Britain brought railways to India and after defence, the system is the country’s biggest employer. Could we do with their help to bring some order back to our regular commuter journey to work and back?
While you think about that welcome to a World Heritage slice of the Indian rail network. It is called the Toy Train and runs up up and away through the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains.
From Kalka to Shimla and built in 1903 this remarkable feat of British engineering reveals stunning views as it chugs through 103 tunnels along the 96km (60mile) journey.
I started my visit to Shimla with a short flight to Chandigarh from New Delhi. The road trip from the airport should have taken four hours but a landslide made it 9+. Plenty of time to watch how a narrow mountain road coped with buses and other vehicles that could not pass each other. Plenty of time to observe how locals, who had seen it all before, appointed themselves as temporary police officers controlling things until real police officers arrived to sort out the longest mountain road jam I have ever seen.
Shimla the cool seat of British rule during very hot summers in Delhi is a town ruled by monkeys. Attractive and sweet they may look on postcards but mean and thugs they can be in real life.
To keep marauding groups out many residents are forced to live in cage styled homes. It was surreal looking at monkeys looking at people in cages but one false move – an open door or window – and these monkeys are in causing much damage in the search for food.
Monkey rule extends to the tourist popular Jakhu Temple perched high on a hill overlooking Shimla. Dominated by the 33-meter tall statue of the Hindu monkey god Lord Hanuman it is import to know the laws imposed by the local monkey residents.
At least a dozen pairs of glasses are snatched off the noses of unwary visitors each day and you will not get them back unless you swap them for food. The long steep uphill walk to the Temple provides excellent ambush territory for the monkeys who will raid your bags looking for shiny objects and food the minute you stop take a breath.
So used to our behaviour are these monkeys that some have learnt to do tricks to distract us while others are on a bag raid. One pair of monkeys I spotted on the way down had learnt how to shock. The minute a camera was pointed at them, they started copulating.
Even the super luxury Oberoi Cecil hotel in uptown Shimla warns guests to stay off the balconies to avoid monkey problems. Such a shame as the views are stunning and would have been a distraction from the very poor service I experienced from a hotel group that prides itself in just that – great service.
Do not be put off by the monkey rulers. Be careful and you will survive to enjoy the town the British did their best to turn into a little slice of England.
Stroll down The Mall that has not changed much since Rudyard Kipling sat drinking coffee and people watching. Visit the Viceregal Lodge on Observatory Hill built from 1880 not just to be grand but a reminder of Britain too. The good the great and not so good and great will have passed through this extraordinary building as the great British Raj ruled until 1947.
Take time out to visit the Naldehra Golf Course even if like me you have no interest in golf whatsoever. It could only be an English Viceroy of India like Lord Curzon that would build a course at an altitude of 2,200 meters. No JCB’s in 1905 but as McFadden and Whitehead said in the 1970’s Aint No Stopping Us Now.
The must do is definitely that narrow gauge railway trip. I was lucky enough to be blessed by India railways decision to provide a heritage carriage for the trip from Shimla. Flush toilet, tea making facility and posh couches and seats – spoil yourself if you can.
Even if that special carriage is not available, First Class is more than adequate. Not expensive monkey free and as Tom Chesshyre says in his excellent rail journey book Ticket To Ride you never know whom you might meet. Somehow, this little World Heritage train brings the best out in fellow passenger only too happy to chat. Now that does not sound like the 7.30 from Brighton to Victoria.
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Hotel Cecil which other customers tell me usually get things right