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Mountain railway in India- Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR)
The Railway connects the bustling city of New Jalpaiguri (in the state of West-Bengal) to the hill town of Darjeeling (Once a summer capital of the British). The track is that of a narrow gauge (2ft or 610 mm) and traverses through numerous valleys, hills and tunnels to cover the distance of 78 Kms (48 miles). The railway climbs a total of 2200m (7218 ft) during it’s ascent to the hill-station of Darjeeling. The head-quarters of the railway is at a picturesque hill-station called Kurseong (31 Kms from Darjeeling) in the state of west-Bengal.
Since this is a mountain railway, quite a good number of ‘Loops’ and ‘Reverses’ have been incorporated in the layout of the tracks to gain height . Another interesting aspect of the route is that it follows the hill-cart road (The road connecting New Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling) almost parallel (with the exceptions at high altitudes) till it’s destination. As a result of which the railway often travels through the heart of bustling hill-towns amidst road traffic and people. The horns of the train engine are exceptional and rightly so, since frequent honking is a must to warn people and vehicles of the approaching train. Quite fascinating, isn’t it? :)
Once the hill-town stations are crossed, the fascinating and breath-taking view of the mighty Himalayas comes forth. The lush hills and valleys, the mysterious yet fascinating tunnels, the snow-capped mountains and the sudden change in the temperature due to high altitudes & the Himalayan wind, adds to the charm and excitement. Simply put, the views garnered aboard the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) are an absolute delight. You would be advised to keep your cameras fully charged as every passing kilometer would provide you with a view too hard to resist :)
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway to this day, retains most of her originality and is perhaps the most interesting and fascinating hill passenger railway system in the world.
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The 'Toy Train' of Darjeeling
Construction and completion of this fascinating Railway was no easy task. Though commissioned in 1858, the erstwhile- Eastern Bengal Railway (EBR) and the Northern Bengal State Railway (NBSR) were not convinced about the profitability of the route. It was here that an entrepreneur, Mr. Franklin Prestage- later Sir Franklin, took it upon himself to foresee the construction and completion of the proposed Railway. Sir Franklin was so fascinated by the magnificent views of Mount Kanchenjunga and the Himalayan range in general, that he was determined to convert his dream of the Darjeeling mountain railway into a reality.
Sir Franklin along with his men surveyed the route and after analyzing that the railway route was indeed possible submitted a copy of the proposal draft to the railway board. Though the proposal was initially refused, but the persistence of Sir Franklin paid-off and the construction of the railway began in earnest. The choice of a narrow gauge track was for the simple reason to avoid wheel-slips and for usage of lighter steam locomotives over the immensely difficult terrain.
Overcoming numerous challenges of landslides, labor-loss, and floods, the first official line between Siliguri and Kurseong was formally opened on 23rd August 1880. Subsequent lines followed. Sonada to Jore bungalow on 5th April 1881, Jore bungalow to Darjeeling on 4th July 1881, Kurseong to Sonada on 1st August 1881, and from Darjeeling to Darjeeling Bazaar on 16th June 1886. The extension between Darjeeling and Darjeeling Bazaar no longer exists.
The Gillanders Arbuthnot & Co. constructed the railways and was also responsible for the maintenance till India gained her independence in 1947. The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) was integrated into Indian Railways and became part of the North-east frontier (NFR) zone in 1958. Further extension of the line from Siliguri to New Jalpaiguri (4kms) was done in 1962.
At Batasia Loop Stop
Interesting facts about the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway:
- Sir Franklin Prestage once quoted that the original Steam Engines built by the British company ‘Sharp Stewart’ would perform admirably and for years and years to come. This is indeed true. Though modern diesel locomotives are used today, the stretch between Kurseong and Darjeeling still uses the magnificent original steam engine number 787.
- The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is also affectionately called as the ‘Toy Train’.
- Mark Twain on completing his first ride on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) had quoted, “The most enjoyable day I have spent on Earth is of mixed ecstasy of deadly fright and unimaginable joy”!
- A train simulation project dedicated to the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway for the train simulator ‘TrainZ’ has been completed and should be a delight for virtual railroaders to experience the simulation of the route.
- The highest point reached by the railway is the ‘Ghum’ station (7407ft above mean sea-level).
- The descent to the final station Darjeeling is a four miles down a spur.
- The last loop of the railway near ‘Batasia’ is the most beautiful and offers some breathtaking view of the surrounding Himalayas.
- The world heritage status by the UNESCO was awarded to the DHR in the year 1999.
- All the present carriages of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) are from an era when they were first introduced and have been maintained in all their grandeur.
- The panoramic views of the mighty Himalayas is one of the finest you would ever encounter!
Amidst the Hills and Valleys!
DHR Chugging along!
DHR at the Batasia Loop
Steaming through the en-route towns!
Morning shunting at Darjeeling!
The veteran at steam shed at night!
Steaming up the line!
How to Book reservation for the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway:
Reservation for the Darjeeling Himalayan railway can be done at any computerized Indian Railway reservation counter across the country or through the Indian railways website (IRCTC). You can also book the tickets directly at any of the stations covered by the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR).
The steam trains can also be chartered by sending an e-mail to the director or Darjeeling Himalayan office at Kurseong.
The train originates at New Jalpaiguri, in the state of West Bengal, and is well connected by road, rail & air with all the major cities of India.
Darjeeling Hill Railway Stations and timetable:
Displayed in South to North order:
New Jalpaiguri (100 m above mean sea-level) -> Siliguri Town -> Siliguri Junction -> Sukna -> Rangtong -> Chunabhatti -> Tindharia -> Gayabari -> Mahanadi -> Kurseong -> Tung -> Dilaram -> Sonada -> Rangbul -> Jor Bungalow -> Ghum -> Batasia Loop -> Darjeeling (2200 m above mean sea-level).
The distance between New Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling is 79 kms and the total journey time aboard the train is 7 hours and 15 mins. The train departs New Jalpaiguri station at 9 AM and reaches Darjeeling at 16:15 PM. The train runs on all days. The average speed of the train, taking into account the treacherous climb of 2200 meters, is 10 km/hr. 3 other toy trains runs between Kurseong and Darjeeling (28 kms) and the travel time on these toy trains averages about 2 hours and 45 minutes.