Experiencing the mountain railways of India should be on every traveller’s to-do list. Travelling on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (a UNESCO world heritage site) is like stepping inside a time capsule. Life will slow down dramatically and you will be transported back to the olden days.
This train runs from NJP station to the township of Darjeeling, covering a distance of 88 kms. Obviously, the 7 hours that the train takes can easily be cut down to 3 hours by taking a car ride but the overpowering nostalgia and pride that comes with riding in these age-old coaches makes the trade-off totally worth it.
While going uphill from NJP, you can view the entire landscape, lush green valleys, mystical forests and sprawling tea estates more closely. Since the journey is slow and steady, the photographer in you will cherish the innumerable opportunities you get to capture the beauty around you while riding the toy train. The train uses the loops and zigzag technology to negotiate the steep Himalayan slopes. Sometimes, at a few places, a clear path is not available and the climb is done through reverse and loops.
Not so eager to travel the whole hog from NJP, we suggest you take the joy ride trains from Darjeeling to Ghum and back. Darjeeling is 14 Km away from Ghum and the round trip takes close to 2 hours to complete. On its way from Darjeeling to Ghum, the train usually stops for 10 minutes at Batasia Loop. A 5-kilometre-long loop created to manage the steep gradient of the hill. Make maximum use of the stopover at this loop. It offers beautiful views of the mountains and has a War Memorial built in honour of the Gorkha soldiers who lost their lives during the fight for Indian Independence. Don’t miss a railway board proudly announcing the association of DHR with Bollywood through a display of movie posters that have been filmed here. You will find the telescope-wallahs (vendors) lining up to give you a closer view of the Himalayan range. They even have a mini bazaar every morning with vendors selling everything, from hand-woven gloves to sweaters.
The next stop is India’s highest railway station, Ghum at 7407 ft. Here the train halts for 30 minutes, offering you enough time to take a stroll inside the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Museum. You do not need to pay an entry fee since that is already included in the train fare. The museum is housed in a single hall, displaying a collection of old railway mementos such as old tickets, logos of the railways over the years, paintings depicting the Darjeeling Rail and old equipment.
Please be warned that the toy trains do not have much luggage space. Try not to carry heavy luggage that might occupy seats and overhead spaces. You can make all reservations online through the IRCTC website.