While driving on the beautiful serpentine roads of any mountain what one normally expects other than scenic beauty of mother nature… cute little children cladding school uniform, waving their hands to the passersby or any livestock crossing the road. Have you ever imagined a train crossing the road, inches away from you car and that too at an elevation of more than 7400 ft. Yes..!! It is a common sight on the NH 55 from Darjeeling to Siliguri in West Bengal of India.
A Bit of History:
The story of modern Darjeeling (‘Dar-jyu-lyang’ meaning abode of the gods) began in 1829 when two officers, Captain George Alymer Lloyd and J. W. Grant were sent by the then British Governor-General of India, Lord William Bentinck, to help resolve the border conflicts between Nepal and Sikkim. They stayed at Darjeeling for six days and found the place suitable for sanatorium, which after efforts of ten years, started working in 1839. Dr. Campbell who was the first superintendent of the sanatorium, started growing tea on an experimental basis in 1841. The experiments were so successful that soon several tea estates started operating commercially. The climate of the region was very suitable for the cultivation of tea and soon the region got famous for tea estates and there envisaged the requirement to bring tea to plains and later to Kolkata (then Calcutta) as soon as possible. Before the railway line was commissioned, the cost of rice was Rs. 98/ton in Siliguri but when include the cost of carrying it to Darjeeling, it rose to Rs. 238/ton.
Hence a train route was commissioned between 1879 to 1881. The train service named as Darjeeling Himayan Railway (DHR) is the first, and the most outstanding example of a hill passenger Railway. It applied bold and ingenious engineering solutions to the problem of establishing a rail link across a mountainous terrain. It is still fully operational and retains most of its original features intact.
Some Technical Facts:
Darjeeling Himayan Railway (DHR) runs between Darjeeling and New Jalpaiguri on a 2 ft. gauge, covering a mere 88 km in more than 7 hrs. The original track distance was 83 km. Later the line was extended by 5 km from Siliguri up to New Jalpaiguri. The line includes three loops (spirals) as Batasia loop, Agony loop and Chunbati loop and six ‘Z’ reverses (zigzags). There are twelve stations en route. The train passes over five major bridges and more than 450 minor bridges negotiating more than 870 curves. The steam locomotives have now been replaced with diesel locomotives for better speed and efficiency.
DHR was inscribed as World Heritage Area (WHA) in 1999. The first Hill Railway in India and only second in the world to get this prestigious status. A ride on the toy train is one of the popular things to do when visiting Darjeeling. For tourists, several toy trains ply between Darjeeling and Ghum. These tourists special trains complete the journey of 7 km between Darjeeling (DJ) or Darjeeling Joy Ride (DJRZ) to Ghum (GHUM) in 40-50 min. including a halt of 10 min. at Batasia loop. The train numbers and their schedule can be found by clicking here.
Ghum at 7407 ft, is the highest railway station in India and 24th in the world. It is the line’s summit. The station building includes a first-floor museum, with larger exhibits in the old goods yard.
One of the most scenic and picturesque spot during this journey between Ghoom and Darjeeling is Batasia Loop. The loop is 5 km from Darjeeling, below Ghum. There is a war memorial to the Gorkha soldiers of the Indian Army who sacrificed their lives in various operations after Indian independence. The loop has a panoramic view of Darjeeling, with Kanchenjunga and other snow-capped mountains in the background.
DHR has always been a centre of attraction for Indian movies directors. Several films have depicted this railway. Protagonist Rajesh Khanna sings the very famous song of his time “Mere Sapno Ki Rani” to heroine Sharmila Tagore, who is on the train, in the 1969 film Aradhana. Other Hindi movies which include DHR are Barfi, Parineeta and Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman. The terminus of DHR, Darjeeling is quite famous for it’s mesmerising beautiful sunrise, world famous tea plantations. To read more about our excursion to this beautiful and charming hill station, click here.