If ever a tour was conceived to introduce the first time tourist to India then this is perfect!
The holiday rail specialist ‘Great Rail Journeys’ and their ‘India’s Golden Triangle’ tour offers the Indian novice an insight that will whet their appetite for further excursions, I am sure.
Taking in the Himalayan city of Shimla that when the British once ruled India became the summer capital and administration centre for the whole country.
This was when the heat of the plains drove the then rulers to the cooler mountain climate at 7,000 feet.
Just one of the many highlights of the 13-day 11 nights programme is certainly the 95-kilometre journey from Kalka through the winding foothills and valleys of the lower Himalaya’s to Shimla on the ‘Toy Train’.
The narrow gauge line was built to allow swifter and more convienent journeys for the Raj rulers.
SWIFTER TO SHIMLA
As the train slowly climbs from the heat of the rice growing plains to the cooler hillsides as the winding 4 hour journey begins Kalka station. Here the vegetation and temperatures change from tropical foliage being slowly replaced with pines and more temperate scrub like plants further into the Himalaya.
Arriving after numerous stops the snaking line offers stunning views down into the valleys and across to the hilltops that the train passes over later on it’s climb to the iconic colonial city.
The narrow carriages that will be your home for a number of hours are compact yet cosy and offer such memorable views. With stops at one or two stations that are long enough to grab a chai or take toilet stop, sorry ‘comfort break’! There are small toilets in each carriage as well for the four-hour journey.
SHIMLA TOY TRAIN
Not only delivering tourists but it is also a vital part of the overall transport network for local residents who have been using the facility that has been in use for over 100 years since it was completed in 1903.
For any train enthusiast the Shimla ‘Toy Train’ is a must and even if you cannot give a puff! The ride is truly unforgettable.
HISTORY MADE IN SHIMLA
Shimla was declared to be the summer capital in 1864. From around 1819 onwards interest in the British like climate attracted more and more visitors with Charles Pratt Kennedy who built one of the first houses there in 1822 and really ever since the settlement went from strength to strength after that.
One of the largest and impressive buildings there is the former Viceroy’s Lodge built in a Scottish Baronial in style in grey limestone. It is now part of a university although tours of some of the staterooms are available pretty well on a daily basis.
Many very important decisions and meetings were made at the lodge over the years. Mahatma Ghandi was there in 1922, in 1945 the Shimla Conference about Indian self-Government and then in 1947 the partition discussions where India and Pakistan went there separate ways 70 years ago was another key meeting there.
It was also the summer residences for several India presidents up to the 1960’s.
With a very typical English looking church at the other end of the city the many colonial buildings in the area means it still retains that British influence if only now it’s in its architecture, street and area names.
Compared to the gentle if not sedate arrival by train in Shimla the narrow roads around the city are awash with horn blowing taxi’s, buses, cars and lorries that their drivers seem to negotiate winding streets so deftly missing each other by inches. How there are so few accidents still perplexes me as I write this?
The tour uses the Oberoi Cecil Hotel that too has many colonial design elements and features. It offers wonderful views back over the Himalaya foothills with first class service and food where you have time to enjoy 3 nights under its corrugated tin roof, there cannot be too many 5 star hotels that have tin roofs?
TRAINS AND THE TAJ MAHAL
Further train trips are all part of the tour as you get to take in New Delhi for two nights then on to the stunning Taj Mahal in Agra by train staying at The ITC Mughal. When you leave Agra by road heading to Fatehpur Sikri with then three nights in the Pink City of Jaipur staying at ITC Rajputana Sheraton before heading back to Delhi and the lovely Taj Palace Hotel again before flying home the next day.
A visit to the Taj Mahal is akin to visiting the UK and not taking in Stonehenge. It is indeed a very special place and deservedly so well up there on the UNESCO world heritage site list.
Its symmetry, beauty and quality make this to be another ‘must do’ highlight on the Great Rail Journeys itinerary. With a visit to the nearby Red Fort at Agra two amazing visits on one day it’s almost too much!
My brief visit did not include Jaipur and Fatehpur Sikri visits. However, I have no problem in saying that Shimla, Delhi and Agra visits rated as some of the best places I have visited in my many years of travel.
Certainly as a way of introducing a country to a first time India visitor Great Rail Journeys have an excellent product and the ideal way of showing it off plus in 5 star style.
From Raj to Taj, it is certainly just the ticket!
Great Rail Journeys India’s Golden Triangle is a classy escorted rail holiday taking in the kaleidoscopic sights of this colourful country. With excursions to Delhi, Shimla and Agra with its white marble icon the Taj Mahal. Journeys on the Shatabdi Express and Toy Train plus one other this 13-day tour includes stays in top 5-star hotels. From £1,995pp, departing Oct 2017 – Dec 2018. GRJ Independent can tailor make holidays to the region for those wishing to travel to India on an individual basis www.greatrail.com/grj-independent / 01904 527 181