Though Darjeeling had become a sprawling city with the Nineteenth Century moving towards its second half, reaching there was a big problem. The steep slope of the road that connected the plains with the hill city was the main reason for the problems. The journey from Kolkata, the capital of the country was to take more than two weeks. The Meter Gauge railway that was used for the journey was only up to Sahibgunj, on the Southern bank of River Ganges. From there a ferry was to be taken to cross the river and then a long tiring bullock cart journey would take to Siliguri. From there another long journey through the steep slope of the hill on a Horse Cart was to be taken to reach Darjeeling.
There were two major reasons why the British wanted to reach Darjeeling quicker – the long transport would mean the cost of items would go up and another and bringing the tea that was produced in a huge quantity needed to be transported fast to keep up with the demand.
It was in 1878 when the Bengal Northern Railway laid the meter gauge line up to Siliguri and that brought down the time of travel remarkably. Though reaching Darjeeling from Siliguri was still a problem. Frankin Prestage was an agent of Eastern Bengal Railway and the man has enough vision to understand the prospect of a railway line between Siliguri and Darjeeling. He soon prepared a proposal and submitted that to the government and he showed that the price of items would lower if the railway line is constructed.
The government was quick to reply and the answer was ‘Yes’. The proposal to build a steam tramway along the Hill Cart Road was approved and construction started immediately. In 1879, Darjeeling Steam Tramway Company, which was a fully privately owned company, was formed and given licence to construct and run the railway.
Because of the terrain and lack of space beside the existing cart road – a narrow gauge line of 2 ft width was proposed but yet the project faced a lot of challenges. At some places, the gradients were so high that naturally, that was impossible to handle. In those cases, an engineering marvel was born – Loop & Zigzag. A loop is a section where the rail line takes a full round and thus increasing its length which allows it to reach a height more easily. Zigzag is another concept where parallel lines are laid where the train moving forward-backwards and again forwards to negotiate a steep gradient. Zigzag was used where there was no space to construct a loop.
Gillanders Arbuthnot & Company were assigned with the construction which began in late 1879. My March 1880, the first section of 31 Kilometers between Siliguri & Tindharia was completed. By August the same year, next 21 Kilometers of track up to Kurseong was laid and by February 1881, another 15 Kilometers up to Sonada was completed. By April 1881, Ghoom which is the highest point in the railway route was joined with Siliguri and the final stretch connecting Darjeeling was completed on 4th July 1881.
Since then, the glorious journey of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, which is nicknamed the Toy Train, started and is still continuing. The old steam locomotives are now replaced with diesel ones and the track also went through a lot of modification and up-gradation. In the year, 1990, on December 2nd, UNESCO conferred Darjeeling Himalayan Railway with the prestigious World Heritage Site tag considering its reach legacy and engineering importance. DHR was only the second railway line to receive such an honour.
The Toy Train not only surprised the tourists over the year, it has also been a hot choice for the filmmakers – see the films that captured the DHR & Darjeeling superbly.
- Total Length of the route – 88 Kilometres
- No. of Station: 12 Nos. (New Jalpaiguri, Siliguri, Sukna, Rongtong, Tindharia, Gayabari, Mahanadi, Kurseong, Tung, Sonada, Ghum Darjeeling)
- No. of curves: 873
- No. of Bridges: 554
- No. of Loops: 3
- No. of Zigzags: 6
- Travel Time: 7 Hrs.
- How to Book: Indian Railway Portal