Passage to India – Toy Train II

There are books on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway that you should be reading and a BBC documentary that you should be watching. But here you are on my blog. Silly you!

Part II contains numerous things that didn’t fit into Part I. Whereas Part I was an overview, this is more of a potpourri, and a lot of photographs.


The DHR runs only two services at the moment due to a major landslide that severed the line a couple of years ago and is still being repaired.The tourist traffic from Darjeeling to Ghum and return is handled by the remaining steam engines which haul two or three coaches depending upon demand. The school requirements are handled by one of the diesels with three coaches between Kurseong and Darjeeling.

That the line was built at all I find incredible. The curves are impossibly tight and the gradients always steep. The little steam engines with only two driving axles and all the weight on those axles manage to do the job with the help of a little sand now and then. But it certainly struggles at times.

DHR Water Stop-1772 A watering stop, halfway between Darjeeling and Ghum.

Sadly many of the steam locomotives are up on blocks and being scavenged for parts, such as here at the Kurseong locomotive shed.

DHR-00698 DHR-00701 DHR-00702DHR-00707  DHR-1924

The yard at Kurseong looks abandoned and in sad shape. I saw only two flat cars on the line, although there may be more freight equipment at Tindharia and further down the railway, but clearly with all the trucks hauling goods, the days of the DHR as a freight railway are over.


And yes that is a person sleeping on the car.

Finally a couple more shots from Kurseong.


The diesel is coupled to the head of the 7:00 train ready to reverse into the street and then head to Darjeeling.

Kurseong Train-00717 DHR-00718 Kurseong-2126

That’s all from the DHR. But plenty more India to come.



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Passage to India – The Toy Train

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.

DHR Arriving-1502

The morning Joy Train returns from Ghum.

DHR Street Running-1971

Street running is tight in places. So tight that shopkeepers have to pull their wares from the tracks as the train comes.

DHR Ticket Window-00576

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.

DHR Leaving Darj-00671

“He’s got a ticket to ride.”

Part II coming up as soon as I get to some reliable internet here in the hills.

Safe travels,


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Passage to India – Morning Rituals

Kolkata Ghat-0330


The morning bathing in the Hooghly, a branch of the Ganga, is an important ritual. Never mind the trash. The river is all important and takes care of all.

Kolkata-puja-0348Meanwhile in a quieter part of the ghat, a worshipper performs a puja at a small shrine.

Safe travels everyone,

Grover from Kolkata


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Passage to India – In the Kolkata Flower Market

A friend wrote that she thought I had been enhancing the colors in my images. I’m sure it looks that way sometimes but in fact the colors here are so vibrant that I usually have to work to keep them under control. Like any modern photographer using Lightroom, I surely do work with brightness and contrast with a dab of clarity, but I never have increased the color saturation; sometimes I even have to lower it a little.Kolkata Flower-00503

Kolkata Flower-0357Kolkata Flower-00506Safe travels everyone,

Cheers from Kolkata, India


Technical note: images from a Canon EOS 1200D shot in RAW and edited in Lightroom 5.  Lens 10-18mm Canon.

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Passage to India – The Charnel Ground

I went to the cremation ground in Puri today. I was deeply moved and it helped me to reflect on our own lives and deaths.

I’ll only show one photograph because it seemed that my taking lots of photographs was disrespectful. That said, as I was leaving, two more bodies had arrived at the gate and one entire family was having its photo taken with the deceased, whose head was being held up so it was more visible.

“Incredible India”

This is the cremation ground just across from the beach. The small fire on the left is the last of someone’s funerary pyre. The fellow with the pole is poking some body parts back into the fire. I watched another one being started nearby, complete with a ceremony I didn’t understand.

Cremation Ground, Puri

Cremation Ground, Puri

It was not quite what I had anticipated, which by itself should teach me to not anticipate anything in this country. People wandered through yakking on cell phones (mobiles) since there was a walkway here between streets. There were the usual dogs and cows, and hawkers too.

Wood Stash

Wood Stash

This is the hardwood used in the cremation. As you can see the whole affair is tucked in between beachfront hotels.

It was a good experience. Actually none of my adventures here can be said to be bad. It’s just life and death in another manner than our own. And that realization has been important to me.

Safe travels everyone, and keep your minds open while you’re at it.


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Passage to India – A Short and Sad Life

Beach Dog - Puri

Beach Dog – Puri

I see the street dogs and the beach dogs here and I am saddened because I know they will have a short life. Except for a few families who treasure their dogs, most of the strays are ignored or poorly treated. There are large numbers of them here on the beach and  I see many who have just had a litter of pups, but the pups are nowhere to be seen. Others suffer from mange and have ticks as large as your thumbnail. This is one of the few things about India I don’t like.

“Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, did you enjoy the play?”


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Passage to India – Thoughts on Pondicherry

Pondicherry (Puducherry) has a distinct French colonial flavor.  A settlement was established by the French as early as 1674 although the place was taken by the British twice after they came to dominate India. The French finally turned the Puducherry area over to the Indian government in 1954, seven years after India won her independence.

It’s a colorful place with a mixture of architecture. Beautiful tree lined street are seen in the French half nearest the waterfront.Reduced Blog-00227

Reduced Blog-00231


In the east is the commercial Tamil district with its bustling markets, scooters and motorcycles by the hundreds, and little side streets often devoted to just one trade.Reduced Blog-00240 Reduced Blog-00244 Reduced Blog-00223 Reduced Blog-00251I found the usual street dogs here including this one whose sleeping quarters were nicely decorated.Reduced Blog-00218Finally a note about the weather. The photos above were taken on the only sunny day during the five days I was there. The monsoons had begun and finding a bit of dryness was difficult. This is the rooftop restaurant at my boutique hotel L’escale (highly recommended by me). The rain is driving in from the Bay of Bengal.Reduced Blog-00215


I love this place. I would have spent more time had the schedule allowed and visited nearby Auroville. As it was I backtracked to the Nilgiris and Ooty.

Until next time, safe travels everyone,





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Passage to India – The Ooty Train, Part II

Railway Coach

Railway Coach

The 1st Class coach was the oldest in the three-car set but was placed at the head of the train. The Inspector must have taken pity on me, or smelled a railfan, and assigned me the seat in the very front. I really did have the best view.

Head End

Head End

You can see the layout of the coach with the gauges for the vacuum brakes and the lights and the brake handles.  On the signs you will notice the train designations and the names Mettupalayam and Udagamandalam. The first is in the valley and the other is the official name for Ooty. View from the Train

View from the Train

The view above is only from about three thousand feet but already all of us were cold. The surroundings were impenetrable jungle. Later some light rain settled in.

The scenery is varied and as you approach Ooty the tea plantations begin to appear. Click on any image to enlarge.

The trip is long, about three-and-a-half hours, with steam on the first section and diesel on the last.  Finally you reach the unattractive town of Ooty, once a jewel and now frankly a mess. This photo of the station doesn’t reveal what is behind. More on Ooty later.

Ooty Station

Ooty Station

And now for the railfans, a selection of images:

Until later, safe travels everyone,


Posted from Chennai

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Passage to India – The Ooty Train, Part I

This is unashamedly for my railway friends, but you’re welcome to read it too.

From the hot plains of Tamil Nadu to the “hills” the Ooty train rises to over 7000′ on a spectacularly built rack railway. Properly called the Nilgiri Hills Railway, it was built by the British over a hundred years ago to allow the administrators from Madras (now called Chennai) to escape the heat by heading up into the mountains.

It is a meter gauge, rack railway.

Rack rail

The teeth between the rails are engaged by a set of matching teeth in the locomotive. Although the locomotive looks somewhat normal, it has special gears inside the frame driven by separate cylinders.

Engine Teeth

Engine Teeth

Steam Engine

Steam Engine at Mettupalayam

Rack Gear

Oooty Engine Deck 2

Engine Footplate

The railway grades are too step for regular adhesion (steel on steel) working hence a rack system is necessary. Here is part of the 8% grade.

Steep Gradient

Steep Gradient 1in 12.5

The three coaches are pushed by the locomotive and there is a guard on the front platform signaling and whistling as needed. He can also engage the emergency brakes.

Guard's Platform at the Front of the Train

Guard’s Platform at the Front of the Train

Part Two coming up. In the meantime check out this YouTube I uploaded.

Safe travels everyone,


Posted from Chennai, India

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Passage to India – Colors Part One

Since there are  so many books on India that relate to cultural differences, I’ll not go into much of that here. I’d like to comment however on the things that strike me personally as unusual or significantly different.

One surely notices the vibrant colors, everywhere. Here are a few examples shot in Mumbai, Fort Cochi and in Jew Town (yes, really, it’s on the map).

Women on Platform

Women on Platform

These women are also showing the various clothing styles from skinny jeans to saree.

Poster Saree

Posters Everywhere

The high end shops always advertise the saree in their posters.

Seat Cover

Seat Cover

Street in Jew Town

Street in Jew Town

Pink Saree

Pink Saree

I’ll have more of this later on.

The internet here in Pondicherry has been intermittent so my postings have been few. Things will be worse for a couple of days until I get back to Chennai (Madras) later in the week.

Safe travels everyone,


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