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Victoria Day, or May 2-4?

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Day 25: Kalka to Shimla to Kalka

Narrow gauge train
My young travel companion
Long tunnel
Schedule
Station signs
Turntable
Mountain-side town
Snow capped peaks
I can dig it.
Nifty carts

A UNESCO World heritage Site, the Kalka-Shimla Railway was bulit commencing in 1891. It connected Shimla, in the foothills of the Himilayas at 2186m altitude with Kalka, at an elevation of 658m.

The narrow-gauge rails are 762mm apart, less than half that of "normal" railways, allowing the engine and rolling stock to maneuver around 919 curves, with radii as small as 37.5m.

The line includes 864 bridges and 103 tunnels.

My train from New Delhi arrived about 6:30, and I hurried to buy my INR230 ticket and climb aboard for the 6 hour, 97km trek that I travelled more than 2250km to see.

It was totally worth it. I've posted a handful of photos, and I have dozens more of beautiful mountainscapes that are done no justice by the camera. You had to be there.

The air grew cooler and thinner as we ascended the mountains. There were at least 10 stops at stations along the way. Each had its own chai wallah, curry booth, and sweets shop. All of us hopped on and off, scurrying back when the engine honked its departure horn.

Manual switches and mechanical semaphores, driven by pushrods, cables, and pulleys still control traffic on the line.

Expecting a few tiny villages along the way, I was amazed to find huge towns each with thousands of people, houses decorating the steep rock cliffs like a European picture postcard.

I thought San Francisco had steep hills, but upon reaching Shimla, I realized my plan to stay a while and explore would be almost impossible. In the thin mountain air, at over 7000ft ASL, my body couldn't complete the 2km walk uphill to the post office to find a postcard. The taxi drivers refused to drive me such a short distance. Even at the cool temperatures, a veritable rainfall fell from my pores.

I returned to Kalka on the next train, the sun setting as we descended the steep winding rails.

I giggled as four young fellows eagerly debated cricket. Without knowing the language, I understood the conversation implicitly. One argued his opinion about his team, another took the contrarian view, just for spite, while the rest jeered and pointed out the merits of each. It was a scene you could see in any country, for any sport, on the merits of anything at all.

Noticing my observation, they were immediately curious to know my opinion, to which I explained that I had tried to learn the rules of the game a few nights previous, and gave up on trying to understand overs and wickets.

With their various degrees of English proficiency and confidence, we chatted for the next couple of hours back and forth in simple English. They even tought me some Punjabi, which I quickly forgot minutes later.

Our topics included politics, dating and marriage, the Indian baby girl problem, what -35C feels like, education, and anything else we could think of.

Asking if they had girlfriends, they proudly assured me that they did not, being devout Hindus and Seikh, and looking forward to a day when they will meet their wives to be. I remarked that it must be difficult for them, with only 700 girls for every 1000 boys. "No, we are just more motivated," they laughed. I remarked that with a population of over a billion people, reproduction didn't seem to be an issue. My words were a bit to complex. "India is good at babies!" I simplified to roaring applause and laughter. "yes, you are right", they confirmed.

Remarking that it was -35C back home that night, they asked, "How do you live?" I explained that in the winter we just adapted, staying inside most of the time except for the trips to and from work. "No, how to you live?" they repeated. Having never lived in insulated homes with central heat, the concept seemed impossible.

My new friends were a view into a fun, devout, positive, new India; they are driven to seek education, find and honour wives, raise children, and contribute in every way they can to their India.

None of their spiritual practices condoned drinking, so after our trip we shared chai in lieu of Kingfisher, took photos, and went our ways.

They invited me to join them on their journey, but I had a train back to New Delhi to catch. While waiting, I found some shops near the station, indulged in an Indian sweet or two, and picked up a blanket for the cold trip back.

Day 21: The 1000 Rupee Train Schedule

Train schedule scavenger hunt
Aldona Bridge
Quarry (camera doesn't capture its iridescent glow)
Trucks loaded on train
Trucker cooking lunch
Mining road intersection
Sunil
Naroa station?
No road here!
Boats at the ferry docks

In General Aviation, there is a term called the one hundred dollar hamburger. It's what recreational pilots call a short flight to a nearby airport, to fly for no reason other than the love of flying. The hamburger at the airport café is as good a reason as any to leave the ground.

Indian Railways publishes a book called Trains at a Glance, that includes not only every schedule for every train, but all kinds of information about the booking process, menus, and more. It is a priceless tool for planning a trip. Although much of this information is available online, it is fragmented over hundreds of webpages, and the actual schedules can be searched, but not just downloaded en masse for browsing. The publication costs just 45 rupees (less than a dollar) and is about the size and thickness of a phone book for a small city.

Today I would buy one. I planned a route that would take me past four train stations. Hopefully I would get lost along the way. The words, I wonder where that road goes... always make Sarah nervous.

My first leg was to Thivim, the closest railway station, about 19km away, Northeast of Mapusa. As I turned off the highway at Mapusa, I saw a beautiful windy road with very little traffic, so I diverted. Some random left and right turns later, I found myself riding through Nashinola, a stunning village, full of hills and flowers; also the location of my grandmother's homestead.

Following another interesting-looking road, I rode through a quarry. Goa has hundreds of mining roads, each consisting of no more than a lane of Goa's signature red soil. These are uncharted in Google maps, but are detailed fairly accurately in Bing maps.

What amazed me is how I could follow a dirt path for long distances on mining roads without seeing anyone for 20 minutes, thinking I need to give up and turn around, only to stumble into a little village of 50 people, complete with a general store, following by another 20 minutes of nothing. As this happened over and over, I realized that I was seeing Goa's agricultural heritage. Villages like Nashinola, no doubt started as the crossing of two dirt roads long ago. As I studied my maps in detail, I realized what a huge fraction of Goa's population is invisible; unseen and unknown to the vast majority, accessible only by axle-breaking mining roads, their citizens living their lives traditionally in small communities.

Thivim station didn't have any copies of the book. There was however an example of something Ulrike was telling me she read about the previous day.

To save fuel and tires, freight trucks actually load their trucks onto flatbed rail cars for long trips. The drivers stay in their cabs for the extended journey, where they sleep and cook meals. About 100 trucks were on board at Thivim, and the train was leaving the station as I arrived. Think of all of the pollution, carbon, tires, accidents, deaths, and traffic that is being averted.

My next stop was Naroa Station. I went via mining roads. A photo shows an "intersection" of two such roads. A few missed turns led me to a dry dock on the North shore of the Mandovi river, where I met Sunil. Currently unemployed, Sunil and his friends gather for chat and games in the early afternoon. Impressed by is English, I listened as he told me about working in Dubai, fishing for mud, how to heal a cut, and the dream of working in Canada, only attainable if he can save 40,000 rupees for the work placement.

Naroa Station was not just a short ride away. I mean, it was a short ride away, but it wasn't there. It seems to have been abandoned long ago. Next.

Now in the middle of nowhere, the next stop was Karmali station. Inconveniently, the Mandovi river and Malar Island were between me and Karmali. As I was essentially following the rail line, this should not have posed a problem, except that the train had a bridge, and I didn't. How could my closest of friends, a map, lie to me? Thankfully, there was a ferry there, and after being accosted by a mentally-challenged person, I was aboard and on my way to Malar. I didn't check if there was a ferry on the other side of the island.

There was. The North/East half Naroa island was filled with dense communities of small houses and had the feeling of a European village, windy, intersecting roads at all angles, and often paved with stone. The South/West half was primary wetlands. At the end of the road I found the other ferry to Old Goa on the South shore of the Mandovi.

Karmali should have been easy to find. I had been there before. Twice. I had a map. I found it on my fifth attempt. They had a copy! Faced with success, I realized I had not brought my backpack, so I fashioned the book into a seat pad of sorts.

I checked with Ulrike to what she was up to, and met her at the Urban Café in Panjim.

It's harder to get lost with a GPS, but you can if you want to. 6 hours, 45 rupees for the book, petrol, and I assume I ate or drank something along the way. 1000 rupees well spent.

Day 17: Recovery

Yvan, Matt, and Becky

I worked during the day, primarily at the Urban Café.

Ulrike checked out Goaphoto 2015.

I had a nice beef tenderloin at Maracas, followed by their weekly quiz night. Look, I'm being social!

This was our quiz team, "The Foreigners", me, and Matt and Becky who are Brits who have lived here for 7 months, because Becky's company opened an office here. Becky's voice is delightfully like Hermione Granger's.

"Are you mad, Harry?"

Day 14: Shave and a haircut, 10000010 bits

Yvan

Best value so far: INR 130 for shave, haircut, and head massage. I'm definitely a fan of the straight razor shave and massage; all told, about 45 minutes.

I got a button sewn onto my shorts while I wore them.

The neighbour really wanted to visit us. We weren't sure why, but thought it could be exciting. Weren't we disappointed when he tried to recruit us for Amway.

You soo soo in public once, and the girls never let you live it down.

Cows Vacation in Goa Too!

Day 7: Kama Calangute

Take Away Sperm

Details to follow.

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