The toy train ride in the Darjeeling Himalayan Railways (DHR) is like a sweet lullaby in the midst of a dreamland. Though much has been said about the present condition of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railways and Darjeeling itself, a toy train ride through the misty tracks from Darjeeling to Kurseong will definitely rekindle the romanticism in a person.
First let me say a little about the history of this wonderful creation. The DHR was constructed by Franklin Prestage from 1879 to 1881. The toy train covers a distance of 88 km from Darjeeling to Siliguri on a 2 feet wide gauge. The railways were initially built as a Tramway to exploit the differential price of rice in Darjeeling and Siliguri.
The entire track has 13 stations in between with Ghum being the Highest one at 7404 ft. Ghum had once the honour of being the highest Railway station in the world. Though this distinction has long since gone, yet Ghum is the highest narrow gauge railway station.
The Darjeeling Himalayan railways are a living heritage. When built in 1881, the engineers of DHR had pushed technology to the limit of what conventional railways were capable of that time. The engineers used various techniques such as loops and reverses to move through the difficult domain through which the train would pass. The steam locomotives along with all others provide a shining living heritage.
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railways provided an outstanding example of the influence of ingenious transportation on the socio economic development of the region. Remarkably it also served as model for similar developments in the world. The development of the railways in the 19th century at such difficult terrains had an overwhelming impact on the social and economic development in many parts of the world. DHR was ground breaking and outstanding in this case. The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway was thus very aptly given the status of World Heritage Site by the UNESCO on 5th December 1999.
Not much has been changed in the Darjeeling Himalayan Railways. The track has been extended to New Jalpaiguri from Siliguri. And now the trains are run mostly by diesel engines and not the erstwhile steam engines.
But steam engine runs on special occasions and from Darjeeling to Ghum via the Batasia Loop (called the Joy Ride). I personally feel The DHR can be definitely maintained in a better way. The DHRs is a unique and iconic site and is the pride of not only Darjeeling, but also of India.
Nothing can dilute the charm of travelling in a toy train – be it run by steam engine or diesel engines. Just the sound of the whistle of the train and the sight of the steam engine transports me to my dreamland.
The chuff- chuff of the steam engines as the machineries work to put the engine in motion is electrifying! And as the train moves zig-zag like a hissing snake through the mountains, it simply leaves me mesmerized. I look at the green mountains from the window and promise myself that I’ll be back soon.
Some important Facts:
There are a few tourist facilities at the DHR.
- Museum at Ghum station.
- DHR Archives at Kurseong station.
- Museum at Elysia Place, Kurseong.
- Photo gallery at Sukna Railway Station.