Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Chug-a-chug, toot, toot! Darjeeling Toy Train.

After breakfast, we had about an hour to kill before we had to meet up again at 9:30a to catch our ride to the train station where we were scheduled to catch the 10:50a Darjeeling Himalayan Railway train which is better known by its nickname, the Darjeeling Toy Train.  I love riding the rails!!

Before heading out, I decided to catch a few minutes of sleep and woke up after everyone else had already gotten into their cars for the ride to the station! I must have been more tired than I thought :-)

The plan was to do a roundtrip ride on the Toy Train to the neighboring town of Ghum and back. It's a 7km ride each way and the total round trip would take just under 2 hours. It's a slow train :-)

I'm not quite sure why we had to leave for the train station so early cause it's probably about a 10 minute drive from the hotel. The drivers dropped us off and we lingered around the station waiting for our train. Of course, that left plenty of time to take photos including this one of me standing in front of a locomotive named Queen of the Hills, which is the nickname for Darjeeling. It also turned out that this would be the one that would drive the passenger cars we would be riding on!

Across the street from the train station, there were men unloading coal from a truck and *feeding* it down the chute of another locomotive. What a job!

Just before it was our time to board, Sanjeev came around and gave us our seat assignments. There would only be two passeger cars on this train. We would be split up into two groups - 6 in one car and 4, including Sanjeev in the other. I ended up riding in the 1st car with Mike, Rhonda, Merle and Sanjeev.

Sanjeev and I are ready to roll!

The interior of the passenger car is really narrow - couldn't be more than 6 feet. There were only about 6 rows of seats - with two seats on one side and one on the other for a total of 3 seats.

And the gauge of the tracks is really narrow - 2 feet wide to be exact.

All so befitting of a teeny train....guess that's why it's nicknamed the Toy Train :-)




The constant blowing of the train horn signalled we were on our way and we slowly chugged our way out of town. I stuck my head out the window to watch the train roll along. We waved to passers and we skimmed the buildings that sit ever so dangerously close to the train tracks. For once, traffic in Darjeeling had to come to a standstill as the train tracks weave back and forth across the road so every vehicle had to stop so we could roll on by. As we left time, we began an upward climb as Ghum is at least 1000 feet in elevation above Darjeeling. Slowly, but surely, the train moved along. The smell of burning coal filled the air and teeny, weeny bits of it pelted my face and got lodged in my hair. I didn't care. I was totally enjoying the experience.

A short distance from the station, the train came to a halt. We had to refill on water. This is a steam train after all.

Water replenished, we were back chugging uphill. The ride to Ghum would be uphill all the way.


Next stop was a small park and memorial statue dedicated to Nepalese ghurkas who died in World War II. We had about a 20 minute break so everyone got off the train to walk around. I hung around to watch the train engineers restoke the fire.

Back on the train, we continued on our journey to Ghum. After we pulled into the station at Ghum, everyone disembarked and headed up to a small museum that basically presented the history of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway aka the Toy Train. I had already read up on the history of the railway before I came on this trip so the museum held little interest for me. I was more interested in watching the train engineers at work and taking a closer look at the locomotive. All I can say is that this old time train is so cool and has a charm to it that no modern, high speed train can ever match.















By the time I returned to the train, they had already disconnected the locomotive from the front car and reconnected to the back car so it would be ready for the return trip to Darjeeling.


Another extended blow of the horn indicated it was time to reboard. Soon, we were chugging our way back to Darjeeling. This time, we didn't stop at the memorial park but we did have to take a water break.

Before we knew it, we were pulling into the station at Darjeeling.   Time for lunch and then free time in the afternoon.  Ross and I decided we would head to Lloyd Botanic Garden after eating so that's next on the tour itinerary.  First, I need to satisify my craving for some noodle soup - perfect for a dreary day like today.

I really enjoyed our short ride on the Darjeeling Toy Train and had been another era, it would have been possible to go a longer distance but now the train only runs for tourists as a reminder of the glory days when the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway provided transportation to all the nearby hill stations.