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the-south-asian.com                        November  2000

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The train was enlisted as a heritage site on December 1, 1999

Darjeeling's Little Train - steaming since 1881

by Mukesh Khosla

darjeeling_train_scenic_view.jpg (29559 bytes)
Heading for Ghoom - world's highest railway station.

Train enthusiasts the world over know about this masterpiece which came into existence in 1881. Over a  century later, American writer Warren Bentley aptly described a recent ride on this toy train as the " journey of a lifetime".The trip from New Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling on the 'Queen of the Hills', one of the world's narrowest gauge trains, just two feet wide, is a marvel of railway engineering. Built in 1881 on a plan drawn by Englishman Franklin Prestige, the train chugs past lush tea gardens and rippling streams as it ascends the Eastern Himalayas looping through tunnels and mountain passes on its uphill climb. Described by many as the ultimate rail wonder of the world that still exists to be enjoyed, the toy train climbs up to Ghum at a height of 2,258 metres (7,408 feet) the highest railway station in the world.

 

The journey from New Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling is both breathtaking and spectacular as the toy train chugs along past hills and valleys, at times brushing the gurgling Teesta river, at times  overlooking Kanchenjunga, the world's third highest peak. Train enthusiasts the world over know about this masterpiece which came into existence in 1881. It is little wonder that the Himalayan train has been enlisted as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Built in 1881 on a plan drawn by an Englishman Franklin Prestige, the train is described by many as the ultimate rail wonder of the world that still exists to be enjoyed, the toy train climbs upto Ghum at a height of 2,258 metres (7,408 feet) the highest railway station in the world. From here it takes a spectacular loop and comes face to face with Kanchenjunga which, at 8,602 metres (28,215 feet), is the third highest peak in the world. Passengers hop off and on the train or simply lean out to buy the odd ornaments or a cup of tea from Bhutia and Lepcha women who line up their wares on the fanciful little stations enroute.

Train enthusiasts the world over know about this quaint little train whose engine first came from the Atlas Works in Manchester. Many of them have set up sites on the Internet and aficionados have formed societies for its upkeep. The foremost is the darjeeling_train_engine.jpg (32348 bytes)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Society in London that has been set up to promote awareness and support for this train. It publishes picture postcards that sell in thousands. The proceeds from these go to the Himalayan Railway Heritage Foundation in Darjeeling. It is little wonder then, that the toy train has been enlisted as a World Heritage Site under UNESCO's International Council of Monuments and Sites (ICMS). This will give a new lease of life to the train, known to be the second oldest in the world in high altitudes.

Although a number of hill railways exist in India, this was the first to be built in the country. It is also unique by virtue of its gauge and length and also the special engineering methodology such as utilising the loops and the Z shaped layouts for pulling along the steep heights. The mainline originates from Siliguri, 120 metres (398 feet) above sea level and runs along the Hill Cart Road for about 18 km upto Sukna. It then climbs the foothills reaching an altitude of 2,258 metres (7,408 feet) at Ghoom, 75 km from Siliguri. From Ghum it descends for about 6.4 km till it terminates at Darjeeling at an altitude of 2,078 metres (6,812 feet). The train moves at speeds between 10 and 15 kmph taking eight hours to complete the 89 kilometre journey.

 

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