India Interior

Kanoh: A railway station that’s off the beaten track

Sarita Brara | Updated on October 05, 2019

Close to the station is the highest arch gallery bridge over Indian Railways with 34 arches in four stages, constructed in 1898 Sarita Brara

Life at a placid pace Kanoh railway station Pics Sarita Brara   -  Pics Sarita Brara

Milk vendor Krishananand

Pointsman Rohit Sarita Brara   -  Picture: Sarita Brara

Kanoh Station Master Susheel Kumar and Pointsman Rohit

Kanoh, on the world heritage site Kalka-Shimla Line in Himachal Pradesh, has no roads, only train tracks

There is no pollution here, no honking of a vehicle or any other traffic sound. All one can hear is the chirping of birds and the gurgling of a stream flowing down the hill. The silence is broken only by the echo of the train as it whistles past Kanoh station on the Kalka-Shimla Railway line, which is a world heritage site.

Kanoh is between Kaithlighat and Kandaghat and has a railway station, but the place, 30 km from Shimla, is not connected by road even today. The railway station thus is the lifeline for the people. “Life would come to a halt for the village if there was no railway station here,” says Krishananand, a milk vendor.

Only four trains, two up and two down, stop at this railway station. The rest simply whistle past this picturesque station surrounded by hills on three sides and a valley below.

Krishananand carries a load of one quintal of milk on his back from his village to the Kanoh railway station every morning to take the train going towards Shimla at 7.7 am sharp. A delay of even a single minute would mean that he will have to carry the huge milk load on his back up and down the hilly foot path for an hour-and-a-half in order to reach the roadhead. Over two dozen families live in Kanoh village on one side of the station and Tehal on the other side. About half a dozen families supply nearly 500 quintals of milk to Shimla and other places on the rail line.

For Station Master Susheel Kumar, who belongs to Delhi, Kanoh is an ideal posting. He has been here for over three years and uses the time after work to study so that he can advance in his career. “My off-duty hours are spent reading books on history and science in the peaceful, calm and pollution-free environment in the midst of scenic surroundings.”

All for water

In the backyard of the station, one can see trees of pears, peaches, plums and walnut. Rich in the natural resource of water, Kanoh was one of the loading stations for water, for use by the steam engine in the good old times, and to fulfil requirements of water in other stations since trains started running on this heritage line in 1903.

“The water here is the sweetest,” says Susheel Kumar as he offers a glass. He is indeed right. To give him company at this lonely station is Pointsman Rohit. Recalling his first Diwali when he was on duty, Rohit, who also belongs to Delhi, says he felt like he was alone in a jungle but now he is used to the quietness of the place and in fact enjoys its natural beauty. “I love to sit near the bridge in my spare time and listen to the gurgling of the stream below.”

Close to the station is the highest arch gallery bridge over Indian Railways with 34 arches in four stages, constructed in 1898. Every time a train nears the station, the pointsman has to perform the duty that at one time was carried out by the ‘token porters.’ The token is in the form of a spherical steel ball placed on a kind of wired ring. And only one token can be issued to a train for one direction at a time after ensuring that the previous train has already cleared the section and there is no other train between the two stations. Today, this is the job of the pointsman.

The Station Master and the Pointsman get into active mode with the buzz from the Neale’s Ball Token instrument system or the ringing of the phone and the whistle of the train as it chugs its way towards this station.

Four out of nine trains (both Up and Down) generally stop at the Kanoh station, the rest slow down near the station for the pointsman to hand over the token to the driver and vice versa. At night, the pointsman stands with a mashaal or a lantern so that the driver of the train has no difficulty in locating his position. “This practice started during the British era and has continued since, it is part of the station’s heritage status,” says Prince Sethi, Station Superintendent, Railway Station Shimla.

As there is no market or shop nearby, both Susheel Kumar and Rohit take turns to do the cooking. They get their rations from Kandaghat by train. The villagers too have to depend on the train for their daily needs as well as taking their wares, mostly containers of milk and vegetables, to be sold in Shimla and elsewhere. No wonder a special bond has developed between the two Railway employees and the people of the village.

“If the road has not come up till now, it is the fault of the few families in the area who do not allow even an inch of their land to be used for building the road,” rues Krishananand

Kumar says as station master of Kanoh he has been trying to impress upon the people here to cooperate and work together for building the road which will help the villagers as well as the railway staff. Alas, there has been no success so far.

The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi

Published on October 05, 2019

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