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Kangra valley express
Kangra Valley Train Along the foothills of the Western Himalayas, nestling sheltered under the snowy massifs of the Dauladhar range, lies a 180 km long fertile ribbon of land bordered on the east and the west by the Beas and the Ravi rivers and to the south by the dusty plains of the Punjab. This valley is fed by numerous cold water streams that cascade down from the northern snows, bringing down rich silt, and the fresh breath of the mountains. Vegetation here is unusually lush and the meadows and forests are breathtaking in their beauty. This is a land of plenty and its people are the children of innocence.

Through this irresistibly beautiful valley runs the least known of India's narrow gauge mountain railway - the Kangra Valley Railway - arguably the most aesthetically satisfying rail journey of any kind in all of India. Built to assist the construction of the UhI hydroelectric project, it opened to traffic in 1927, and today traverses 164 km on a realigned route from its broad gauge interchange at Pathankot (1,100 feet altitude) to its terminus at Jogindernagar (3,758).

The KVR is an ecological delight, a line of unmatched beauty. Although it experiences some rugged terrain employs only to tunnels through, its entire length. Once it enters the scenically unsurpassed Kangra valley, it blends seamlessly with the terraced rice fields and spans successive ridges without burrowing. It seems to blend with the terrain as it snakes its sinuous way through the gorges, the shallow bowls and the jagged ridges. There is no feeling of a railway pitted against the elements, or of any conflict between the will of man and that of nature. Amidst this idyllic land of plenty and peace, the KVR meanders unnoticed along the very foothills of the Dauladhar range, not rustling a leaf as it winds its way through the unusually lush vegetation. The stations here are amongst the prettiest in India: Baijnath, the site of one of the twelve ancient jyotirlingam Shiva temples; Palampur, the tea capital of north India; and Ajhu a scenic village that could match anything in Switzerland.

Subtle passage
The line's entire passage is so delightfully understated that a great many regular traveller who have stepped off their coaches for a thousand cups of tea at Pathankot station, have failed to notice the twin tracks of the KCR's broad gauge interchange sitting unpretentiously at the eastern edge of Platform No. 1! Entirely in keeping with its unassuming nature, the KVR's exit from Pathankot is equally muted. It exits quick succession nearly one kilometer long Chakki bridge, bringing home the ruggedness or the terrain to the as yet unaware traveler. The first 20 km to Nurpur Road are quickly crossed and the tracks run along the main road of Pathankot - Mandi as they sweep beneath the derelict walls of the once famous Nurpur fort, now abandoned.

Nurpur Fort Nurpur fort is witness to one of the KVR's major climbs as the railway gains 500 feet of altitude in a mere 9 km, bursting through to the first of the summits at Talara. The topography now changes. The rocky steppes give way to the first of the rice fields. Several stations are crossed in quick succession, and several times, the train plunges into narrow gorges spanned by high masonry bridges only to emerge into another cultivated rice field bowl dotted with slate - roofed white hill homes. Jawanwals Shehr ( 45 km), Nagrota ( 62km) and Guler (72 km) are all small settlements lying off arterial roads, serviced well by the KVR alone. East of its stiff climbs, and soon encounters the Banganga Bridge, the subject of one of the great romantic railway constriction stories.

In 1927, during the constriction of this bridge, soon after the 250 - foot long main girder had been temporarily erected on staging piers ready for final installation, down came a 22 - foot flash flood which moved the staging piers and dislocated the girder by several feet. The engineers disassembled the girder and piers, hauled them to their correct alignment and re-assembled the girder, readying it for installation.

Three weeks later, another torrential downpour5 followed by a flash flood swept the staging piers again. It is said that this tie around, the girder was saved from being washed away by single mooring chain! Romance, of course, is to be found in the fact that the bridge was still erected in time for the inauguration of the KVR.

Steep ascent
Past Banganga Bridge, the KVR continues its steep ascent and the squeal of the wheels is ceaseless as the train relentlessly fights it way up the grade. It is a massive effort that does not end till Jwalamukhi appears, 83 km from Pathankot. Jwalamukhi is a characteristic Himalayan pilgrim town - a bedlam o rapid turnaround traffic, glitzy and cheap religious souvenirs, to say nothing of the cacophonic blast of bad music. Baneath all this however, is another reality, an ancient temple antedating the rise of classical Hinduism; a primal experience, before reason, before thought. If up - market lodgings are not a paramount objective, Jwalamukhi is a great place to break journey for a day in the mid - seasons.

Dhundni tunnel, 250 feet long, appear two kilometers north of jwalamudhi and it is only a prelude to something mote impressive. Seven km later, the 1,075-foot long Daulatpur tunnel plunges into the craggy mountain. The line seems to peak somewhere within the innards of Daultpur tunnel because suddenly, as the tracks emerge back into the light, the squeal of the wheels gives way to a more pleasant gliding swish.

kangra-valley Railway. Somewhere in the innards of that granite - lined burrow, something far more important has occurred. Daulatpur tunnel marks a symbolic transition between KVR in its manifestation as an idyllic river - valley railway. Suddenly, the line receives, an imperceptible, quite subtle, aesthetic boost. Not two km short of Kangra (94km), we come upon the four - storey 10 - arch masonry bridge, undoubtedly the most photographed spot on the Kangra Valley Railway.

Facing the town of Kangra across a deep gorge, Kangra station is, at 2,284 feet, both delightfully pleasant in the midseason and seductively far from the madding crowd in its enigmatic silence. Its small woos - built station reminds one of a personal hill retreat, but is greatest attraction is the KVR's only steel arch bridge that lies at its eastern edge. The 200 feet chasm above the Reond Nullah is spanned by a 260- foot long, all metal, fabrication by Braithwaite and Co at their 'Bombay Works.'

Weighing 230 tons, work began on this first of India's steel arch bridges on December 10, 1927 and was completed in six weeks - well ahead of schedule. In order to safeguard the workers who were bolting the bridge sections together, the railways suspended a cotton rope net beneath the steelworks across the entire stretch of the Nullah. No one fell off the bridge during construction but the workers were terrorized by a suspected man - eating leopard throughout, to say nothing of the marauding troops of monkeys who raided the camp from time to time, forcing the workers to have a security contingent active at all times to beat back the invaders!

In God's country
The 15 km stretch between Kangra and Nagrota sees the KVR cross the valley's main watercourse and now run along the lowest slopes of the Dauladhar themselves. When Nagrota (2,285 feet altitude appears, the air is cooler already and the vistas to the south are splendid in their expansive generosity. The KVR now reveal the core of its personality. The KCR is a railway without conflict, without a thought of aggression, subtle beyond compare, and a study in seamless integration. It traverses the edges of the valley, tiptoeing around obstacles, meandering through the lush rice fields, spanning watercourses with minimum masonry work, circumventing difficulty, avoiding conflict, and forswearing violence.

Philosohically speaking, the two narrow gauge railway in north India - the Kangra Valley and the Kalka Shimla - are conceptual bipolarities. They are like the Yin and Yang of the Tao of Engineering. If the KSR is masculine aggressive, resolute and combative, the KVR is feminine passive, flexible and conciliatory. The KVR is formlessly subtle, almost Zen Buddhist in its effortless march to its goal. In this sense, the KVE anticipated the ecological movement by 70 years, and is a lesson to every infrastructure planner today.

Palampur station Palampur station appears 127 km from palampur. At a 3.245feet altitude, the station is found at some distance from this sylvan retreat, but the KVR changes nothing of its pleasant easy personality as it runs another 14 km eastwards through sparkling dewy terraced rice fields to Paprola station. Paprola station, are 3,240 feet altitude , is to me one of the prettiest in India. The concrete - edged platform is unpaved, the green and yellow hutlike station building is something to spend the retirement years in, the red bougainvillea grow in profusion along the buildings and wild yellow and red roses bloom along the cutting and embankments on both approaches to the station.

The severest gradient on the line 1 in 19 for 700 feet - is experienced immediately east of Paprola station. This is the steepest gradient for any pure adhesion line on the Indian Railways and even the powerful ZDM - 3 engines cannot pull more than four coaches up this section. Before steam was withdrawn, double heading was standard operating procedure. The railway now enters its prettiest section yet, passing effortlessly through Bhir gorge to its 4,025feet summit at Ajhu station 152 km from Pathankot.

I do not have words to describe the magically real 23 km section between Paprola and Jogindernagar. The railway glides smoothly through swaying rice fields witness to the mesmerizing dance of the Gods as gentle winds sweep across the cast landscape, touching all that lives with a gentle rhythm. The settlements here consist of the characteristic slate - roofed whitewashed , double storey, half timber cottages of the Kangra Valley, each unique in some small way, yet part of the same essential heritage. Most villages are located scenically amidst the terraced fields, frequently by the side of valley brooks which gurgle in delight. When the KVR sweeps around a shallow ravine cone last time and spans a curved girder bridge for one last time before sweeping into Jogindernagar station, the traveler's cup of delight is all but full and overflowing.

Politically speaking
The origins of the Kangra Valley Railway are to be found in events occurring towards the closing years of the 18th century. British experience with the political placidity of the land led to thoughts of long term residence in the decades after the wars of 1857. Thus, substantial English settlements sprung up at Dharamshala, at Dalhousie and at Palampur as the colonists sought to escape from the heat and dust of the Indian plains. Tea plantations appeared, followed by extensive commerce and ultimately, English government. Logistics however remained an Achilles heel.

Dalhousie. The fledging tea industry in and around Palampur could never quite make out a business case for the development of a railway into this valley. But this changed dramtically in 1925 when the Punjab government investigated the Uhl hydroelectric scheme and proposed the construction of a metre gauge tramway from Mukerian to Shanon. The Government of India had no objection to the scheme in any fundamental sense, but the Railway Board introduced several changes. Given the gauge chosen for the Shimla line, it now suggested a new 2 feet -6 inch alignment interchanging at Pathankot and connecting a number of pilgrim and European centers. Construction began the Kangra Valley Railway in May 2nd, 1926 and was completed in less than three years at a cost of Rs 2.96 crores.

The KCR has never had a separate locomotive list gut records reveal a variety of motive power on these iron rails, as the North Western Railway shuffled its locomotive roster repeatedly to best service this unique line. Old photographs and loco- shed records reveal that the 12-wheel tender.