The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, also known as the Toy Train is a 2 ft (610 mm) gauge railway that runs between New Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling in the Indian state of West Bengal. Built between 1879 and 1881, it is about 88 km long. It climbs from about 100 m (328 ft) above sea level at New Jalpaiguri to about 2,200 m (7,218 ft) at Darjeeling, using six zig zags and five loops to gain altitude. Six diesel locomotives handle most of the scheduled service, with daily tourist trains from Darjeeling to Ghum – India’s highest railway station – and the steam-hauled Red Panda service from Darjeeling to Kurseong. Steam-enthusiast specials are hauled by vintage British-built B-Class steam locomotives. The railway’s headquarters are at Kurseong. I had the honour of travelling by this train recently. We started our journey from NJP station after getting down from 12343 up Darjeeling Mail. The train consists of three coaches only and one engine. It takes about 4 hours to reach Kerseong. There are a lot of curves and bends in the route and a lot of natural beauty to gaze upon. If you are a Railway enthusiast, you would love the zigzag reverses. As the story goes – The engineer who designed the network was facing a lot of difficulties in his work as he was not being able to lay his lines owing to the steep incline of the mountain. To overcome this, he designed the concept of the zigzag reverses. You have to see it to believe it. The train changed direction everytime it came to a the zigzag crossing. Some points to consider if you plan on travelling this route:
1. This route is strictly for nature lovers and travel enthusiasts as the distance we covered in 4 hours could have easily been covered in an hour and a half if we had opted to travel by road but we wanted to travel by train to enjoy the beauty of nature and also view an engineering marvel. If you are short of time, you can alternatively opt to travel between Darjeeling and Ghoom on a round trip. Most travellers take this option to save on time.
2. This train moves at its own pace so you may not necessarily reach your destination on time. We reached Kurseong around 1700 hrs instead of 1400 hrs. Please carry food as there is no pantry car. You should travel by this train from NJP station only if you have to alight at Kurseong otherwise your entire day will be consumed.
3. As this is a heritage railway, the coaches are very old. You may feel the absence of modern amenities but that is something you will have to accept.
See you soon in another blog post.