Darjeeling Himalayan Railway
It was 1879. The steep and winding Pankhabari Road connecting Pankhabari in the plains with Kurseong in the hills had long ago been constructed. To aid the movement of carts, they had also built the more gradient Hill Cart Road. Yet, to reach Darjeeling from Siliguri, one had to spend forty eight hours en route. Therefore, a need for a faster conveyance that could also carry people and cargo in large quantities began to be felt.
Proposal from Eastern Bengal Railway Company
Construction of the Railroad
Gillanders Arbuthnot & Company was conferred with the responsibility of building the railway track. However, the task was not at all easy. The distance to be covered was almost eighty-three kilo meters and the elevation varied from 100 meters at Siliguri to 2200 meters at Darjeeling. Yet, the line was extended up to Tindharia by March 1880 and up to Kurseong near Darjeeling by the end of August. By February 1881, the line reached Sonada. It took two more months to reach Ghum. Finally, the Kurseong-Darjeeling stretch was inaugurated on 4rth July, 1881.
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway – a technological marvel
It is said that while the engineer was at work trying to solve the problem, his wife kept on calling him for lunch. He explained that he could not take the lines forward and hence he was not in a mood for lunch. Exasperated, his wife said, if he could not go forward he should go backward. The engineer did just that. The maneuver helped the engines to gather enough steam to rush up the steep tract and reach higher elevation with ease. There are however, other versions of this story.
Loops on the other hand involves going round a steep rise. Batasia, Chunbhatti, Agony point are examples where going along a loop has helped the trains to gain height effortlessnessly. Among the three, the Batasia Loop between Ghum and Darjeeling is most famous. As the train goes round the loop, it actually descends by one thousand feet!
Popularity and decline of Darjeeling Himalayan Railway
However, with the introduction of commercial vehicles, the popularity of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway began to decrease. Indeed, travelling by road is now much faster and cheaper. Consequently, trucks are preferred for movement of the goods and those who travel for business prefer to use buses and shared taxis. The railway is now used mostly by tourists who have ample time on hand. Even they use this mode of transport for novel experience.
Riding the toy train - an amazing experience
By and by, one can see the Kanchenjunga looming large. When the train reaches Kurseong, travelers are taken into another realm. The Ghum is the next significant stop. It is the highest station en route. The tracks take a downward turn from there. Darjeeling town is visible after a while. The train soon chugs into the Darjeeling station and the traveler gets ready to disembark.
Stations in between NJP and Darjeeling
New Jalpaiguri - Siliguri Town - Siliguri Junction - Sukhna – Rongtong – Tindharia – Gayabari – Mahanadi – Kurseong - Tung – Sonada – Ghum – Darjeeling