The Kalka Shimla Railway line a historical perspective
Dharampur Station on Kalka Shimla line
The Kalka Shimla railway line is not only boasts of a scenic journey but has a resplendent history related with its construction as well.The 96 Kms. Journey takes one from a height of 656 meters (2,152 feet) above mean sea level at Kalka to a height of 2,076 meters (6,811 feet) at Shimla.This railway has an gradient of 1in 25 or 4% which is rather steep and therefore, the railway line has been designed as such that the trains wheels do not skid even during heavy rains.Due to this technical expertise this line is included in the Guinness Books of World facts & feats as the narrow gauge engineering achievement of India.
Meandering through the pines
Archives reveal that the first reference regarding the drawing of this proposed railway line was made during the year 1848 but the final project was completed more that 50 years later i.e. in 1903.The railway line during its journey of 96 Kms. traverses 103 tunnels (both small & big), numerous lofty arched viaducts, over 800 small and big bridges and continuous succession of as many as 919 in and out reverse curves.An interesting feature of the Kalka-Shimla Railway is the almost complete absence of Girder bridges.Another special feature of the Kalka-Shimla Railway is that as many as 27 cutovers serve as different gradient crossings.The longest tunnel is at Barog, this tunnel is 1,143.61meters (3,752ft) long and remained for a long time the second longest tunnel on the Indian Railways.
Lofty arched Roman type viaducts
The contract for construction was awarded to the Delhi-Umbala Company in 1898 at an estimated cost of Rs86,78,500, however, the cost doubled during execution of the project and it was finally purchased by the state in 1906 for Rs1,71,07,748. The 96.54km line was opened for traffic on 9th November, 1903. Because of the high capital and maintenance cost, coupled with peculiar working conditions, the Kalka-Shimla Railway was allowed to charge fares that were higher than the prevailing tariffs on other lines. However, even this was not good enough to sustain the company and the Government acquired the company on its request in January, 1906.There is a recorded history of a holy person named of Bhalkoo, the illiterate genius whose extraordinary engineering acumen played a vital role in the construction of the Kalka-Shimla rail line and has since been recognized.
Spot the train line in the background - view from Kasauli
The legend of Bhalkoo is such that despite his shabby looks and unclean habits, the British respected him and the manner in which he pin-pointed the exact sites for boring a tunnel or constructing a bridge with a long staff he always carried with him, they even started believing that he possessed supernatural powers. He had matted hair infested with lice, which he used to feed by pouring flour and sugar over his head. He claimed that his devta communicated with him through the lice. The difficult hill terrain forced the engineers to alter the alignment of line time and again and invariably it was this enigmatic character Bhalkoo who put them on the right track. There were occasions when the British came close to abandoning the project but for this fascinating and rather mysterious man who claimed that the trace of the rail track had been revealed to him by his devta (deity).The faith and confidence that the British engineers had in his capabilities could be judged from the numerous certificates issued to him by them. He was not only associated with the construction of the Kalka -Shimla rail track but was also instrumental in laying out the alignment of the Hindustan-Tibet road while serving in the hills road division. The mysterious character vanished mysteriously. No one really knows where he disappeared after embarking on a pilgrimage to Jagannath Puri more than 100 years ago.