India // Kolkata and West Bengal //

The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway: the Toy Train

Completed in 1881, the small-gauge (2ft or 610mm) Darjeeling Himalayan Railway was designed as an extension of the North Bengal State Railway, climbing from New Jalpaiguri, via Siliguri, for a tortuous 88km up to Darjeeling. Given World Heritage status by UNESCO in 1999, the Toy Train follows the Hill Cart Road, crossing it at regular intervals and even sharing it with traffic. The Toy Train is no longer an essential mode of transport but is certainly a tourist attraction, and currently runs from Kurseong to Darjeeling. Work is continuing on repairing the landslide damaged sections and the line should reopen to Siliguri by the end of 2013. A handful of steam engines are still in use but diesel engines are now de rigueur on the long route.

Weather permitting, first-class coaches with large viewing windows provide magnificent views as the journey progresses and the scenery gradually unfolds; second class can be fun but crowded. At its highest point at Jorebungalow near Ghoom (2438m), 7km short of Darjeeling, the dramatic panorama of the Kanchenjunga Range is suddenly revealed. Just beyond Ghoom, the train does a complete circle at the Batasia Loop ā€“ the most dramatic of the three loops encountered along the way. Another method used to gain rapid height are the reversing stations where the track follows a ā€œZā€ shape.

Some travellers may find the entire route from Siliguri painfully slow. The diesel-driven section from Kurseong is well worth the time, however or alternatively you could take the short ride from Darjeeling to Ghoom.