Darjeeling – the name conjures up so much.
Tea surely comes to mind since it is the most famous of its products and sold all over the world. I’ve drunk my share of the tea since I’ve been here. It’s hard to avoid.
Another item of major importance to the tourist industry that thrives here, is what is called the Toy Train, although railway aficionados decry the term. The railway is actually the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) which has been in operation since the late 1800’s when the British built it to access the area for a rest area. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Today the line still exists and some of the steam engines that it owns still run, although on an abbreviated portion of the line. The engines are like no other in appearance. They run on rails that are just two feet apart and run either forwards or backwards as needed.
Darjeeling has been on my radar for some years and any train buff who has an affection for the DHR regards this as a railway mecca. The views around the train station show many there with cameras in hand shooting happily away. I was one of them.
Most of the activity is to be found at the train station itself which becomes orchestrated about ten-thirty in the morning with a train arriving from Kurseong, and another returning from the early morning “Joy Train” from Ghum, the highest railways station in India at 7400’. The 11:00 service for Kurseong and the next departure of the Joy Train are then set up.
All three steam engines are seen here doing the shunting. A note for the railfan: although the station yard has a tail track which could be used for a run-around, it is not used. The engine that heads in waits until another engine comes and pulls the coaches back out onto the street and then pushes them into another siding, then the engine is free to head to the shed or be coupled on the outbound end of another train.
The engines run backwards up the hill to Ghum, although I suppose there isn’t really a “backwards” since they were designed to run in this direction, or the other one. Notice that the fireman has one foot on a little step that he has plugged into the back buffer. This will be removed when the engine is run around at Ghum and coupled in the “normal” way to the coach for the return trip down the hill.
The morning Joy Train returns from Ghum.
Street running is tight in places. So tight that shopkeepers have to pull their wares from the tracks as the train comes.
Things can seem a little “pushy” at the tiny ticket window. It may be easier to book online. Even better, have a local travel agent do it.
“He’s got a ticket to ride.”
Part II coming up as soon as I get to some reliable internet here in the hills.