and the longest tunnel at the entrance to Barog railway station and the meal at the Barog catering outlet contributed to a memorable journey. The KSR Line is 96 kms long and is a narrow structure of 2 feet 6 inches. The line was constructed between 1898 and 1903 and commissioned in November 1903. The centenary of the heritage line was celebrated in 2003. The steep gradient of 3% is accompanied by 917 curves and 102 tunnels on the entire section. The longest tunnel is tunnel number 33 at Barog station which extends for a length of 1143 metres.
The Rail Car deposited me an hour ahead of schedule at the Kalka station. I walked into the Upper Class waiting room to spend the time before the departure of the Kalka Mail to Delhi. The waiting room was a pot pourri of people who were apparently booked to travel by trains from Kalka. After a while I came to know of the Executive waiting room. I paid Rs. 20 and moved in there so that I could watch the IPL match and rest on s sofa. But within a short while the entire room filled up with a group of yuppies that was booked to travel by the Kalka Mail are were waiting for the AC in the train coaches to be switched on. Mercifully, the IPL stayed on and the group left as soon as one among announced that the coaches were comfortably cool for them to occupy. I had booked by sleeper class to Delhi on purpose. The purpose being to experience sleeper class travel, a class I had not travelled by for over 3 decades. The number of unconfirmed passengers in the coach made for a crowded journey. I remained awake for a while waiting for the TTE to examine the ticket. He never arrived and I slept.

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