Kalka-Shimla off-track
Ambika Sharma

Even as the Kalka-Shimla railway track is being considered for being enlisted in the World Heritage list by the UNESCO, the abject neglect of this track has become a permanent embarrassment to the Northern Railways. Though, as many as 12 trains ply on the track every day which includes six each from Kalka and Shimla, in addition to two holiday specials, the poor upkeep of the eight engines chugging these trains often leads to their breakdown.

The situation has been going from bad to worse with breakdowns occurring as frequently as twice in a month. In the recent breakdown, which occurred on April 5, the wheel axle of 1 KS train broke between Koti-Sanwara. This mechanical failure led to halting of all ten trains plying from either side of the track. Trains running from Shimla to Kalka- Down mix and 256, had to be halted at Dharampur and those coming from Kalka-215, 241, 255 Himalayan Queen and Up mix trains, had to be cancelled for the day.          Particularly inconvenienced were the 205 passengers of 1 KS train who, till late in the evening, were stuck and failed to reach their destinations in time. Finally, the Railway authorities had to hire taxis incurring several thousands to take the travellers to their destinations. This is not an isolated incident as, even after this, yet another train developed a snag, forcing the train to halt near Barog for nearly one and a half hours.

Even last year a train failed to pull along near Kandaghat, forcing the authorities to arrange taxis for the passengers. The staff, not only faced a difficult situation handling the irate passengers, but also had to cut a sorry figure for no fault of theirs. Such situations have become difficult to handle, confided an official, who chose to remain anonymous.

As per an estimate, there have been nearly 24 breakdowns in a year, earning the railways a bad name. The track, which is known for its bridges and picturesque scenic beauty, is getting transformed into a horrific experience for the travellers. The journey which used to be full of pleasure, has forced a commuter to avow never to venture again after facing such breakdowns where at times there isn’t even a place to catch a bus for the remaining journey.

One is left wondering as to why the authorities have turned so indifferent. Officials have no convincing explanation but insiders reveal that there is a clear ploy to present a forged picture as far as mechanical failures are concerned. Illustrating their point, the officials confided that in most of the cases when the engine fails, a banker engine is installed at the rear to pull the train. Though such an arrangement is permissible only in emergency situations, and that too for 3 to 4 kms, it has now become a usual practice. This allows the locomotive section to ensure that the actual engine failure is not credited in the number of breakdowns. Thus, when the engine failures actually projected are much lesser, the senior officials fail to access the actual need for replacing the old decades old worn out engines. The engines, which are supposedly several decades old, require to be replaced and soon since the spare parts, which are routed through certain companies, fail to perform to their standards.

It is time the authorities wake up and adopt a sincere approach towards this section or else the track, which is on the verge of being declared heritage, will soon lose its credibility as well as value.

Waiting for godot

THE Kalka-Shimla rail route, which completed 100 years on November 9, 2003, offers the charm of old-world travel amidst lofty pines and lush green misty mountains. This is one of the four narrow gauge rail routes on hill terrain in the country, the other three being the Darjeeling, Ooty and Pathankot-Jogindernagar routes. In fact, the Darjeeling route was used as a model for the Kalka-Shimla route, which was proposed in 1891.

Started during the reign of Lord Curzon in November 1903, mainly to ferry the bada sahibs and their families to the then summer capital of Shimla, this rail route features in the Guinness Book of World Records for offering the steepest rise in altitude in the space of 96 kilometers. More than two-third of the track is curved, sometimes at angles as sharp as 48 degrees.

Though the senior railway officials had recently said that three engines would be made available to this section in April so as to relieve the excess burden on the eight engines, which ferry nearly ten trains in addition to two holiday specials, no such engines had arrived till today. The remaining two engines are undergoing repair work and it was uncertain when they would be made available for use. This had forced the railway authorities to schedule the timings of various trains according to the availability of engines.



Recent breakdowns

April 22 - Breakdown occurred in 1KS train due to engine failure between Sanwara-Dharampur at 5:42 a.m. A new engine arrived but this engine too developed a snag. Finally, another engine had to be rushed in. The train finally left at 8:30 a.m. though it was scheduled to reach Shimla at 9:15 a.m.

April 18 - A snag in the train near Barog led to halting of one train for nearly one and a half hour.

April 5 - Wheel axle of 1 KS train plying between Koti-Sanwara broke down leading to suspension of almost eight trains from either side on the track. The 205 passengers had to be sent in specially hired taxis to Kalka.

March 24- The engine of 255 train broke down between Taksaal-Guman near Parwanoo.

February 2- The Up Mix train developed a snag between Kalka-Taksaal soon after having starting from Kalka. It was nearly 10:50 am by which the new engine arrived and the train could chug off.



Children Park: A distant dream
Ashok Raina

A Rs 45 lakh proposed  children park, to be named after freedom fighter and former minister Choudhary Hari Ram, is facing rough weather as the previous government headed by Virbhdra Singh did not take the project seriously, thus hurting the sentiments of close relations of Choudhary Hari Ram and the OBC community. Choudhary Hari Ram was a cabinet minister in the government of Partap Singh Karion in the undivided Punjab and then again a cabinet minister in the government of Y.S.Parmar of newly created Himachal Pradesh. He was a freedom fighter who was involved in a bomb blast case at Lahore during the freedom struggle of India.

On December 18, 2006, the then tourism minister G.S.Bali, laid the foundation stone of the park at Matour in the presence of the then Kangra MLA Surender Kumar on the bank of river Manuni on Pathankot-Mandi Highway with much fanfare. The work on the project had started with bamboo commission of India supplying bamboos free of cost for the project and some bamboo structures were raised, but the project was left in lurch for reasons unknown.

Sanjay Sharma, district tourism officer, when contacted, said Rs 31 lakhs were contributed by the government of India for the project which was to be constructed by the tourism department but immediately after the foundation stone was laid, the department was relieved of the charge and tourism development corporation was assigned the job without attributing any reason.

An investigation by The Tribune revealed not even a single penny was spent on the project from the allotted funds except Rs 20,000 used on the catering on the foundation stone laying function day.  It was further revealed that Rs. 31 lakhs were received by the HPTDC  for the execution of the work from GOI  but  Rs 8 lakh were diverted to some other project.

When contacted, the GM of HPTDC, R.C.Gupta said he knew nothing about the project but would gather the information. Pushpa Choudhary, former chairperson of the State Social Welfare Advisory Board and daughter of freedom fighter said, “The way things are dealt with by the previous government is really insulting.” She said that Choudhary community was agitated and the stone bearing the name of the martyr should be removed from the site.  During investigation, it came to fore that the work was assigned to a contractor close to politicians in power but he did not start the work.

Meanwhile, P.S.Thakur, SDO, HPTDC at Dharamshala said despite repeated requests, the contractor did not start the work till his security was forfeited and contract was canceled.  

Bali said the money was lying with the tourism department and blamed the then Congress MLA Surender Kaku for his failure to get the work executed. The park has now turned into a garbage dump. The sufferers are the residents of the vicinity, for whom, it could have been an ideal location to spend their evenings.



Vidya upasaks fight for their demands
S. R. Pundir

Now there is a ray of hope for the over five thousand vidya upasaks teaching primary classes in the state as the present state government has shown sympathetic attitude towards them. Although the directorate of elementary education has said they had not received anything in writing from the state government so far in this connection. 

Vidya upasaks in Himachal Pradesh allege that they had suffered because of ‘indifferent attitude’ of the previous government towards them. In a district level meeting held at Paonta under the chairmanship of its district president Maya Ram Sharma, Vidya Upasak Union expressed deep anguish over the previous Congress government’s apathy, as state government did not frame any policy to regularize them. 

Over five thousand vidya upasaks were recruited by the previous BJP government about six years back. They were engaged to teach primary classes in place of regular primary teachers. Teachers say that after the Congress government came in power in the state, nobody bothered about their pay and other difficulties faced by them.  

Union alleged that their services were put under panchayats, although the primary schools in which they teach, were working under the education department. Teachers have strongly opposed this step by saying all their activities, including their attendance, is planned, controlled, recorded and checked by the education department and that their services must remain under the education department.

  They said the state government had already regularized thousands of such teachers but during the past five years, no policies were framed to regularize them. In the resolution forwarded to the Chief Minister of the state, vidya upasaks have demanded to formulate a policy for their regularization and immediately pay them at par with the primary teachers engaged on contractual basis with a number of other demands.



Striking Bantony stands tall
by Shriniwas Joshi

Edward Buck had mentioned Captain A. Gordon as one who ‘also performed’ on the Gaiety stage. This man owned a rickety cottage housing offices of Indian Army where existed the present Bantony, adjacent to Grand Hotel. It was purchased by the Maharaja of Sirmaur in 1880s to have his summer palace there.

The first written reference of the building being with Sirmaur, however, is available from a letter to the Municipal Committee (MC) dated May 23, 1891, from Kumar Jowhar Singh, the agent of the maharaja residing at Torrentium, chhota Shimla. Bantony complex, at that time, included the outhouses across the main road on the west-end of the Telegraph Office that existed then as huge wooden structure at its present location.  These outhouses remained a bone of contention between the maharaja through his vakil P. Davi Ram and superintendent of the Telegraph Department (TD). The TD in 1900 wrote to the secretary, MC, disclosing the outhouses were required for their staff and that the TD staff mixed with the occupants resulting in leakage of official information. It further mentioned that these had pitiable sanitary conditions and that the maharaja was paying no heed to the notice of their dismantling already issued by the MC on April 26, 1897. The TD had also expressed their desire to purchase the outhouses. P. Donaldson, secretary, MC, replied to Dumpster, the superintendent TD, on 7.6.1900, “I doubt if he (Sirmaur) would sell even an inch of land.” The Maharaja of Sirmaur had 14 out of 34 property holdings belonging to Indian princes here in 1885. The irony is that his successors possess none today. The entire built-in property was gradually sold out. Anyway, a notice of vacation was immediately served upon the eighteen individual occupants who vacated those in August 1900 and by 1902, the ownership was transferred to the TD.

Bantony, as we see it today, is reconstructed version of 1901-02 on the designs of T.E.G. Cooper, C.E., consulting engineer and architect. It has ‘hybrid architecture, combining the features of an English county-house and the Sirmauri baroque design’. Besides a block each of the cook houses and outhouses, it has a main house or villa; a double storied cottage on the flank towards the then Delhi and London Bank (DLB), which was where the Union Bank of India exist today. The business of DLB was later acquired by Alliance Bank in 1916. The exotic cast-iron railing with coat-of-arms of Sirmaur state at every span of six feet (mostly vandalized) and the original gate outside the building built in Nahan Foundry, was erected in 1902-03. Permission to erect this was given by the MC on the condition that five deodar trees in the complex were not cut. Somerset Playne, in Indian States, has praised Amar Prakash Bahadur of Sirmaur who lent Bantony in 1914 till the end of First World War, to the government for the Military Works Office and again during the Second World War, for establishment of Prisoners of War section under the aegis of All India Radio. The section handled all to and fro messages of the POWs. Veer Vikram Singh, commander of the Sirmaur State Forces, the hero of the World War, had died in Bantony. It also functioned as guest house for the maharajas of other states and Maharaja Scindia of Gwalior stayed here in the summers of 1928. Bantony also had the privilege of accommodating the office of The Tribune from September 25, 1947 to May 12, 1948 on its dislocation from Lahore owing to the 1947 partition. Rana Jang Bahadur Singh and J.Natarajan were its editors during that period of its publication from Shimla at Liddell’s press. The building was purchased by Lehnu Mal Thakur Dass comprising many partners from the maharaja in 1945 but their intentions of converting it into a hotel could not succeed because the revenue papers showed the state government as tenant, which had been continuing with offices of the police department here.


The area of Bantony is 22,770 square yards with 251 trees in it. The Revenue Department, in September 1968, had assessed the value of trees as Rs. 62,905/- and that of the land at Rs. 25 per square yard. The total amount added up to Rs. 6, 36,905/- only for this prime piece of land and aged cottages whereas the owners, a couple of years back, were demanding Rs. 12 crores.



Shimla diary
Treat for music aficionados
Pratibha Chauhan

With the victory of the ruling BJP party in the Hamirpur parliamentary by-election being a foregone conclusion, the Congress leaders feel that even if they are able to reduce the victory margin of over 80,000 with which chief minister, P.K. Dhumal had won the seat last time, it would be an achievement.

However, with Dhumal’s son, Anurag Thakur being made the BJP nominee, the Congress leaders are themselves apprehensive whether they will be able to bring down the victory margin. As such the Congress leaders are not talking of winning but of reducing the margin.

By fielding Anurag, the party has ensured that the Chief Minister and all other party leaders will work whole heartedly as it is the reputation of Dhumal which is at stake. “By increasing the margin, the Chief Minister has to prove he has done a good job so far and more importantly that Anurag was the best choice and is popular with the masses,” admits a senior BJP leaders. What could further compound the problem of the Congress could be the disinterest of the former Chief Minister, Virbhadra Singh in the campaigning. 
With the high command sidelining him, he could keep a low profile which would not be in the interest of the party as he still enjoys great mass support.

In case the Raja decided to lie low, it could be left to state Congress chief, Viplove Thakur and CLP leader Vidya Stokes to lead the campaign.

Musical treat

The revival of the Society for Promotion of Indian Classical Music and Arts amongst Youth (SPICMACAY) in Himachal has been a boon for connoisseurs of traditional art and music.

The performance by santoor artist, Abhay Rustom Sopori at the local Auckland House School here saw the start of the new phase of cultural activities for the year.

Son of legendary musician, Pt Bhajan Sopori, he is one of the youngest santoor maestro and composer in the country.

His performance demonstrates a keen sense of vocal and instrumental techniques, which is the essence of his style. Another remarkable quality of his presentation is that he sings the composition along with its instrumental rendition, which is indeed a remarkable feat.

Having made his debut in 1997 he has performed in national and international platforms. Abhay has also composed the music for Mahatma, a film made as a tribute to the father of the nation and screened recently at the United Nations to mark the first international Non-Violence Day.

He has also composed a song ‘Aao kadam badhayain’ to raise funds for the quake victims in Kashmir.

Tips on effective parenting

With rearing a child being an art in itself, an orientation programme on ‘Effective Parenting’ was organized by Euro Kids.

The head of the north region of Euro Kids, Natasha Dodi, gave some effective tips how to cope up with the needs, apprehensions and anxieties of a young child who has just joined school. She detailed how parents can effectively make school a much more enjoyable experience.

Dodi cited examples to tell the parents how each child is different and as such has different needs. “While an introvert child would excel at painting, a more gregarious child would love dancing or sports, thus the need to deal with them differently,” she emphasized.

The principal of Anchorage Euro Kids, Raveen Singh, detailed how learning is made interesting and fun loving for the children with the use of different techniques.

She said children take time to adjust to a new environment and place and as such parents should not have unnecessary worries.



Cooking in the wilderness
Yana Banerjee-Bey

Delicious, filling meals with minimum fuss
Delicious, filling meals with minimum fuss

THESE recipes are not only easy to cook, the ingredients are few and easy to carry. For variety in both taste and nutrition, and for those times when everyone is too tired to do any cooking, carry along pre-cooked dishes in tins and foil packets. Then, all you have to do is boil water, bung in the tin or foil packet for a few minutes, open and serve. From mutton curry in a tin to rajma and palak paneer in a packet, take your pick from supermart shelves.

You can also cook some food at home before leaving and carry it for short trips, or for the first meal of your trip (before the food has had time to spoil). Boil mince meat with salt and shape into tikkis. Fry. Pack in foil and carry along with bread, whole onions, and mustard or tomato sauce. When you are ready to eat, slice the onions and put into a sandwich with meat and sauce. Add tomatoes and cucumbers if you can carry them. Vegetarians can substitute aloo tikkis.

Your search ends here!

Camping stoves and utensils are available at

Trekkers Point, PVR Plaza, Mezzanine Floor,

H Block, Connaught Place. New Delhi-110 001.

Tel: 23325475. Prices start at Rs 1700 for stoves and Rs 225 for gas cartridges


Breakfast is often a heavy-duty, lunch-dinner-type dish (see below) because you have a strenuous day ahead with only a snack-type lunch and tea till the night meal. However, for a change in taste and convenience (on a rainy morning), carry along muesli with dried fruit. It can be eaten on its own and washed down with tea. If you are near a village or shepherds, you can buy fresh milk and mix with the muesli for a delicious, nutritious breakfast. Or make your own from milk powder.

It is also possible sometimes to buy eggs from villagers. In that case, make this sausage -and-eggs breakfast. Cut a hole in the centre of a slice of bread and butter it on both sides. Put in the pan and break an egg in the hole. Cover with chopped sausage and cook. Turn over and let it cook. Add salt and pepper. Use ready-to-eat sausages, not raw ones.


When you want a hot, freshly-cooked lunch, make these quick meals. Cook pasta or rice. Open a can of tuna and heap over the pasta or rice. If you have them, add sliced raw tomatoes and onions with salt and pepper. For a veg, potato and onion stew with bread, makes for a filling meal. Cut potatoes into cubes and onions into quarters. Put in the pot with butter, salt and water.


For a warming, hydrating meal, make chicken noodle soup from soup powder. Add dehydrated peas or other vegetables. Toss in leftover rice or pasta from lunch! For those of you who simply must have chicken, try ginger fried chicken. Heat oil in the pan. Add some slices of peeled ginger. Put in the chicken pieces and fry lightly. Remove the chicken.

Add chopped onions and one or two green chillies slit halfway. Fry till onion turns golden brown. Put the chicken in, add salt, some more ginger slices and fry a bit. Add enough water so that chicken is mostly covered. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Uncover and boil the rest of the water away or retain if you are eating it with rice.

Meat stew is best made in a pressure cooker. However, if you are making a small quantity for 2-3 people, you can make it in your usual pot by sealing the top with foil. Put some butter in the pot and add chopped sausage, potatoes, onions, carrots, tomatoes, salt and water. Cover with foil and cook for an hour. Don’t remove the foil to check in-between, it spoils the dish!

This is the basic stew which you can make if you have no spices. However, a dash each of marjoram, thyme, parsley, rosemary and oregano improves it. They are better than Indian spices.

(This column appears fortnightly)

The writer has authored India’s first handbook of adventure sports and is available at



Monitor cab service

It cannot be denied that there are some reasons behind the present arrangement of cab service. As far as the uniformity of fare is concerned, it is undisputed that is should vary according to distance. But one would not agree that they have been introduced from places where buses are run from areas having buses in abundance. As is the case with New Shimla where timings of buses are uncertain. There is a gap of at least half an hour between such buses. Even if it is argued that corporation is incurring losses from them, then it should be made clear that these cabs are run for every person, not only for senior citizens.

To avoid losses, it is suggested that one way is to run taxis during peak hours and not at regular intervals. If they are run in the morning as well as evening, it would definitely make a difference. Also, the routes should also be reconsidered. For instance, its service can be extended from Rajiana in place of D.A.V New Shimla to High Court.

Bhumika Sharma, Shimla

Readers, write in

HERE is an opportunity to highlight civic and other public issues, and air your grievances about government negligence and ineffectiveness and the apathy of the officialdom. Send your views, not exceeding 200 words, to Himachal Plus, The Tribune, Sector 29, Chandigarh.





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