Toy Train: The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is lovingly called the “Toy Train”. The journey to Darjeeling is regarded as among the most spectacular in the world. Travellers are awed by both the scenery as well as the railway line which is truly an engineering masterpiece and without doubt one of the wonders of the world. The history of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is equally fascinating.
It was in the year 1878 that Mr. Franklin Prestage (at that time Agent of the Eastern Bengal Railway Company) put up a proposal with a detailed scheme to the Government of Bengal for laying a train line from Siliguri to Darjeeling. Sir Ashley Eden, the Lieutenant Governor, appointed a Committee to examine the project. This Committee reported that the project was feasible and would be of great advantage to the Government and public and was accepted in 1879.
The construction started that very year and by 1880 the railway line had reached Tindharia. Later that year the line was completed till Kurseong. By July 1881 it was opened for traffic right through to Darjeeling. The name given to the railway line was “Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Company”.
The original cost of the 51 miles of railway from Silguri to Darjeeling was Rs. 1,750,000/-. Later the line was extended from Siliguri to Kishanganj and towards Kalimpong in the Teesta river valley. This was known as the Teesta Valley Extension and was started in 1915. This line used to go from Siliguri to Riyang station passing Kalijhora and then to Geille Khola (Kalimpong Road) Station. With the improvements done in subsequent years the total cost was brought to cost to Rs. 4,300,000/-. Later with the construction of a bigger line, the service from Siliguri to Kishanganj was discontinued. In 1950 landslides caused severe damage to the line from Geille khola station to Siliguri. This was never repaired and so the services to Gielle Khola station was discontinued.
The original passenger vehicle was a small four-wheeled trolley with canvas roof and two wooden benches for seats. After sometime proper 26 feet long bogie was introduced. The steam engine of Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is specially designed for unusual conditions of Darjeeling by Sharpe, Stewart, with ‘B’ class tank engine with short 0-4-0 wheelbase with additional saddle tank (for extra water capacity). By 1915 a workshop was started in Tindharia which made and repaired passenger coaches.
The whole railway track from Siliguri to Darjeeling is considered an engineering marvel. In 51 miles of track it climbes from near sea level to about 7,400 ft. altitude. To attain this climb engineers have used “loop” and “zig-zag reverses”. In “loop” the railway track circles round and passes over itself by a bridge, thereby quickly attaining higher elevation. In “zig-zag reverse” for obtaining the same result by running the track back diagonally up the hillside for a short distance, and then again resuming an alignment parallel to the original alignment but higher up. There are no tunnels, as a result the railway line has very sharp curves depending on the contour of the mountain.
When the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway was started, it was the fastest and most comfortable way to travel to Darjeeling. It had passenger and cargo services. The cargo line used to go beyond Darjeeling railway station into the middle of the town. This line was later discontinued and removed. Later with New Jalpaiguri station becoming a more important link than Siliguri, the track was extended from Siliguri to New Jalpaiguri.
In 1920, according to record, the train service had carried 263,082 passengers and 61,704 tons of goods. During those days cargo transported comprised of a variety of items. Down traffic from Darjeeling consisted mainly tea, potatoes and fresh vegetables, from the Teesta Valley section it was mainly wool from Tibet and oranges during winter from Kalimpong and Sikkim and from the Kishanganj section it was mainly jute and paddy. Upward traffic to Darjeeling and the Teesta Valley consisted of rice, flour, tea garden stores, oil, coal, miscellaneous goods and general stores.
Now with the passage of time and better motorable roads the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is no longer a serious mode of transport. Cargo service has been totally stopped and the Toy Train has become a joy ride for tourists though an unforgetable joyride. In a few years time this is going to be the only steam engine train in India.
A non-profit organisation called the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Heritage Foundation was formed in 1993 to encourage the restoration, renewal and presevation of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway and its railway stations as living museums. Associations called Friends of Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, promoted by the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Heritage Foundation, have been formed in several countries, all dedicated to the conservation and renewal of the Toy Train as a railway treasure.
Trek Darjeeling’s famous mountain trail from Mane Bhanjyang to Sandakphu and on to Phalut and Rimbik. Enjoy great views of the Kanchenjuna, Makalu and Everest peaks. Trek through the Singalela National Park. Spring rhododendrons and clear autumn views.
Trek climbs steeply from the road head at Maneybhanjan at 2134 m, for three days to reach the Sandakphu –Phalut ridge at an altitude of 3600 m. Enroute there are the lovely forests of the Singelila National Park, and the view point of Tonglu. From Sandakphu there are breathtaking views of the Khandchendzonga Range towering over a basin of silver firs and Rhododendrons, in the foreground. In the West the peaks of the Mount Everest group are visible, whilst on the East lie the Chola Range with views of passes leading into Tibet. The knee wobbling descent to the road head at Rimbik is through forests with flora, flowers and mountain streams. Trek tour starts & ends at Darjeeling.
After an early breakfast, you will set off by jeep, on a 23 kms, two hrs drive through the Himalayan foothills to the small village of Maneybhanjang. At 2134 meters, this is the end of the tarmac road and the start of a 1500 meter climb up onto the Singalila Ridge. Today you will trek up to the Tonglu Ridge, and reach your destination for the day – Tumling, in 6-7 hrs. It is a hard first days climb.Slow and steady pace over the 12.5 kms route will enable the following schedule:-
Maneybhanjan, 2134m to Chitre. 2800m: Very steep 02 Kms takes 02 hrs
Chitre to Meghma , 2900m: Easy undulating 06 Kms in 03 hrs
Meghma to Tonglu top, 3070 m: Easy undulating 03 Kms in 1.30 hrs
Tonglu top to Tumling, 2900m: Gradual descent 1.5 kms in 0.30 hrs
You will stay overnight at either Tumling in a comfortable private lodge, or at the trekkers hut at Tonglu.
Next day rise early for a sunrise view from Tonglu Top. Weather permitting you will get a fabulous views of both, Singalila and Chola Ranges. Mount Chomalhari, in Bhutan is also visible. Return to Tumling for breakfast. After breakfast, take the trail through the Singalila National Park. Mature forests, cascading streams and wild flowers, are a delight to the senses. A leisurely downhill walk of just 06 kms will bring you to Garibas in just 02.30hrs. Continue trekking to Kal Pokhri, 3081 m . It is a 6 kms fairly steep trek, which will take about 3.30 – 04 hrs of easy trekking. Overnight at comfortable private lodge.
Third Day:Today is a hard days trekking It is quite a steep climb to Sandakphu and you are no doubt likely to feel the effects of the thinner air as you climb over 3000 meters for the first time. However, there is plenty to distract the mind, as you are rewarded with remarkable panoramic views of Khangchendzonga, Makalu, Everest, Lhotse and the other, lesser peaks of Sikkim and eastern Nepal. The very steep 6 kms trek will take 03-04 hrs
If the weather is clear, there are remarkable sunset and sunrise views from Sandakphu, of Everest, Makalu, and Khangchendzonga. Overnight in trekkers huts / private Lodge.
Fourth DAy:Awake early for breathtaking sunrise views of the great peaks. After breakfast trek down through deep forests to the bottom of the valley and scenic Srikhola – a mountain stream. It is a very steep descent for 13.5 Kms, and will take about 06 hours. Tonight you will stay at another private lodge or trekkers hut.
Day 05: Srikhola, 1800m – Rimbik, 2286m
After breakfast you will continue the trek to Rimbik – a picturesque mountain village. You ascent gradually, to 2286m. on a 5.5 Kms long trail. The last days trek will take about 03-04 hrs. Upon arrival transfer to your jeep for the 68 Kms, 4.30 hrs, drive back to Darjeeling.
Batasia Loop is a famous loop situated on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway between Ghoom and Darjeeling, in West Bengal. Constructed in 1879 it is an engineering marvel and feat where the train takes a very unique turn. The meter-gauge toy train winds its way over this loop. Batasia Loop is just five kilometers from Darjeeling.Batasia Loop is a photographer’s paradise.
The War Memorial, constructed in memory of the brave sons of Darjeeling who died for the country since Independence in 1947, is worth visiting.
Bhutia Busty Gompa
The back drop of the Kanchenjunga range stands a monastery called the Bhutia Busty Gompa. This monastery was shifted from the observatory hills to the present place. The Gompa is a branch of the Nyingmapa sect’s Phodang Monastery in Sikkim. The monastery is not far from the chowrasta and is very tastefully decorated. It also has a library which has a copy of the Tibetan Book of the Dead.
This place is worth to visit for its exotic and exclusive collection of a variety of Himalayan plants, flowers and orchids. This place is near to the taxi stand. The gardens has an attractive green house.
One of the important shopping places in Darjeeling . Nehru Road and the Mall Road Intersect each other. Snow capped peaks of Kanchenjunga are visible from this place, near Chowrata are several Hindu and Buddhists temples. This place is over flowing with foreign tourists. You can also enjoy a pony ride in this place.
About 8 kms from Darjeeling is the Dhoom Gompa. A very beautiful statue of the Maitrayie Buddha ( prospective Buddha) is established. The Monastery has also preserved some of the rare handwritten Buddhist manuscripts..
From Darjeeling, one can have the best, uninterrupted view of the worlds third highest peak. Bhan Bhakta Sarani provides one of the enthralling views of these snow capped peaks. Chowrasta also gives you a good sight to the Kanchenjunga peak.
Happy Valley tea Estate
Here the tea from the gardens is processed. One can spend a few hours here to see a various kind of tea processing. Entry is only allowed to persons who have permission from any officer of the estate.
Himalayan Mountaineering Institute(HMI) & Museums
Himalayan Mountaineering Institute is on the West Jawahar road. The institute runs courses for training mountaineers as well as a very good collection of mountaineering equipments which have been used in various mountaineering expeditions and other wise. Specimens of Himalayan flora and fauna are also preserved here. The record of attempts made to conquer Mt. Everest has been kept in the Mt.Everest Museum. The institute also provides screens short films on mountaineering. You can also view the Himalayan peaks through the Zeiss Telescope given to the Nepalese Maharaja by Hitler. Sherpa Tenzing Norgay was the Director of this institute for many years and he was cremated near the institute after his death in 1986. Near the institute is Srabri which gives a very good view of the Single valley and the Kanchenjunga range. One can sit at Srabri and feel the cool breeze from the valley.
Natural History Museum
This museum has a collection of over 4300 specimen . Established in 1903, this natural history museum packs in its folds a rich collection of fauna found in the Himalayas and in Bengal. Among the attractions are included the estuarine crocodiles. This unique museum also has a good collection of butterflies. The mineral forms of various stones are displayed in a very attractive manner in the museum.
Observatory Hills (recreation point) Mahakal Dham
This point provides one of the breathtaking views of Kanchenjunga peaks. This place is also very sacred for the Hindus and the Buddhists as there are temples and the monasteries at this place. The Kali temple is decorated with the colourful flags. Be aware of the monkey groups as some these are very aggressive.
Another tourist attraction in Darjeeling has been the ropeway. This was the first ropeway in India. It connects the North point (7000 ft) to the Singla Bazaar (800 ft). The rope covers a distance of 8 kms in 45 minutes. The seats in the rope way is limited and it is better to get the tickets in advance. The ropeway is exciting adventure and unique for any one visiting Darjeeling.
Senchal Lake & Tiger hill
A scenic place near the tiger hills. This place has popularly come up as a picnic spot among the tourists. The lake supplies drinking water to the town of Darjeeling and even a holy place one can even take a good view of sunrise.
The zoo is situated two kms form the main town. This zoological garden houses some of the rare species of animals and birds. This is only zoo in India having the Siberian Tigers. Apart from these the rare Red Panda is also here. The Snow Leopards, Great Grey Birds, Snow Yaks are some the animals which are attracting tourist in great numbers. The entry in the zoo is by tickets which are also valid for the natural history museum and the mountaineering institute & museum.
Shrubbery park (Nightingale park)
This beautiful Shrubbery park also known as nightingale park is located on the Jawahar Parbat behind Raj Bhawan, the Shrubbery is also a beautiful garden offering magnificent views of Kanchenjunga Range and Singla Valley. It offers a package of cultural programmes which are performed daily during tourist season,the park opens at 4.00 pm and closes at 8.00pm. Thios park has been extensively renovated and comprises giant statue of Lord Shiva, temple and provision for live interactive entertainment shows. Entrance fee is chargedand nominial charge for photography is alsorequired from the visitor.
Race course (Lebong)
8 km from the town, it is the smallest race course in the world. The complete lap is only 480 yds. Long. It was laid out in 1885 as a parade ground.
Rock garden and Gangamaya park ( Barbotay)
10 kms. from town it is a very attractive picnic spot with natural water falls constructed under Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council.
Tenzing rock (Valey Dhunga)
On Lebong Cart Road. Himalayan Mountaineering Institute conducts preliminary course on Rock climbing on these Rocks also famous with a local name Valey Dhunga.
Tibetan Refugee centre
Just 20 min from the Mall, centre was built in 1959 to provide rehabilitation to more than 700 Tibetan refugees who did come with the Dalai Lama after China’s capture of Tibet. The centre comprises a home for the aged, an orphanage, school, hospital, Gompa and crafts workshops. This self help center has been developed as workshop for the manufacture of handicrafts. This centre produces excellent carpets, woollen goods, wood work, leather work etc. The Tiebtan craftsmen can be seen at work at the centre. Visitors are welcome to observe the activity in the workshops.
Ava Art Galary
2 km from town on the way to Ghoom.this galary has fine art and embroidery work of Mrs. Ava Devi. It is open from 8 a.m. to 12 noon and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.