Trip to Darjeeling is incomplete without riding in Darjeeling Himalayan toy train. It was on my bucket list since long and Bollywood movies also played vital role here, especially Barfi. Trains are my first priority during travel journeys.Here I am writing my experience of riding the DHR toy train.
It is well known that Darjeeling Himalayan Toy train is UNESCO World heritage site since 1999. Nilgiri mountain train and Kalka- Shimla Toy train rides are also in my wish list. The tiny 4 wheeled steam loco of the 19th century are living legends for sounds, fragrance and romance of bygone era.
Why UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE??
UNESCO World Heritage Committee inscribed Darjeeling Himalayan Railway [DHR] as a world heritage site on 5th December 1999 stating the following reasons:
- An outstanding example of the influence of an innovative transportation system on social & economic development of cultural region, which has was to serve as a model for similar developments in many parts of the world.
- The development of the railway in 19th century had a profound influence on social and economic developments in many parts of the world. This process is illustrated in an exceptional and seminal fashion by the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway. It is known as engineering marvels.
Train traverses through small stations along the way with several zig zags, curves, loops which helps the train to negotiate steep gradient. This means, as you travel from Darjeeling-Ghum, there is stop called ‘Batasia Loop’. In a loop, train is made to gain height by the track circling round and passing over itself by tracing the natural contours at the end of spur of hill. This is a technical genius.
DHR starts from New Jalpiguri station and goes all the way to Darjeeling travelling 88 kms. In this distance it gains altitude of 314 ft to 7404 ft. Diesel engines are used these days which is faster and more powerful than steam engines, the steam engines are operative in some section of DHR and for joy rides between Darjeeling and Ghum.
We had booked online train tickets for Darjeeling-Ghum Joy ride in advance as it run full all the time. Unfortunately; we couldn’t take long train ride from Darjeeling to Kurseong due to waiting list.
DHR is opened in 1881 and still fully operational and retains most of its original features intact. As we waited for the train to arrive, I wandered here and there to click pictures of train engine, the station and the whole place. Apart from us, a big group of foreigners arrived who later settled in our coach.
As I wanted to feel child like wonder, we booked steam engine ride. The train track is on the road close to few buildings, shops. As I boarded the train, I felt to be into the bygone era for few hours. Everyone inside the coach seemed excited as train left from the station and as we started our journey towards Ghum.
As train moved, people on the road, children and adults started to wave us to make space for the train to move. Few of the tourists were clicking the photos of moving train and they seemed as happy as us.
After leaving Darjeeling, the train reached to Batasia loop and stopped for about 10-15 Minutes. This loop is made to lower the gradient of ascent of DHR. At this point, the track spirals around over itself through a tunnel and over a hilltop. At the centre of the Batasia loop is the War memorial built to pay homage to Gorkha soldiers of Darjeeling hills who sacrificed their lives in various wars after India’s independence. There is a flowering Garden and beautiful setting of benches to soak into the beauty of Hills. On clear day, one can get a 360 degree view of Kanchenjunga from Batasia Loop. Toy train track encircles this beautiful flower garden. It is fabulous experience to see the whistling train that complete the loop.
Ghum station is highest railway station in India situated at altitude of 7407 ft.
It is the destination for the joy ride of Darjeeling Himalayan train ride. Train halts here for 20-25 minutes. Ghum station colored in bright yellow and red is heritage building that houses DHR Museum on first floor. I was busy in clicking pictures as mountains, bazaars and beauty was everywhere.
Ghum Museum was established in 2000 after declaring DHR as UNESCO world heritage site. It was established to showcase its journey from British era. Other two DHR museums are located at Kurseong and Sukna. It showcases about the need of Loop, Zig Zag reverses and the paintings of track, stations etc.
On opposite of the museum is much touted Baby Sivok, the oldest toy train engine of Darjeeling Himalayan Railways that started its operation in 1881 providing the first ever rail link through the mountains. Here you can actually see the inside of the engine from a close distance and also that of a coach attached to it.
How to Reach Darjeeling:
The nearest airport to Darjeeling is Bagdogra which is approximately 95 km away from the city. There are direct flights from the major cities like Kolkata, Delhi and Guwahati to Bagdogara. From the airport, one can reach the city by hiring taxis. It will take almost 3 hours to reach Darjeeling from the airport.If you want to travel by shared Jeep, go to Silliguri/NJP from Bagdogara airport to reach Darjeeling.
Other Option is to take train to New Jalpaiguri[NJP]/ Silliguri, Darjeeling is 88 Kms away from NJP. Shared taxis and Jeep are available from here. It will cost you INR 130-150/Person.
How to Book Toy Train ride:
Depending upon your choice one can book diesel engine hauled or steam engine Joy ride from Darjeeling-Ghum-Darjeeling. There are usually two first class coaches provided in a steam engine train, while three first class coaches in diesel engine joyride toy train. Alternately you can also book Darjeeling-Kurseong train ride and explore Kurseong town and return back to Darjeeling by taxi which will give you similar experience.
You can book tickets at computerized reservation counters of ticket window or online at Indian Railway Online Reservation website. For online reservation,use source code DJ [Darjeeling] and destination code DJRZ [To Darjeeling] for joy ride booking.
You can also get the tickets at Darjeeling railway station. Note that during high season, there is a lot of rush for the rides and you should try to book well in advance. Don’t plan to buy the joyride tickets after you reach Darjeeling because you may not get them.
Toy Train Joyride Fare (as on March-2017)
Diesel Engine Rides: INR 800. All first class seats.
Steam Engine Rides: INR 1400. All first class seats.
The fares of Steam Engine pulled trains are higher because they represent the original heritage trains and their maintenance cost is also higher. Fares include admission to the DHR Ghum Museum.