The Kalka-Shimla Railway-a brief account

The Kalka-Shimla mountain railway is one of the best-known railway lines in India and has featured in a number of literary works and at least one BBC documentary in recent years. This is intended to summarize the main points about the line as it is today. The route was opened as a whole (95.68 Km) on 9 Nov 1903. A further 0.77 Km to the “Old bullock train station” was opened on 27 Jun 1909. Possibly the present line (length 95.57 as per current railway database) includes a small portion of the extension. Here we have a list of stations (in both directions). This information is taken from the site which is useful for the dedicated railfan. I have added the altitude data from passenger timetables. The distances shown below are actual distances, and I am not getting into the complexities of chargeable distance here.

KS Stations1 KS Stations2

The main technical point is that the ruling gradient is 1 in 33 uncompensated. Those who are really fond of number crunching can find the gradients between intermediate stations. Here are the summary of trains running in both directions in May 2015.


As you can see, trains are listed as having AC chair car, First Class and Second Class seating. The railcars have only first class. The Shivalik Express and the Himalayan Queen have non-AC seats which are somewhat better than the second class seats, but are charged using the fare tables for AC chair car. The three trains other than the railcar and Shivalik Express have unreserved second class seats, though reserved seats are available only on one train as you can see above.

It is common for the average person or media source to refer to the trains on this line as a toy train. This appears to be unjustified as the trains are as long and as heavy as their narrow gauge counterparts on the plains. And the volume of passenger traffic (at least 5 pairs of daily trains) would be more than that on many broad gauge and metre gauge branch lines.

Additional railcars and trains may run at short notice during the summer. These are generally not given in the printed timetables. However, most knowledgeable travellers have now shifted to the online timetables. The most user-friendly is probably  from where the above tables are taken. One can also use this website to get timetables for individual trains, such as this one for the downward Himalayan Queen:


As you can see, this train stops at about half the stations. It seems to have a rake of 5 reserved coaches and two brake cum unreserved coaches. Barog appears to be a mandatory stop for all trains for catering purposes. In fact there is not much of a local population and this station seems to exist only for catering purposes. The station is named after a British construction engineer named Barog (though this does not sound like a typical British surname).

This train connects with a BG express train to New Delhi in both directions. That is also called the Himalayan Queen, though it starts from Kalka with a number of coaches which are removed at Panipat and proceed to Bhiwani as the Ekta Express. There are also two Shatabdi Expresses to New Delhi and the long-standing Kalka Mail to Old Delhi and Howrah, which is probably one of the oldest long-distance trains on IR. There is also a link train which connects Kalka to the Paschim Express to and from Mumbai.

There are many videos about this line available on Youtube; as a sample here are some taken by my family in 2010:

Shivalik Express:

And from Shimla to Kalka by the Himalayan Queen, plus a bit of Chandigarh:

The “Singh is King” cricket XI

Whenever cricket fans are bored, they start creating ideal XIs. This gets boring after a while, so more variations are considered such as left-handed and right-handed XIs, names starting with S and so on.

So here we have a “Singh is King” XI which should be better than the Kings XI. The criteria here is that a player should have played in at least one Test (though I am being liberal and taking ODI performance into consideration) and should have Singh as a surname or middle name. In suggested batting order:

1) Navjot Singh Sidhu

2) Chetan Pratap Singh Chauhan

3) Hanumant Singh

4) A.G. Kripal Singh

5) Yuvraj Singh

6) Yajurvindra Singh

7) Mahendra Singh Dhoni

8) Robin Singh

9) Harbhajan Singh

10) L. Amar Singh

11) Bishen Singh Bedi

Reserves: Balwinder Singh Sandhu, R.P. Singh, Gursharan Singh, Maninder Singh, and finally Mudhsuden Singh Panesar.

One may say that the middle order is a bit weak but Nos 7 and 8 should provide enough backup while No 9 has two test centuries. One might argue that Robin Singh is not a good enough bowler for Tests, so he could be replaced by Sandhu or RP though this would weaken the batting.

Although Ranjitsinhji and Duleepsinhji are sometimes spelt as Singh (like their Saurashtran relative Yajurvindra), cricket literature almost invariably uses the former variant.

Not everyone here wears a turban, but it would be prudent not to make Santa-Banta jokes nearby. One could possibly construct another list consisting of turbaned players alone, though one may not be able to find all eleven who were Test players.

This team should  generally beat Zimbabwe or Bangladesh (or Sri Lanka or New Zealand on an off day).

Tail piece: the movie title “Singh is Kinng” is said to have been taken from the back of a truck.

Acronyms true and false

We take many acronyms and their explanation for granted. A good example is VT, the prefix for civil aircraft registered in India. Many times we may have heard in quizzes that this stands for Viceroy’s Territory. This is untrue, as we will see below. It is a kind of reverse engineering to find something which fits the initials.

As my friend Ash Nallawalla pointed out….”India has several sequential prefixes as part of a global assignment. VU is used for radio callsigns, for example in amateur radio; VT for aircraft etc. If you check the global allocations, you will see that the main British dominions and colonies were in the Vx series. Australia uses VK and VL for radio (possibly more), VH for aircraft etc. It is just reverse translation by people who need to remind themselves of our British colonization every day.”

Another famous one is “Military Headquarters Of War” for Mhow which many people consider to be true. This phrase seems to be too clumsy to be true and apparently was created by someone as an afterthought. This is what Wikipedia says:

“There is total lack of unanimity on how Mhow got its name. One possible source of the name might be the Mahua (Madhuca longifolia) tree, which grows in profusion in the forests around Mhow.

Some articles in popular literature state that MHOW stands for Military Headquarters Of War. However, this is a backronym, and there is no proof to support the theory that the name of the village comes from the acronym. The village near Mhow was called Mhow Gaon in the pre-British era, when English was not used in India. The Cantonment which came up in 1818 came to be known as Mhow Cantt after the name of this village. Sir John Malcolm spelt the name of this town as MOW in his writings. The 1918 edition of Encyclopædia Britannica also mentions ‘MAU’. However, the Cantonment was referred to by British officers as Mhow at least as early as the end of 1823 (letter from Lt Edward Squibb to his father in London).”

A lesser known backronym from the Army is the one for Babina near Jhansi: “British Army Base In Native Asia” and sometimes……Northern Asia”. This also sounds as contrived as the one above, as the phrase “Native Asia” does not seem to be used anywhere else. And Northern Asia would be Siberia where Britain never had a hold.

The airline and railway companies have many examples of this sort;

Queer And Nasty Types As Stewards

Better On A Camel (and in the mid-60s, Bend Over Again Christine)-google for Christine Keeler if you didn’t get it.

Pan Demonium Scareways

Good Airline Run Under Dutch Administration (i.e. Garuda of Indonesia)

and the jokes about the FA asking “do you want TWA tea or TWA coffee”.

From the British railways we have:

London & Nearly Everywhere Railway, a fair description of the London and North Eastern Railway during its heydays.

There are a number of nasty ones connected with the Indian Railways:

Bribes Never Refused – BNR, predecessor of the SER before the 2002 reorganization.

Great Improvement Possible – GIPR, predecessor of most of CR as it was pre – 2002

Sambar Idli Railway – SIR, most of the present SR

Mails Slowly Moving – M & SMR, now part of SR, SWR and SCR

and the nastiest would be:

Beastly, Bad and Cannot Improve – BB & CIR (predecessor of the WR  as it was pre – 2002).

This article may be useful:

“No goose, no gander”

This was the slogan on this airline advertisement in the late 1950s:

The small print may tell you that it was issued by El Al. To understand the story behind this, we must first identify the goose and the gander.

A map of the North Atlantic may make things clearer:,-32.7453284,4z

It shows you the straight-line routes from, say New York to London and Paris. Using the great circle formulae and putting in the coordinates of JFK, LHR and CDG we get:

New York to London: 3451 miles (all miles are statute miles here,not nautical miles).

New York to Paris: 3635 miles

The first flight from New York to Paris (not exactly matching JFK and CDG) was made by Charles Lindbergh in 1927, thus ushering in the modern air age as many textbooks may say. But it was not the first non-stop flight across the Atlantic. That was back in 1919 by Alcock and Brown with a converted WW1 bomber on a shorter route, from St John’s, Newfoundland (then a British colony and not part of Canada) to a bog near Clifden, Ireland (which was still in the UK at that time). Taking the coordinates we get 1886 miles, considerably less than the more “useful” New York to London route. A rough sketch of this route (with the nearest airport at Galway as the eastern terminus) is:

The point where they landed in the bog is still marked, while there is an Alcock and Brown hotel in Clifden.

It followed, therefore that if you wanted to travel from North America to Europe and your airliners had limited range, you would have to have stops in Newfoundland or western Ireland, preferably both so that you could travel to more interesting places such as New York, Toronto, London and Paris.

Thus arose the huge airport at Gander, Newfoundland. A subsidiary airport was also built at Goose Bay in Labrador, (on the mainland of Newfoundland). Similarly, a large airport came up at the practically unknown town of Shannon in the Republic of Ireland. This was close to the town of Limerick, though researchers have failed to prove conclusively that limericks were invented there.

Both Gander and Goose Bay can be seen here:,-55.0941876,6z/data=!4m2!3m1!1s0x4c7b7a25e4bf9d67:0xbbcbc870ca9fe1dd

And Shannon:,-8.5608469,8z/data=!4m2!3m1!1s0x485b41dad0f8b40b:0x6bf3c305b024f8dc

These airports in Newfoundland were intensively used by the Allies during World War 2. After the war got over, trans-Atlantic flights began with an invariable stop at Gander for refuelling. When weather there grew too bad, the planes were diverted to Goose Bay.

By the late 1950s, the Britannia turboprops were finally able to manage New York-London without refuelling at Gander. Even the BOAC’s Comet 4s had to stop at Gander.

So El Al could proudly announce direct Britannia flights with “No Goose, No Gander”. Ironically the Britannia itself was soon superseded by faster jets such as the Boeing 707.

History did not deal kindly with Gander and Goose Bay airports when they lost their primacy. They stagger along with limited Canadian internal flights, although the US military continues to use Gander. They also used to survive on the Havana-Moscow flights until the collapse of the Soviet Union. These flights became a bit of a pain for the Canadians as numerous frustrated Cubans and Soviets used to seek asylum there. Finally they passed a rule that anyone travelling on a flight which stopped at Gander had to have a Canadian visa.

Shannon fared somewhat better and still has a number of flights to various parts of Europe as well as the US. Shannon and Dublin (joined recently by Abu Dhabi) are among the few places outside the Western Hemisphere where the US immigration and customs processes passengers before they leave for the US. There is even an all-business class flight of British Airways which takes off with an Airbus A318 from the tiny airport at London City, stops at Shannon for refuelling and processing of passengers, and then goes straight to NYC where the passengers can get off and be on their way without any other formalities. This is numbered BA 001 and is marketed as one of BA’s most elite services:

More interesting facts about geese and ganders here:

Refrigerated trains-an afterthought

For many years, refrigerated rail wagons and ships have been carrying freight across the world while refrigerated containers have come in more recently. The generic term for them is “reefers”.

Anyone familiar with 20th century American slang would know that reefer is another popular slang term for marijuana. It does seem to have a remarkable number of synonyms such as ganja, grass, Mary Jane, pot, cannabis etc. There is a well known ‘public service film’ produced on behalf of the US government in the 1930s called “Reefer Madness”, which film historians consider to be a rather clumsy attempt at educating the young about the dangers of drugs.

It has been nominated for awards for “worst film of all time”, though there are more deserving candidates such as “Plan 9 from Outer Space”, “Manos-the Hands of Fate” and “The Beast of Yucca Flats”. There was also a companion film called “Sex Madness” which has a similar reputation. You can see these films of ill-repute on Youtube.

Someone in the US started the Razzie Awards (for raspberry) for worst film, worst actor etc exactly on the lines of the Oscar awards. This continues to thrive. Some stalwarts like Sharon Stone have won multiple awards. Bollywood caught on to this later and someone started the “Ghanta awards” which are still awarded each year. The initial symbol of this was a prominent Bollywood villain in the nude with a strategically placed ghanta (though this picture seems to have vanished from the net now). Well, it was photoshopped from this picture:

Also see this:

There is also a rival Golden Kela award ceremony.

Back to reefers and the unfortunately named West Indian Test cricketer named Floyd Reifer. (Yes, you can see a PJ coming but this time it was not devised by me). He started off his Test career (as a specialist batsman) with 29 versus Sri Lanka in 1997. That was to be his career best score. His Test career seemed to be over in 1999 by when he had made a total of 63 runs at 7.87 (not too different from Vizzy’s career average). Even the more nerdish followers of Test cricket thought they had seen the last of him, although he continued to score heavily in domestic cricket.

Over 10 years later, he got another opportunity to play for the West Indies and that too as a captain when, in one of their periodic crises, the WI first XI and most of the second XI decided to boycott a 2-Test series against Bangladesh. A hurriedly put together third XI took the field. The captain made some brave speeches about his team beating Bangladesh in these circumstances, prompting local journalists to ask if he had been “smoking something sounding like his name”. Here you can see the sum total of his career:

As you know, Bangladesh won the series 2-0 and the captain and most of the West Indies players of that team vanished without a trace. Their only new face from this series who is still around is Kemar Roach.

How Indian Railways improvises-a makeshift generator van for refrigerated containers.

I saw this on a JNPT-bound container train at Panvel in 2007. It had some refrigerated containers presumably containing some perishable food items for export. Now refrigerated containers need lots of power, for which a generator is needed. This is how IR solved the problem:

Container-gen 001

Another view of the same:

Container-gen 002

Note the Maersk refrigerated container on the right. Though it may not be clearly visible here, there are power cables connecting it with the generator van on the left. If you look carefully, you will see that the generator is kept in an old container which may have passed its useful life. Still it was found to be good enough to house a large generator.

Note the small door at the side, which is the generator attendant’s cabin. Conditions must be quite hot inside, which is why he was wearing an undervest when he got down for a well deserved breath of fresh air. Being in close proximity to a noisy and polluting diesel genset must not be very healthy. At least his counterparts on the Rajdhanis and Shatbdis have slightly better working conditions.

Anyway this can be taken as a good example of recycling of used containers.

The goose in popular culture

(Statutory warning: this is not about Arnab Goswami or any other Goswami.) The goose may not be a particularly impressive-looking creature. But it has contributed a lot to the English language and to popular culture. You have: Goose pimples (Americanized to goose bumps) Gooseberries (also known as Amla in parts of India) Goose-necked lamps: Phrases: “What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander” or “killing the goose which lays golden eggs”.Or threats: “I’ll cook your goose”. Works of literature: (This story was quite popular in the past) Going down the scale, we have this distant relative of Donald Duck: The cricketer Gary Gilmour was nicknamed Gus because, like this character, he constantly got injured in various mishaps. And there was Goosey Goosey Gander. As in many old nursery rhymes, there is a historical context: The word goose is generally used for both male and female, though the correct term is gander for a male, goose for a female and gosling for the young.

And the 19th century limerick writers did not leave the goose unscathed:

Said an old Chinese mandarin.
There’s a subject I’d like to use candour in:
The geese in Pekin
Are so steeped in sin
That they’d sooner let a man in than a gander in.

Fans of Vernon Philander would be dismayed to note that there is an alternative second line which says: “I’ve found in the course of philanderin’ “

And the Nazis may not have invented the goose-step, but they will always be associated with it:

Which was duly lampooned in this 1940s British comedy:

Goose is also a verb: _____________________________________________________________________________________________

noun: goose; plural noun: geese; plural noun: gooses
  1. 1.
    a large waterbird with a long neck, short legs, webbed feet, and a short broad bill. Generally geese are larger than ducks and have longer necks and shorter bills.
    • a female goose.
    • the flesh of a goose as food.
  2. 2.
    a foolish person.
    “‘Silly goose,’ he murmured fondly”


verb: goose; 3rd person present: gooses; past tense: goosed; past participle: goosed; gerund or present participle: goosing
  1. 1.
    poke (someone) in the bottom.
  2. 2.
    North American
    give (something) a boost; invigorate.
    “the government’s desire to goose the tired housing market”
    And the gander also has a verb in old slang:
    noun: gander; plural noun: ganders
    1. 1.
      a male goose.
    2. 2.
      a look or glance.
      take a gander at the luggage, will ya?”


    verb: gander; 3rd person present: ganders; past tense: gandered; past participle: gandered; gerund or present participle: gandering
    1. 1.
      look or glance at something.
      “Paulie gandered at shelves full of coffee paraphernalia”
      However, all of this does not explain why several major airlines put out ads like this “No Goose, No Gander” in the early 1950s:
      This is a little more complicated, but has a perfectly logical explanation. More about this later.