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The Hill Railways of India

MG is an air warrior and a global traveler well as an amateur astrologer who loves to visit and explore new places.

Earlier steam engine used on Nilgiri Mountain Railway

Earlier steam engine used on Nilgiri Mountain Railway

The Beginning

India is a nation with many heritage rail lines, most of which are nestled in the Himalayas, the tallest mountain range in the world. These rail lines are recognized by the UN as heritage rail lines. They are the courtesy of the Raj. The British when they ruled India were oppressed by the summer heat when temperatures rise up to 45-50 degrees centigrade. They needed to escape from the summer heat during the months of May to July and looked for ways to ease their problem.

The British selected some hill stations in the hills and accordingly laid out rail lines to these hill resorts. Most of them were in the north, but a few were also identified in the South and the west of India. These hill stations were the refuge of the English during the hot days of summer.

The British began a systematic construction of rail lines to these hill resorts and by the turn of the 19th century had laid down a string of rail lines to these resorts. During the summer months, the English rulers escaped to these salubrious places and spent the summer months there. The prominent rail lines built were Simla, Darjeeling, Ootocommand, and Matheran. These rail lines are engineering marvels and involved great engineering skills as the rail lines went through deep gorges and tunnels cut through the mountains.

Today these heritage lines are the property of the Indian government and one must thank the English for constructing these lines.

The gauge the English engineers used was the Narrow Gauge. The narrow gauge had a width of 2ft and 6 inches and was suitable for the hills. British engineers made the plans for construction but the supervisors and workers were all Indians.

Moving in the snow

Moving in the snow

The Line to Simla

Simla is a hill station at a height of 8000 ft above MSL. It is a beautiful hill resort and has the distinction of being the summer capital of India during the days of the Raj. During the summer months, the British colonial government along with the Viceroy shifted to Simla from the national capital Delhi. The British built the rail line to Simla from Kalka, a station in the foothills of the Himalayas. Kalka was connected by rail to all places in India by the broad gauge( 5'6"). This line was opened in 1891.

The rail line is recognized as a world heritage asset. The train journey from Kalka to Simla takes about 6 hours. Earlier steam engines were used, which were manufactured in England, but now the rail line is upgraded to diesel engines.

The Kalka Simla line opened in 1903 and is 60 miles long. it is an engineering marvel and traveling on it a matter of great pleasure. the train line winds through the Himalayas The railway was built under the direction of Herbert Septimus Harington between 1898 and 1903. The track has 20 picturesque stations, 103 tunnels, 912 curves, 969 bridges, and a 3% slope (1:33 gradient).

I first traveled on this line maybe three decades back as a young boy I was visiting my brother-in-law at Kasauli and the train went from Kalka to Dharampur. From Dharampur I had taken a bus to Kasauli. At that time there was a steam engine chugging away and it was a wonderful ride.

The darjeeling rail crosses close to shops

The darjeeling rail crosses close to shops

Other lines

The British also connected Darjeeling in the Eastern Himalayas and Ooty in the Nilgiri’s in the south of India. A small line was also constructed from Karjat to Matheran close to Bombay. The line to Darjeeling was a matter of great engineering skill. It was also very difficult to construct as the eastern Himalayas are prone to landslides during the monsoon. The rail line was built between 1879 and 1881.

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The Darjeeling rail starts from Siliguri and climbs up to a height of 8000 ft. above MSL. The line is 104 km long and passes through dense jungles. It also runs parallel to the road to Darjeeling and is classified as a world heritage rail line. One of the important stations on the route is Kurseong. Here the train changes direction. Another engineering feat is a circle the train makes while climbing up called ' ghoom".

The Ooty rail was a little later than the other railways, but it opened up the Nilgiri's (Blue Mountains). It was the succor of the English in the south.

Deep South is the Nilgiri Mountain Railway

Nilgiri Mountain Railway is another train of the British era in India The rail line is 106-year-old and ran on the steam engine for a long time but operates on an oil-fired engine now. The train was accorded the World Heritage Status by UNESCO. NMR stretches from Mettupalayam to Udhagamandalam through a railway line located partly in Coimbatore and partly in Nilgiris District.

This 46 miles long meter-gauge single-track railway was proposed in 1854 and was completed in 1908. The construction work was slow because of the hilly terrain.

I have been a frequent visitor on this train line as I was undergoing the officer course at the staff college at Wellington. This is a small station that comes on the route between Mettupalayam and Ooty.

Last word

The rail lines to the hills are in a way a gift of the English, but one can say it was an unwitting gift as the real purpose was to ameliorate the living conditions of the English rulers in India. But like all things a great good comes sometimes and the rail lines are a boon for Independent India


MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on December 20, 2015:

Thank you Lawrence, yes I agree they are great fun

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on December 19, 2015:


The old railways were a feat of engineering that we should still enjoy today!


MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on November 24, 2015:

Thank you, yes I also love steam engines

madugundu krishna from Yemmiganur on November 24, 2015:

coal train journey is very interesting.

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