The Darjeeling “Toy Train”


I lived in Darjeeling for seven years, but in all that time I never rode on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR). The urgency to explore a place or an experience is rather low when you happen to live in that place. So it was with the “Toy Train”. When I finally moved out in 1999, the UNESCO declared the DHR a World Heritage Site. The status sat heavy on my conscience that I hadn’t exploited fully the advantages of living in Darjeeling. Subsequently when several Bollywood movies depicted a romanticized view of the small-town life of Darjeeling with the emblematic train chugging in the background, I finally resolved to go back to Darjeeling with the sole purpose of riding on the Toy Train. The coal-fired steam engines are too slow (at about 12km/hour) for the train to serve as a mode of transport, and the train are more of a tourist attraction. I finally got a chance this past December to take a short “Joy Ride” from Darjeeling to Ghum station, a small town about 8 km from Darjeeling.

Did that experience enrich my life? Maybe. The fact that I was on a relic from the late 19th century (when the tracks between New Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling were laid down) was impressive. But the belching smoke and soot, some of which settled in my hair wasn’t pleasant at all. Granted, it’s supposed to be part of the experience and as authentic as it was in the 1880s, but with enough pollution as it is (even in Darjeeling that used to be quite pristine when I was growing up in the 1990s), do we need more?

As you will notice in the pictures below, the train shares road space with cars (and does not have its own priority lane), and could technically get stuck in a traffic jam!

The train shares road space with cars

Coal-fired engine

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