Shimla: The Kalka-Shimla mountain railway which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site was partially damaged by the surging forest fires near Solan in Himachal Pradesh. The movement of rail cars and toy trains on the narrow gauge railway track has been stopped for the time being.
The Pine and Oak forests are under fire at number of places in Solan district. Due to a severe heat and no rains from few days the fire was spreading in vast area of Shimla, Solan and Sirmaur districts, confirmed the State Forest Department officials.
Forest fires raging in India’s Himalayan region crept perilously close to a famous British-era railway track Tuesday, as panicked residents fought off blazes threatening to engulf their homes.
Dubbed the “toy train” and dotted with tiny wooden stations, the narrow-gauge Kalka-Shimla railway in Himachal Pradesh state is a UNESCO world heritage site attracting thousands of tourists each year.
“Our gangmen are keeping watch over the fires and dousing the flames if they are too close to the track,” said Sanjay Parmar, a traffic inspector with Indian Railways. Meanwhile the movement on the Shimla-Kalka rail track has been restored by late evening today, Mr. Surendra Parmar, traffic inspector, informed. “Train services on the track have been delayed for two days due to the fire around the track,” he said.
Fires sweeping through pine-forested areas drew closer to at least three towns across the northern state, famed for its snowy peaks and flowing rivers, while a boarding school was forced to evacuate.
The fire began from the ITI campus at the district headquarters of Sirmaur at Nahan and has spread into a radius of more than 5 kms. Forest wealth of millions of rupees has been destroyed in these jungles and it is yet to be brought under control. Although the State Forest Department has issued formal orders to douse the flames immediately yet no officials could be seen at work anywhere in Nahan, said the locals who are now worried about their houses and cowsheds in vicinity of these forests. The fire from the forest also reached near Pine Grove School at Kasauli in Solan but it was controlled in time, said the officials. The human habitations would also come under threat if timely action is not taken by the Forest and Fire departments of the State, they said.
“An alert has been sounded across the state and police, fire tenders and volunteers have been pressed into service to put out the fires,” senior police official Sanjay Kundu said.
TV footage showed a family in the hill station of Kasauli trying to extinguish fires themselves using sticks and water.
“We were up all night,” a resident of Kasauli told. “We are trying to put out the fire on our own as there has been no help from the authorities so far.”
Usually mild lower parts of the state have seen temperatures soar to 42 C (108 F), with the capital Shimla hitting 29.8 C (86 F), about six degrees higher than normal.
Fires have also been raging in the forests of neighbouring Uttarakhand state where at least eight people have died, local media reports said.
Officials said it was unclear what started the fires but their intensity has been blamed on a severe drought gripping central and western India.
The country is suffering its worst water crisis in years, with the government saying about 330 million people are suffering from drought after the last two monsoons failed.
The Kalka-Shimla railway, which opened in 1903, follows a scenic 96-kilometre (60-mile) route that includes 103 tunnels, travelling on a winding track from the town of Kalka up to Shimla, the former summer capital during British rule.
Kalka-Shimla Railway – A UNESCO world heritage site
The Kalka–Shimla Railway is a 2 ft 6 in (762 mm) narrow gauge railway in North-West India travelling along a mostly mountainous route from Kalka to Shimla. It is known for dramatic views of the hills and surrounding villages. The Kalka–Shimla Railway was built in 1898. to connect Shimla, the summer capital of India during the British Raj, with the rest of the Indian rail system. At the time of construction 107 tunnels and 864 bridges, were built throughout the course of the track. The Chief Engineer of the project was H.S. Herlington.
The locomotives used during the earlier period were manufactured by Sharp, Stewart and Company, and larger locomotives were introduced which were manufactured by Hunslet Engine Company. The diesel and diesel-hydraulic locomotives were started operation in 1955 and 1970 respectively. The railway was declared a heritage by the Himachal Pradesh government in 2007, and in 2008 it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site alongwith the other Mountain Railways of India.
Shimla (then spelt Simla) was settled by the British shortly after the first Anglo-Gurkha war, and is located at 7,116 feet (2,169 m) in the foothills of the Himalayas. By the 1830s, Shimla had already developed as a major base for the British. It became the summer capital of British India in 1864, and was also the headquarters of the British army in India. Prior to construction of the railway, communication with the outside world was via village cart.
The 1,676 mm (5 ft 6 in) broad gauge Delhi-Kalka line opened in 1891. The Kalka–Shimla Railway was built on 2 ft (610 mm)narrow gauge tracks by the Delhi-Ambala-Kalka Railway Company beginning in 1898. The estimated cost was Rs 86,78,500 but the cost doubled during construction. The 96.54 km (59.99 mi) line opened for traffic on 9 November 1903. It was inaugurated by Viceroy of India Lord Curzon.
Because of the high capital and maintenance costs and peculiar working conditions, the Kalka–Shimla Railway was allowed to charge higher fares than on other lines. However, the company was still not profitable and was purchased by the government on 1 January 1906 for Rs 1,71,07,748. In 1905 the line was regauged to 2 ft 6 in (762 mm) to conform to standards set by the Indian War Department.
This route passes through a city named Solan, which is also known as mini Shimla. A festival celebrating the goddess Shoolini Devi, after which the city is named, is held each summer in June.
In 2007, the government of Himachal Pradesh declared the railway a heritage property. For about a week starting on 11 September 2007, an expert team from UNESCO visited the railway to review and inspect it for possible selection as a World Heritage Site. On 8 July 2008, the Kalka–Shimla Railway became part of the World Heritage Site Mountain Railways of India. alongside Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, Nilgiri Mountain Railway, and Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus.