A steam engine lugging behind it a small train and winding slowly up a mountain, through streets and markets of a quaint little hill villages and hamlets and then again traveling through pines and tea gardens to reach its destination. Sounds romantic?
Well this is the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway or more popularly known as the Toy Train. This is a 610 mm (2 feet) narrow gauge steam engine powered train that runs between Siliguri and the hill town of Darjeeling in West Bengal. The railway line meanders up from an elevation of 100 m at Siliguri to 2200 m at Darjeeling.
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) together with Nilgiri Mountain Railway of Tamilnadu and the Kalka Shimla Railway spanning across Haryana and Himachal Pradesh is a Unesco World Heritage Site.
Out of these three heritage railways Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is the most outstand example of hill passenger railway, also this is the oldest of the three. Hundreds of passengers daily use this “Toy Train” both for local travel and sightseeing.
By the year 1878 there was a railway line from Kolkata to Siliguri, which is almost at the bill of the mountain. The rest of the distance was covered on a cart track by a Tonga ( Horse cart). However this was not a very efficient means of travel and the condition of the cart track had also gradually deteriorated and hence there was a need to establish a railway link between Siliguri and Darjeeling.Mr Franklin Prestage who was then the agent of the Eastern Bengal Railway Company approached the then Government of Bengal with a detailed scheme. The Darjeeling Himalayan railway was built by Gillanders Arbuthnot & Co. and it was opened up till Kurseong first with a later addition till Darjeeling on 4th July 1881.
Two calamities in the form of an earthquake in 1897 and a cyclone in 1899 could not shake the railway and it grew from strength to strength and added new lines and increased both its passenger and goods traffic.
In 1964 the railway line was extended by over 6 kilometers from Siliguri to New Jalpaiguri to meet the broad gauge track there.
The Darjeeling Himalayan railway begins its journey at New Jalpaiguri and then from there to Siliguri.At Sukna the landscape changes dramatically when the plains give way to the wooded slopes at the base of the mountain. From Sukna it moves unto Rang tong followed by Tindharia.
Tindharia is a major station since it houses an engineer’s office and the workshops. The train then moves to Gayabari, Mahanadi and then to the town of Kurseong.Once it crosses Kurseong the rail moves through a crowded market and through streets and then climbs up to Tung, Dilaram and some other stations till it reaches Ghum.
Ghum has the distinction of being the highest station in India and also houses a railway museum. From Ghum the train makes its journey to the destination station of Darjeeling.
There are basically two types of services. The first one is a regular daily services and the second, the special services aimed at tourists (service called Joy Ride).
The longest of the daily services is from New Jalpaiguri (NJP) to Darjeeling (DJ) via Siliguri and Kurseong (KGN).
This service (1D) departs at 09.00 am from New Jalpaiguri (NJP), arrives Siliguri by 9.30 am, arrives Kurseong by 1.45 pm and finally reaches Darjeeling (DJ) by 4.45 pm. The total distance is about 88 km (55 miles).
For the return journey the train (2D) departs from Darjeeling at 9.15 am, arrives at Kurseong 11.55 am, arrives Siliguri by 4.30 pm .
Joy Ride ( Darjeeling-Ghum-Darjeeling ) and Sukna Special ( Siliguri-Sukna-Siliguri) are circular routes covered in about 2 hours .
Jungle Safari is another round trip (Siliguri-Tindharia-Siliguri ) on weekends. It is operated during tourist seasons depending on traffic demand.
Due to the track widening in the New Jalpaiguri – Siliguri section the train starts from Siliguri. Please check the current schedule before you plan journey.
The journey on the train is pleasant all year round more so and the fare from New Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling is approximately Rs250. The train is now owned and run by the Indian Railways and hence you can book a ticket from any computerized ticket reservation center or from the official website of Indian Railways.
For many people the Darjeeling Himalayan railway is a slice of history, and for other it is romance. Whatever be the reason, a journey on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is an experience of a lifetime.
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