RAJEEV KHANNA | 11 JUNE, 2019
A Railway Station that Offers Solitude and Solace
Kanoh is a gem on the Kalka-Shimla route
In these mad times when one is always racing against the clock, have you ever yearned for a place where you have nothing to do but be with yourself?
If you are looking for such a destination, literally far from the madding crowd, this small railway station nestled in the hills of Himachal Pradesh may be the answer.
The place is Kanoh, a small but beautiful railway station on the Kalka-Shimla stretch that earned the UNESCO heritage tag almost a decade and a half ago.
One has to catch either of the two toy trains that halt at this station. Not all the trains halt here because there’s nothing around and it’s only souls looking for some quality serene time that would stop here.
There are just two small villages in the vicinity and hardly any passengers to board the trains.
To get to the nearest roadhead one has to descend a hill for quite some distance, at least half an hour. And to reach the two railway stations of Kandaghat and Kaithlighat on either side of this station, one would have to trek about eight kilometres on either side.
Kanoh’s remoteness has been a blessing in disguise, as the tourists known for their nuisance value and tendency to dump plastics and food wrappers everywhere, don’t dare come here.
Well, what does one do in Kanoh? There’s a lot on offer. The railway station is one that people can just imagine having read about in childhood stories.
The air is pure, and spring water is available through a piped connection at the station that was built around the end of nineteenth century.
But you will have to carry your own food as there are no shops in the area!
Does this remind you of the picnics families used to go on before television and other gadgets took over, and everyone became too lazy to venture out of their air conditioned rooms?
Apart from a couple of railway staff members on duty in their small office, you have a whole lot of birds and colourful flowers for company. Moving around the place one can hear crickets and the chirping of colourful birds that are very friendly with the infrequent visitors.
Just move a few metres away from the station and you will see the colourful jungle fowl hiding in the shrubs, or the langurs going about their business.
Although the Indian Railways does offer you free wi-fi here, what’s the point of burying yourself in a mobile or tablet when you have nature offering you so much?
Why not write poetry or prose or just laze around in a contemplative mood. The flowers are always there to cheer up any visitor no matter how pensive.
The beauty of Kanoh is that one can visit it any time of the year and it will greet you in different hues in different seasons. If it’s raining there are mists all around the valley and on the hilltops. In winter, one can just bask in the sun. Spring offers a bouquet of flowers and autumn too presents wonderful scenic views.
For visitors with a scientific bent of mind, there is an engineering marvel on display here. This marvel is in the form of a railway bridge named Bridge No.541 that was constructed in 1898. The 53 metre long and 23 metre high bridge was built in four stages and has 34 arches.
The beauty of the Kalka-Shimla railway route is the absence of girder bridges and the effective use of arch-gallery bridges to move over ravines. These bridges resemble Roman aqueducts.
Another distinct feature of this route is the 103 (now 102) railway tunnels. Travelling on this route in toy trains or a rail car is an absolute delight as the train chugs through woods and over ravines. Despite the monstrous concrete buildings coming up everywhere, the route still retains a bit of its old charm.
Coming back to Kanoh Bridge No.541, one has to walk just 150 metres towards Kandaghat and cross the bridge to reach a well defined point from where the bridge is visible in its full splendour.
The sight of a train passing on the bridge is absolutely breathtaking.
One can spend a lot of time on this vantage point sitting on a bed of pine needles, smelling the earth or just hearing the noise of the langurs, fowls and chirping of birds.
The place is an absolute delight. All that is sought from a visitor is that he or she does not litter the place.
the sky was / ee cummings
The railways staff are very warm and welcoming, always ready to go the extra step to make your visit worth remembering. The station has one of the cleanest washrooms, though it is a bit old fashioned.
If there are children accompanying you, they can enjoy a swing installed right next to the platform. There are benches under canopies of flowers to daydream and rest.
The Kalka-Shimla stretch was thrown open to public travel in 1903, and in 1906 the government took over this two-foot-six narrow gauge railway setup.
It is a dream journey that covers 68 kilometres with 845 bridges and 919 curves, with the sharpest one measuring 48 degrees. To date the bridges and tunnels are in a healthy condition well maintained by the Indian Railways.
Kanoh is one of the finest gems on this route. Left to itself, it has a distinct charm for anyone who would care to enjoy some solitude and be with themselves in the time one spends here.
It is a place where poetry arrives automatically to the one who falls in love with it.