Railway authorities in Himachal Pradesh have re-introduced a 109 year-old steam locomotive on the Kalka-Shimla Heritage Line, infusing a traditional element into a popular narrow gauge train ride in a bid to attract more tourists.
The locomotive will be made available for a 22-kilometre trip between Kaitlighat and Shimla, giving tourists an opportunity to enjoy a picturesque 'toy train' ride amid puffs of smoke from a coal-fuelled engine, reminiscent of an age gone by.
"Since the Kalka-Shimla section is a heritage section, it is on the international tourism map. The railways department wants maximum tourist inflow. Along with old artifacts that we have in our museum, this steam engine KC520, can also be accessed by tourists who wish to enjoy a ride," said G S Rajput, the Shimla Station Superintendent.
Parked in a shed at the station, the locomotive was ready for action, its body buffed to a shine, its gears, wheels and components in perfect running order and a stock of coal ready for the boiler. Rajput credited his staff for the immaculate maintenance.
"This engine was manufactured in 1903 and is over a century old. I am grateful to my officers and staff for maintaining it so well that there is no fault in its working. The locomotive is ready for use," he said.
The heritage ride from Shimla to Kaitlighat and back will take tourists through the best views, which the hilly terrain offers, little bridges, tunnels and valleys at altitudes between 5,000-7,000 feet above sea level.
Steam-powered locomotives were in use in Shimla till 1970, after which they were discontinued in favour of diesel engines.
'Toy trains' that run on narrow gauges are a popular feature of India's prominent hill stations, the most well-known ones being the trains in Shimla and the toy trains of Darjeeling.