I boarded my train on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway in the small but important trade centre of Siliguri. With its narrow, two-foot rail gauge and 24-seat car, this unique means of transportation started in 1881 in North Bengal, as a summer escape for the affluent. Originally, the journey took about five days, today it takes about eight hours. What I hadn’t expected was that the train crawled up the mountain at about 10 km an hour. The route’s frightening curves and loops remain unchanged since conception, crisscrossing ungated public highways and deep valleys. The constantly changing scenery, from thick forest to exotic wild foliage, took my mind off the various stops in Rangtong, Chunbati, Tindharia, Gayabari, Mahanadi, Kurseong, Tung, Sonada, Ghum and finally Darjeeling.
Railway buffs should consider this trip as a reminder of a style long gone. One would suspect that by now the coaches would be in a museum, but the “Toy Train” is the stuff of which railway legends are made. And even with all the glitches, the Toy Train is a fine experience. The irony is that at Windamere Hotel where I was staying, the owner, Sherab Tenduf, also happens to be the man who saved the train from being auctioned off and on the hotel’s grounds there is a building devoted to trains.