Sanjay the stationmaster is looking for promotion, his boss Bataljit waits for a transfer, and everybody is anticipating the snow on the Kalka-Shimla line.
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From the Himalayas in the north to the Nilgiris in the south,
for a century, little trains have climbed through the clouds
into the world of the Indian hill railways.
Another train leaves a station -
one of 11,000 departures every day
on the vast network of Indian Railways.
But this train is leaving the crowded alleyways
and ramshackle houses of the plains behind.
From the little railway town of Kalka,
this train is heading into the foothills of the Himalayas,
in the Northern state of Himachal Pradesh -
the Land of the Gods.
150 years ago, a narrow ridge of mountain villages
was transformed by the British into the summer capital of the Raj.
To get there, they created this little narrow-gauge railway.
It took five years to lay the 60-mile line
with its 100 tunnels, 864 bridges and 20 stations.
It was was opened in 1903.
Every summer it ferried ministers and generals,
diplomats and administrators, their families
and their servants on a five-hour journey into the hills.
2,500 metres above the plains, the British created Shimla.
With all the confidence of the most powerful nation on earth,
they built to impress the local population and to govern them in familiar comfort.
High in the hills, they solemnly created a replica England,
4,000 miles from home.
Shimla has mock Tudor homes,
and English boarding schools.
For six months every year, the entire government machine
moved from Delhi and the heat of the plains,
making Shimla the most powerful place in India.
From the second floor office of Viceregal Lodge,
a fifth of humanity was governed.
It was from here that India and Pakistan were eventually partitioned.
When the British left, their notions of time and discipline,
of loyalty and duty, remained intact...
..just like the railway they left behind.
TRAIN ENGINE WHISTLES
Now six trains arrive in Shimla every day.
Diesel has replaced steam
and the carriages are full of Indian tourists.
But much of the engineering on the line remains from the days of Empire.
The signals, the track, the rolling stock,
is maintained by the now state-owned Indian Railways.
They demand loyalty, order and dedication from their staff.
Shimla stationmaster, Sanjay Gera, is obsessive about all three.
HE SPEAKS IN ENGLISH
These numbered metal balls supplied by the 100-year-old Neal's machine
are Sanjay's prized responsibility.
To ensure train safety,
every driver must collect one before leaving the station.
It's then carried in the locomotive, mounted in a circular steel frame.
At the next junction, it's handed over to show the train has completed that section of the journey
and the single line is now free and safe for the next train.
It's a routine as old as the line.
Along with safety, punctuality is a prime responsibility for 42-year-old Sanjay
and, like Shimla itself, he's inherited many British obsessions.
Indian Railways employ more than a million people
but promotion opportunities for staff who want to stay in Shimla are limited.
For Sanjay, there's only one job left.
TRAIN ENGINE TOOTS
Sanjay wants his boss's job.
And, as luck would have it,
station superintendent Bataljit Gill has applied for a transfer.
HE SPEAKS IN ENGLISH:
There have been only 18 superintendents in Shimla since 1903.
Bataljit arrived in 2005 but now hopes he'll soon be transferred away.
In the last 50 years, life in the Shivalik Hills has been transformed.
The slopes below Christchurch, once forests of pine and deodar,
are now crammed with thousands of Indian homes.
Shimla's population has more than doubled since the days of the British Empire.
Every day the train brings hundreds more -
tourists from all over India -
looking for a glimpse of the Raj and maybe even some snow.
But their first encounter will inevitably be
with a railway porter.
Over 40 railway porters earn a living from arrivals and departures.
Maqsood Gannai has worked on the station for 27 years.
His father was a porter before him.
HE SPEAKS IN HINDI:
Maqsood sometimes carries bags as far as five kilometres uphill.
Each job earns him around 50 pence.
He hopes to get four or five jobs a day.
Porters have always filled Shimla's narrow streets.
Since British times, the town centre has been closed to cars
and rickshaws, so the only way to move luggage and items up the hill is on a porter's back,
using nothing more than a few bits of strapping and their own stamina
to keep the local economy moving.
Many tourists are attracted to Shimla to see the snow
but this winter, times are hard for the station porters -
spring is fast approaching and so far there's been none.
At 46, Maqsood is one of the younger porters.
The longest serving is Achroo Ram.
He's nearly 90.
Every day he collects meals from the station canteen
and carries them up from the platform to his boss,
It's a master-servant relationship but with a mutual respect.
BATALJIT SPEAKS IN ENGLISH:
THEY SPEAK IN HINDI:
Achroo Ram is a permanent fixture on Shimla station
but Bataljit is just passing through.
He's hoping his new posting will come soon.
But like the porters and the tourists,
there's only one thing he'd like to see before he goes.
Bataljit may soon get his snow.
Temperatures are starting to fall. Shimla is the only place in India
with a skating rink where the ice forms naturally.
It could soon be in use.
MILITARY BAND PLAYS
When the British left India at the end of the '40s,
Shimla fell on hard times. The local economy collapsed.
But in 1971 the town was made the capital of a new state, Himachal Pradesh,
and government and prestige returned.
Today the tricolour flies proudly over the town
and Shimla celebrates its independence
as a flourishing Indian city.
But everywhere in Shimla, traces of the former rulers remain.
Nowhere more so than on the railway.
The British Viceroy travelled in his own personal vehicle - the railcar.
Today there are four of the strange little locos still in service -
diesel driven and with all the comforts befitting power and privilege.
In their 80-year history, railcars have carried prime ministers,
politicians and leaders of the independence movement to Summerhill,
the Viceroy's private station.
And when the Viceroy arrived, so did British government and Shimla came alive.
Only a handful of these imperial mansions remain.
The oldest and best preserved is Chapslee.
It was built in 1835 for a director of the East India Company
and transferred to Indian hands in the '30s.
Now Ratanjit Kanwar Singh, a descendant of a local Maharajah,
returns every year in time for the Shimla season.
RATANJIT SPEAKS IN ENGLISH:
Aristocratic families like the Singhs lost much of their wealth after independence.
To pay for the costs of repair and staff,
Chapslee is opening this season as an upmarket bed and breakfast.
At the bottom of the line lies Kalka,
the gateway to the hills.
Today buildings are being demolished
to make way for a wider, faster road to Shimla.
Most of the traffic uphill travels on the road nowadays.
But Kalka is still an important railway junction. Inter-city trains
bring tourists from all over India.
Before independence, the platforms would have teemed with English children
catching the train back to boarding school after the winter break.
The only Englishman resident in Shimla this season
will be John Whitmarsh Knight.
At 68, after a globetrotting career, he's coming back as a schoolteacher.
My mother and father were both educated in the hills when they were young in the '20s.
And I'm the fifth generation India-born.
India's been very good to the family and it's my way of repaying that as well.
John is off to teach at Bishop Cotton,
Shimla's oldest boarding school.
The schools boomed when the railways made the town more accessible.
Before the train, the journey would have taken four days on the back of a bullock cart.
English children suffered in the heat of the plains,
so they were sent to Shimla for the school year.
'The parents had a simple choice.
'They either lost their children for nine months of the year,
'or they risked their children dying of heat, snakes
'and insect bites on the plains.'
And there were cases... Actually, one of my ancestors
died of heatstroke travelling on a train on the plains.
Here, you turn round one corner and there's this huge panorama
of colour and space in front of you.
Very, very, very...freeing?
Is that the right word to use - freeing?
The views from the train,
as it weaves its way up through the Shivalik hills,
makes the line one of the great Indian railway journeys.
Rail freight services ended in the '60s,
when the road up the hill was first widened.
Travelling by car is usually the quickest way to Shimla
but with a ticket costing only 50p, the train is cheaper
and more comfortable.
Today's train has only tourists aboard and one Indian-born expat.
'I feel very strange actually when I leave, I must confess.
'A little bit homesick!'
Porters gathering, like wolves coming down on a flock of poor defenceless lambs.
-Welcome, welcome to Shimla.
How was your journey?
Very nice, thank you. Your English is very good. Well done.
-Thank you, sir.
-Very well done.
Maqsood takes John's luggage at the end of his two-day journey from England.
That's all right. Thank you.
For the next nine months, John's home will be the exclusive Bishop Cotton school.
While on the other side of town, the railway provides another home in exile,
for Maqsood and the station's Kashmiri porters.
They are Muslims, economic migrants from the Kashmir,
a region that was awarded to India during partition in 1947.
Pakistan has always disputed it
and two wars have been waged over the territory since.
Maqsood and his fellow Kashmiris
have come to Shimla to earn money
and escape religious intolerance.
MAQSOOD SPEAKS IN HINDI:
Maqsood's wife and two children still live in Kashmir
and he works to send money back to them.
The railway provides a place to live for all its workers at Shimla,
in the railway colony just below the platform.
Here junior staff live with their families in apartments and flats.
Above the station live senior staff in two- and three-bedroom bungalows.
For the drivers and guards who don't live in Shimla,
there's a dormitory, the Running Room, where they stay overnight before their return journey.
It's very much a male preserve -
a place to unwind, eat and catch up with railway news.
HE SPEAKS IN HINDI
At the Running Room tonight, there's a retirement party for a driver.
It's a chance to say goodbye to old friends and colleagues after 30 years' service.
Staff live and work together. The railway is a giant family.
But life as the head of the station family can be lonely.
Bataljit is still waiting for the transfer that will reunite him with his wife and children.
But Bataljit's not completely alone.
Achroo Ram lives with him, as he did when Bataljit's whole family was in Shimla.
Bataljit's wife still speaks to Achroo every week.
While Bataljit waits in the bungalow with Achroo Ram,
outside in the railway colony the temperature is starting to fall
but will it snow?
One railway worker has managed to build his own house next to the Viceroy's old station at Summerhill.
Stationmaster Sanjay Gera saved up for and designed and built
this thoroughly modern home to share with his wife and two children.
It's a huge house by railway standards -
a testament to his determination and ambition.
SANJAY SPEAKS IN HINDI:
Sanjay's family live on one floor of the house.
The other two levels are occupied by the friends who helped finance it.
SANJAY'S WIFE SPEAKS IN ENGLISH:
Another advantage of a posting in Shimla
is access to some of the best schools in India.
Sanjay went to a government school
but he wants his children to go private
and have all the things he missed out on.
TANNOY: ..from Shimla to Kalka,
shortly leaving from platform number one.'
SCHOOL BELL RINGS
Bishop Cotton School is one of a handful of private schools built by the British
and the oldest in India.
It's the first day of term for teacher John Whitmarsh Knight and the new intake of boys -
India's future elite.
You are only lending them to us for nine months of the year.
I say this year in and year out.
You give us a boy, we give back to you a man.
-Good morning, gentlemen.
-Good morning, sir.
Thank you, please sit down.
Julius Cesar, Act III, Scene I, page 42.
John was born in India before independence
and has watched institutions like the railways and the schools as they passed to Indian control.
The reasons for doing Shakespeare in school -
investigation, interpretation, imagination and information linkage.
Those are the skills that will enable you to survive after you leave school.
Make no mistakes about it, you are going into a war zone
and you will need those skills to survive, OK?
War zones have always been part of the mindset of Shimla's rulers.
Under the Raj, it was a garrison as well as a resort.
Even now, there are still as many troops as tourists.
Like all railways in India,
a primary function of the Kalka-Shimla line was military.
From these ridges in the north,
the British could move troops to the borders with China and Afghanistan
and bring in re-enforcements on the railway.
Shimla is still a strategic base for the Indian army
and a close relationship between railway and military has endured for generations.
Both institutions were created by the British,
both are now cornerstones of the Indian state.
Rudyard Kipling was a frequent traveller in these mountains.
Shimla was the setting for many of the stories
that make up his first book, Plain Tales From The Hills,
set amongst the ambition and intrigue of colonial life.
It was also the venue for many treaties that would shape India.
In 1838, the decision to launch the first British war in Afghanistan
was taken in Chapslee,
which tonight is opening its doors as a bed and breakfast.
I would describe it as a time warp,
that it hasn't changed at all since it was built.
And this is the way English people lived in Shimla 100 years ago.
Coming from royal stock,
Ratanjit Singh is a reluctant hotelier,
but he still manages to charge the princely sum of £160
for a night in Chapslee.
Look at that - steamed pudding.
You better get a plate, I think.
This is like we used to have at school.
This is definitely once a week at school.
-Very, very English.
-Much nicer than the school.
-Very delicious ginger.
-Ginger steamed pudding - that's yummy!
Schooldays in Shimla have hardly changed in a century.
Boarding far from home is a tough rite of passage.
We were in boarding schools. I hated it, cried myself to sleep all night.
But by next morning you had a choice -
you either went on crying or you just got on with life.
HE SPEAKS IN ENGLISH:
-Hurry up, go to your beds now. Hurry up, hurry up!
BOYS SAY GOODNIGHT
TRAIN ENGINE WHISTLES
At the bottom of the line, just before dawn, passengers are awaiting the Shivalik express,
the railway's luxury train to Shimla.
Passengers pay ten times as much as standard-class travellers.
For this they get soft seats, curtains and waiter service.
Like most hill railways,
the line is losing money but closure is unthinkable.
These first-class excursions give Indians a taste of the Raj
and raise much-needed income for Indian Railways.
The line has 20 stations.
Most are tiny, created just for the steam engines to fill up with water.
Today there are no steam engines but the stations have adapted.
Halfway up the hill lies station number ten,
Barog, now the line's main refreshment stop.
For the first-class passengers there's waiter service
and a breakfast of scrambled eggs, tea and toast.
For the second class, it's a quick dash down the platform for tea and samosas.
In 2008, the line and its stations were included
on the UNESCO World Heritage List
and that helps the railway to target foreign visitors.
Among the first-class passengers are British tourists, trainspotters
and their wives, on a hill railway pilgrimage.
I like mountains. Narrow-gauge rail is associated with mountains
because they're a good way of getting transport in and out of mountains.
We have an interest in North Wales narrow-gauge railways,
which are similar in many respects to the railways that come up
to the Himalayan foothills in Shimla and in Darjeeling.
We saw this tour, which included sites in India we wanted to see, and everything else
and it wasn't trains every day, so that was fine.
Unlike British railways now,
Indian rail is state-owned and very labour intensive.
Its just like our railways used to be 50 years ago,
with all the facilities we've got at the stations
and the complete signalling system. It's just quite fantastic.
Today Barog is not just a refreshment stop,
it's also a memorial to one of the line's creators.
Two kilometres away from the station lies the remains of the tunnel
that is responsible for the station's name.
Barog was the English engineer who started digging,
only to realise that the two ends wouldn't meet.
Unable to live with the shame...
he shot himself.
The tunnel was eventually built and it's a kilometre in length,
the longest on the Kalka-Shimla railway.
On its five-hour journey up to Shimla on this luxury train,
passengers enjoy a personal service
and unlimited cups of tea
and it only costs £2 each way.
Stationmaster Sanjay Gera's wife, Sapna,
is one of the few people who depend on the train every day.
She catches the 8:30 in from Summerhill to Shimla,
part of a new breed of career women,
with a full-time job as a supervisor at an insurance firm in town.
Her wages help to pay for the family's lifestyle.
SAPNA SPEAKS IN ENGLISH:
They have been married for ten years and Sanjay shares his wife's ambition.
All aspects of life on Indian Railways are subject to strict procedures.
Every action must be accounted for, everyone has a role,
particularly when an accident occurs.
Every year, a dozen or so people die on the line.
Most commonly they're hit by the train as they walk on the tracks.
Mostly staff have to deal with minor accidents on the railway
but today it's different.
It's very serious.
The two women - a mother and her daughter - are badly injured.
They jumped from a bridge as a rail car approached just down the line.
Its Sanjay's job to co-ordinate the emergency services at the station.
The accident occurred just 500 yards down the line.
They've decided to bring the injured women in on the rail car and direct the ambulance to the station.
The porters arrive with stretchers and the Railway Police are on hand.
The 13-year-old girl is lying in the rail car -
injured but not critical.
Her mother is unconscious and in grave danger.
The young girl has suffered several broken bones
but her mother's breathing is erratic and her pulse is failing.
Despite everyone's efforts, she dies on the way to hospital.
It's a difficult time on the railway.
Although staff work hard to prevent accidents,
the line is now 106 years old
and the years are taking their toll on bridges, tunnels and embankments.
Land along the line has also been built up, threatening the structure of the track.
Every year there are landslides.
Derailments and collisions do occur.
The 17 Diesel engines are nearly 30 years old
and the sharp bends and steep inclines wear the rolling stock.
There's a rigid maintenance regime in the diesel sheds at the bottom of the line,
and engines are checked before every journey.
To make sure procedures are fully understood,
there's a weekly quiz at the railway institute
with prizes for the winners.
HE SPEAKS IN HINDI:
These quizzes are taken very seriously.
Knowing the answers is essential for promotion.
There's no chance of any promotion for porter Maqsood.
The only thing he wants is the snow that will bring tourists
and the chance to earn some money.
Whatever the weather, for 70 years the train was Shimla's lifeline.
Every day, mail still arrives from the plains
to be sorted at an office above the station.
Where once it contained dispatches from London and letters from home, now it's the latest postings
and orders from railway headquarters.
Every day, Bataljit expects that the next letter he opens will confirm his next posting.
Today is a special day for Sanjay.
Although he's eager to step into his boss's job,
another ambition is about to be fulfilled.
Ordered on the internet, paid for by credit card...
..he is about to take delivery of his cherished table-tennis table.
Sanjay's dream house will soon be complete
but they have to carry it up four flights of stairs.
As clouds gather around the station,
one of Bataljit's dreams could also be fulfilled.
The British rarely saw these cold evenings.
They liked the summer cool but returned to Delhi or Calcutta
and the warm plains as winter temperatures dropped in Shimla.
While Bataljit and Achroo Ram spend another night in,
outside something magical is happening.
TRAIN ENGINE TOOTS
For just a few hours, at the very end of winter,
Shimla is transformed.
It may not be very deep, or last very long,
but snow is a precious sight in Shimla.
It even makes the news in Delhi.
Most tourists have never seen it,
so it's a special day for those lucky enough to be in the hills.
THEY SPEAK IN ENGLISH:
REPORTER: So how do you feel?
The snow goes as quickly as it came,
with winter soon replaced by the first signs of spring.
It's a time of change in Shimla.
On the railways, it's the season when promotions and transfers come through.
SANJAY SPEAKS IN HINDI:
Sanjay is expecting to make the move up from station master to superintendent.
Sanjay is confident about his prospects for promotion
and for a stunning garden display by the side of the line.
Spring means the trains pulling in to Shimla
are now packed full of tourists looking to escape the warm plains.
For the porters, there's a heightened expectation of work.
No, thank you.
British backpackers are usually Maqsood's favourite customers.
They tip well and even carry their own luggage.
Oh, that's kind.
While Kashmir remains unsettled, Maqsood will stay in Shimla.
It's not home but still a place where he can earn money and live a settled life.
The one thing he can depend on is the railway.
It will continue to provide him with a home and a living
for as long as he chooses to stay.
In Shimla, the Kashmiri porters have found a home from home.
After a life spent travelling around the world,
John Whitmarsh Knight has also decided to stay.
He now feels he belongs in the country where he was born.
I never realised how deep the feeling was to be needed, one...
and, having worked as a businessman,
which is a pretty take-take situation,
now it's a give-give situation and that is refreshing.
I had no idea it would grip me like this.
For over 150 years,
Bishop Cotton School has been educating the country's leaders.
Fluent in English, familiar with Shakespeare, but now all Indian.
And, for almost as long, the train has ferried them up and down the line.
For the next seven years,
Bishop Cotton will be home for these new boys.
BOY SPEAKS IN ENGLISH:
I really feel I'm totally at home.
It is remarkably rewarding, really is.
As they say, "Carry me out feet first -
"the last Englishman in India."
When spring starts,
Indian gentlemen get the chance to cover themselves in paint and powder
as they celebrate the Hindu festival of Holi.
Throughout the town,
the new season is heralded in by a celebration
that welcomes all classes and religions.
And it's a tradition that owes nothing to the British.
On the railway,
the arrival of spring has finally brought the news Bataljit
has been desperately waiting for.
Oh, I'm a happy man. A happy, happy man!
Station Superintendent Bataljit Gill has got his posting
and he'll take charge of an entire line down on the plains.
The long wait is finally over.
He can move back to live with his family.
Leaving means saying goodbye to all the station staff,
including his servant, Achroo Ram.
Bataljit's posting has created a vacancy at the station.
But Sanjay won't be filling it.
The railway are sending a man up from the plains,
so Sanjay must wait a little longer for his planned promotion.
HE SPEAKS IN HINDI:
In accordance with railway policy,
Sanjay will eventually get his promotion.
In the meantime, there are always other skills to learn.
In six years, Shimla Station has generated a mountain of paperwork for Bataljit
but he will take something else with him when he leaves.
Achroo Ram prepares the bungalow for its next incumbent.
Station superintendents come and go
and Bataljit is just the latest in a long line.
But they all hold a place in their hearts for Achroo Ram.
Achroo Ram remains a porter at Shimla station -
a place he's lived and worked for the last 50 years -
and at nearly 90, he's no plans to retire.
Shimla is a town of memories
but a place where the echoes of the past grow ever more distant.
The British left their schools, their legal system,
their trappings of government.
They also left division.
But perhaps their greatest unifying legacy
can be heard five times a day,
winding its way up to Shimla - the queen of hill stations.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd 2010
E-mail [email protected]
From the Himalayas in the north to the Nilgiris in the south - for a hundred years these little trains have climbed through the clouds and into the wonderful world of Indian hill railways.
Shimla was once the summer capital of the Raj. They built churches, schools, a town hall and the railway and left behind their symbols of empire and an ethos of duty, loyalty and ambition - but they also left a divided subcontinent.
Characters featured include Maqsood, a refugee and a porter from Kashmir, and John Whitmarsh-Knight, a teacher looking for a home. Sanjay the stationmaster is hoping for promotion and his boss Bataljit is waiting for a transfer, but everybody is waiting for the snow.