Acharu Ram is a cheery, very hardy station porter and a real character!
As our narrow-gauge 'toy train' the "Himalayan Queen" finally brakes to a clanky, wheezy and generally noisy halt in the station of the Sri Lankan hill town of Shimla, we are met by the sight of Acharu Ram a wiry, long-serving, station porter who peers out at us from behind his thick spectacles, gives a cheery, toothless, smile, introduces himself and then offers us his porterage services. Acharu has become a bit of a TV celebrity in his own right, having been featured in a number of recent travel programmes in the UK in the past couple of years.
We have just spent the past 5 fascinating hours in a cramped miniature train climbing from Kalka (the nearest main line station) down at 656m (2100 feet), winding at a steady 20 kms per hour, to Shimla situated at a giddy 2076m (6,800 feet) above sea level. In the process the train has traveled some 96 kms, wound around more than 900 curves, crossed 900 bridges, been through 112 tunnels and stopped at 20 stations.
The track, built in 1905 in the heyday of the British Raj to serve Shimla, a small town high in the hill country, which offered the colonists a welcome cool climate during the sweltering Indian summer down on the plains.
Much because of it's pleasant climate, Shimla had also been designated as the seat of power of the British Viceroy and his administration covering the entire Asian portion of the British Empire, a topic that I shall return to in a later Friday Picture of the Day.
Acharu Ram, our porter, swings our heavy suitcase onto his shoulders with an ease that totally belies his 90+ years and spindly legs and strides up the line of stairs and steep streets leading from the station towards Shimla town that clings to the hillside and leads us to our heritage hotel. Before long he leaves us, unaccustomed to the elevated altitude, cold, puffing and wheezing in his wake. In the distance we can clearly see the foothills of the Himalayas already covered in snow.