Toy Train, Darjeeling: One of the five Mountain Railways of India is the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway – popularly known as the ‘Toy Train’ which plies between Siliguri and Darjeeling in West Bengal State of India. The Toy Train plies between New Jalpaiguri Railway Station at 26°40 58"N 88°26 35"E at 328 feet above sea level and the Hill Station - Darjeeling at 27°2 15"N 88°15 46"E at an elevation of 7218 feet above sea level. UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) – a specialized agency of the United Nations that promotes peace and security among nations of the world, declared the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway as a ‘World Heritage Site’ bearing special significance.
The Toy Train was built in 1881 and is jointly operated by the Indian Railways and Darjeeling Himalayan Railway society. It runs 86 kilometres between Siliguri and Darjeeling – ascending challenging slopes to 7218 feet in about 8 hours. Unlike the regular diesel and electric trains that are in use in India today, the Toy Train is a small and cute 15-ton ‘B Class’ steam locomotive-hauled passenger train. This train runs on steam which is produced and fueled by coal, wood or oil. It runs on a narrow gauge of 2 ft (610 mm) as against the regular broad gauge of 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in). The Darjeeling railway line basically follows Hill Cart Road and the track is simply on the road side - resembling urban tramway tracks. The loud horn of the Toy Train is very typical and loud which resonates far and wide in the Hills of Darjeeling. It sounds louder than a foghorn, pretty much like a large ship horn. Half the fun is in ascending rather than descending the steep woody mountains and guarantees it to be your most memorable mountain railway journey. This train-ride is a fascinating one and is a must-do when you’re visiting the West Bengal State.
This 86-kilometre rail route is unique and thrilling as it comprises 17 Stations; 15 halts; more than 100 road-crossings where the train runs along with the cars and other vehicles on the same road-level; passes 5 major and about 500 minor bridges; has 3 railway loops – also called the sensation points; and 5 zig-zagging points or ‘Z-reverses’ and does steep climbs and tight loops almost on the edge of the hill-cliffs. Breath-taking views are a bonus.
The Toy Train Joyrides:
The toy train joy-rides are short trips from Darjeeling and from Siliguri.
- Darjeeling > Ghoom > Darjeeling - includes 30-minute stop at Ghoom Museum and a 10-minute stop at the Batasia Loop so that tourists can enjoy the views of the Valley and Mountains.
- Siliguri > Sukna > Siliguri - this ride meanders through the Tea Estates of Darjeeling includes a 30-minute stop at the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Photo Gallery in Sukna.
- Siliguri > Tindharia > Siliguri - a jungle safari and lunch at Tindharia.
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway route from New Jalpaiguri is:
1. New Jalpaiguri Station – The Darjeeling Railway starts here just a few minutes before the Siliguri Station.
2. Siliguri Station – Siliguri Station is a major station where the train halts for a few minutes and then proceeds to cross the Mahanadi Bridge built across the Mahanadi River of the Himalayas.
3. Sukna Station – The real ascent from the plains to the hilly terrain begins here as the gradient of the railway changes. Train stops briefly for refill of water for the engine. From this station up till Darjeeling you would notice more Nepali locals whom you would literally brush against at all stations as the train tracks wind through the busy town and market places enroute. From Sukna the train ascends into a big stretch of Tea Gardens and then moves into the Teak and Sal Forest. At this point was the Loop No 1 which was taken off route due to damage caused by floods in 1991.
4. Rangtang Station – At 1404 feet elevation, the view of the woody mountains from here is amazing. Post this Station the train halts briefly for water for the engine and then continues through the Tea Estates, Tea Factories and more forests.
5. Tindharia Station - Just before the Tindharia Station is the Tindharia Railway workshop comprising a large locomotive shed, and an office for engineers on a separate line. The train crosses Tindharia station – a major station on this line at 2822 feet and offers great views of the green mountains. A little further up from here, one gets to see the Rocky Mountain stretch called – ‘Giddhapahar’. The next loop is called the ‘Agony Point’ which is the tightest curve on the line.
6. Gayabari Station – The line reaches 3400 feet at this point and leaves the Station using zig-zag reverses. At Pagla Jhora, the train stops for water-refill.
7. Mahanadi Bazar Station – This station is at 4000 feet elevation and is close to the source of River Mahanandi. From Mahanadi, the train goes west through ‘Gidhapahar’ (Eagle’s Craig) from where the Valley and the tea gardens is visible.
8. Kurseong Station – At this small hill station you would catch the first glimpse of hill folks. From this station, the train ascends further up through the Kurseong Bazar where the Tibetan Prayer Flags smack of the mountainous terrain. It makes an interesting sight to see the train moving with a couple of feet from the shops on the market place’s busy stretch. You will see pear, cherry, criptomeria, maple, chestnut, and cardamom plants in the forests that come up next.
9. Tung Station– Reaching the Tung Station at 5656 feet elevation, the Kurseong Ridge is clearly visible and looks wonderful.
10. Sonada Station – At 6552 feet elevation the train passes through the Sonada Bazar from where a Tibetan Chorten is visible. The Senchel Reserve forest with oaks, chestnuts, walnuts, magnolias, rhododendrons comes up shortly after the train leaves the Sonada Station. During spring time, this area gets dotted with hundreds of full bloom rhododendrons, cream magnolias and orchids. A big variety of birds made this forest their home which is why many bird-watchers make an annual trip to this place each year.
11. Jor Bungalow Town – The road narrows here at the high-traffic area.
12. Ghoom Station - At 7407 elevation, Ghoom is India’s highest railway station – the highest point in this line. The first floor of the Ghoom Station has been converted into a museum which houses exhibits from the old goods yard. It is after this Station that the famous Batasia Loop is which winds around the War Memorial – that was erected in memory of the Gorkha soldiers. This railway loop almost touches the edge of the cliff and offers spectacular panoramic views of the Darjeeling town perched amidst the dense green Hills and the snowy mountains in the backdrop.
13. Darjeeling Station – The final destination on this line is the Charming town of Darjeeling.
This shutter-friendly locomotive has made its way to many a magazine on lifestyle and locomotive engineering.
Bollywood loves the Toy Train which is evident in the numerous Indian films that the Toy Train appears. Every time the hero had to woo the heroine, it had to be filmed in a Toy Train that ascends the Darjeeling Tea Estates and Hills.