We bid adieu to Kasauli and drove to Barog (19kms from Kasauli and 60kms from Chandigarh).
NH 22 connecting Chandigarh with Shimla passed through Barog till 2003. On 6 December 2003, the new section of the highway was inaugurated that connected the village of Kumarhatti directly to Solan, bypassing Barog. This was done to avoid the steep incline to Barog from Kumarhatti.
Barog wasn’t on our itinerary. My cousin, (she teaches in Kalyani University) who is a travel freak, told me I should visit Barog rail station and taste bread pakora. “It’s out-of-the world,” she told.
Our driver stopped on the roadside and parked the car. My wife was a tad reluctant to go downhill towards the Barog station. The journey back would be quite difficult, she thought. (It was truly a steep descent). I started trekking down through serpentine hill road, following my driver. As we walked down we saw different kinds of flowers and tomato plants. My Himachali driver was awestruck by the pristine surroundings of the area. “I wasn’t aware that there’s such a place in HP. I’d bring my wife and son next time,” he gushed.
Sneaking a peek at history:
Barog, a British engineer, was responsible for designing a tunnel near the railway station. He began digging the tunnel from both sides of the mountain, which is quite common as it speeds up construction. However, he made wrong calculation while constructing the tunnel; it was found that the two ends of the tunnel did not meet.
Barog was fined Rs 1by the British government. Unable to withstand the ignominy, he committed suicide. He was buried near the incomplete tunnel. The area came to be known as Barog after him.
Later it was constructed under chief engineer H.S. Harrington’s supervision guided by a local sage, Bhalku, in a short period from July 1900 to September 1903 at a cost Rs 840,000.
This tunnel is the longest of the 103 operational tunnels on the Shimla-Kalka Railway route, which is 1143.61m long. Barog station is immediately after the tunnel. Barog tunnel is the straightest tunnel in the world.
Trains take about 2.5 minutes to cross this tunnel, running at 25 kms per hour.
As we trekked down to the rail station, I was stunned by what I witnessed: a man using a hose pipe was cleaning the entire platform. It was 4pm and the platform was deserted. I proceeded towards the man and asked if I could take a photo of the station. “Of course, you are from my own state,” he replied in Bengali. I was taken aback. Actually he could hear us speak in Bengali.
The man washing the platform was none other than the station master of Barog. “I’m Pankaj Kumar Dutta. I am a Bengali from Allahabad,” he said with a boyish smile.
But why was he cleaning the entire platform? “It pains me when I saw tourists (especially Bengalis) throwing chips packets, plastic bags and food left-over to the platform and rail tacks,” Dutta gripes. “I impose fine on those dirtying platform and rail tracks.”
Dutta was posted at this station earlier in 1980s and again in 1990s. “Northern Railway authorities sent me here again in 2011,” said Duta who is determined to preserve the 111-year-old station.
“It should be declared a heritage station,” said Dutta who is due to retire in 2017.
Dutta took us around the station and rest rooms. The station has one deluxe and two general rest rooms. Booking can be made online, he said. I was stunned by the 111-year-old water tap (made of copper) in the deluxe room’s toilet. The water tap is still working, thanks to the crusading zeal of the man who will leave no stone unturned in keeping the platform squeaky clean.
Dutta planted numerous flower plants along the platform. “I don’t bank on the cleaners who are supposed to keep the platform spic and span. You know they hardly work,” said Dutta, his zeal unmistakable.
“Rumour has it that the ghost of Barog still visits the station!” he said narrating the story of Barog, who was fined for the faulty planning. The British engineer, unable to bear the humiliation, ended his life here.
Dutta introduced me to Mr Diwanji (in his 70s) whose father was the first Indian employee of this station. Diwanji runs a tiny stall at the platform. Don’t miss his bread pakora here. It is just out of the world!!!
Nestled in the hills, the tiny rail station is a photographer’s delight and a perfect resting place for the weary souls.
Because of its height, temperature of Barog (1560 metres) ranges between 23 and 10 °C during summer (April to July) and between 15 and 5 °C during winter (December to February).
We left the station with a heavy heart vowing to return here and stay at the rest house.
(To be continued)