How far can 1310 rupees take you on an Indian Railway track? Very far, right? With an unreserved ticket, you can travel the circumference of the country but on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway you travel a mere 14 kilometres. Yet the ever lasting experience you get is worth every penny.
My friend Sourav and I visited Darjeeling on the second week of February 2018 and you can read about our visit to the Darjeeling Zoo and Watching Sunrise from the Tiger Hill by clicking on the respective links. I have been hearing about the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway since fifth grade and had always wanted to fulfil the desire of riding the toy train. Upon getting a chance this time, I immediately booked the tickets. The price of the diesel engine driven tickets was Rs. 800 each but we opted for the steam engine as we wanted a more authentic experience. I initially booked the tickets in the waiting list but once the chart was prepared the next day, we got confirmed seats. We actually backpack frequently and aim to keep our budgets low but every time end up doing something fancy, and this time we rode the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway.
After an amazing morning, we came back to our hotel, freshened up, had a good breakfast and checked out of our room at around 9. It was a cold February morning and walking from the hotel down to the town and towards the Railway Station felt chilly. We stood in the sun for some time before stepping in to explore the renowned Darjeeling Railway Station.
The Darjeeling Railway Station
On the inside were the ticket counters and a popular A.H. Wheeler & Co. bookstore. On the outside, there were several trains on adjacent tracks; all of which ran on diesel engines. I was very eager to see our very own steam locomotive and after spending half an hour by the tracks, we saw this amazing tiny engine that felt like it was from those days bygone. It looked as elegant as I had always imagined it to be.
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway runs on a 2 feet narrow gauge track and has been there since 1881. On December 2, 1999, the UN declared it a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway- The Ride
As the train approached the platform and people started getting into the vintage styled coaches, we too ran towards our coach and took our seats. Two coaches were attached to the locomotive and each could seat approx. 30-32 persons. Each row had two window and two aisle seats. For our onward journey, we were in the coach at the rear end. Apart from a girl who was travelling with her acquaintances; supposedly from the UK, Sourav and I were the only Indians in our coach.
Finally we started our journey on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway through the picturesque neighbourhoods of Darjeeling and the feeling was that of fulfilment of a long standing wish. The track ran adjacent to the road that went up to Ghum and at times, criss-crossed paths. What was remarkable was that even after a century of running on the same old route, it never failed to delight the locals, old and young alike. The train would at times stop and the engine driver would come out, inspect something and we would start again.
At the Batasia Loop, we halted for some 15 minutes and managed to click a few photos. Exploring the manicured park around the loop was not possible in such short time but we did walk up to the War Memorial. The administration erected it in memory of the Gorkha soldiers of the Indian Army who had sacrificed their lives after independence.
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway- Ghum Station and Ghum Museum
At an altitude of 7407 feet, Ghum is the highest point on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway route. It is also the highest railway station in India and 24th highest in the world. At Ghum, it was a 30 minute stopover. We got down from our train and starting exploring the place.
After spending some time near the Railway station, we entered the Ghum Museum. Established in the year 2000, it is one of the three museums under the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway. The other two are at Kurseong and Sukna. As you enter the museum premises, you will see Baby Sivok. A wooden stairway leads up to the museum which is on top of the Ghum station. It was by far my third Railway Museum visit, the other two being at the New Tinsukia Railway Station and New Delhi. The Ghum Museum had collections of many rare photographs, maps and artefacts relating to the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway.
On the return journey, we hardly took out our cameras. We sat back relaxed, enjoying the soft whistle and watching the serene neighbourhoods pass by.
The popular Hindi song Mere Sapno Ki Rani from the blockbuster Aradhana (1969) starring Sharmila Tagore and Rajesh Khanna has been the best example showcasing the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway in popular culture.