A Tom-thumb train, with a difference!
The century old, Darjeeling Toy Train, serpents through the
sequestered hills of the Kanchenjungha carpeted green with forests and tea
plantations and dotted with multi-colored avian and floral metropolis and
equally vibrant clusters of tribal villages with giggling Bhutia and Lepcha
women. Affectionately nicknamed the toy train, its
activities are however nothing near to being toyish. It trails
through a treacherous 88 km of undulating and steep gradient on a two foot
narrow gauge that celebrated its 125th birthday this July. A brain-child of
the Eastern Bengal Railway agent, Franklin Prestage, the train an
engineering marvel that moves on adhesion and chugs its way up to Ghoom -
Asias highest railway station at 7,407 ft. You will have to see it, to
The Tour Map:
Hiss through the heights..
At about 9 am begins this 8-hr sojourn. Forests melt into endless
expanse of manicured tea-plantations that look like giant steps on the hill,
as you reach the first station Sunk (146.5 mt). The first spiral loop begins
as the train painstakingly cuffs through an almost impenetrable thicket of
Sal, Toon, Teak hewn with purple bougainvillea, the scarlet poinsettia and
the exotic mauve orchids that cloister a world of breath-taking beauty of
roaring waterfalls and gurgling streams.
At about the 22nd km, is another complicated loop. The travelers then
experience their first reversing zigzag as the train whistles through its
next loop at Chunbati (2,000ft) scaling greater heights to reach the station
at Tindharia (2821 ft).
Soon the train heads for another reverse, the last one at 3,400 ft just
after Gayabari station where the line runs close to the edge of a precipice
with the Pagla Jhora or "Mad Torrent", a thundering waterfall in
the distance which in its fury washes away road and track, houses and shops
every few years cutting off Darjeeling for days during the monsoons.
The next one, Mahanandi station at about 48 km, gives one a glimpse of the
source of the river. Another kilometer or so, and the Kurseong station
(4,860 ft), or The Land of the White Orchid emerges, as the
train whistle through the streets and shops with little children screaming
The train heads for the Toong station (5,565 ft) with the mighty
Kanchengunga in the backdrop, hypnotizing the beholders and the thought of
chasing such heights in a Tom Thumb carriage, tingling their nervous system.
Piercing through dense fog the train reaches Sonada station (6,552 ft) -
known for its wild bears, bounty of fruits, vegetables and milk and
Darjeeling tea gardens.
From here the train snakes along twisted paths along the Senchal Lake,
Tiger Hill, Kalimpong and the many tea gardens to alight at the Indo-Nepal
Border - Ghoom (7,407 ft) - enveloped eternally in a mist and dotted with a
legion of colorful monasteries. From here the train starts descending
towards Darjeeling to reach the most spectacular engineering feat on the
line - the double loop at Batasia, aptly named the Agony Point
after the churning it does to ones stomach - with the breath-taking
snow-white peaks of Kanchenjunga as a backdrop. At Batasia, there is a
memorial to the Gorkhas. After a painstaking trail, the train takes its last
drink of water before teetering precariously on the hillside to reach its
final destination, the Darjeeling station.
Right from big-wigs in the literary world (Mark Twain called the journey
his most enjoyable day on earth) and nature enthusiasts to the Bollywood -
the toy train so synonymous with Darjeeling - continues to mystify its
guests with a journey one of its kind. If you want to have a dekko first,
watch the Bollywood flick Pareenitas song sequence Kesto majaa
video. Irresistible - it is!