Anyone for Tea and Toy Trains? Up the Mountains to Darjeeling

Back when we were at the Yoga Ashram we tried to book train tickets from Varanasi to the city of Siliguri, the gateway to NE India, but by that time all the decent seats had sold out. Instead we decided to fly down to Kolkata and then take the train back north to Siliguri before travelling on to Darjeeling. This was in the spirit of seeing as much of the country as possible, but in retrospect we could have flown direct as the train journey was incredibly long and boring. Indian trains are efficient (and on this one they gave us lunch and tea for free!) but the windows are often shaded to keep the sun out so the view is obstructed and you can’t see much.

One train journey we booked long ago and had been looking forward to, was on the famous UNESCO World Heritage “Toy Train”. This tiny 3 carriage train pulled by diesel locomotive was completed by the British in 1881. It still runs along a narrow gauge track for 88 kilometres, rising 7000 feet through many amazing zig zags and loops, up into the Himalayan mountains to Darjeeling. It took 8 hours to get there but the scenery en-route was fantastic!

The Toy Train on the platform at New Jalpaiguri Station, Siliguri
Some fun loving Indian ladies who wanted to take photos before we even got on board!
Tea plantation on the way up the mountain
The train ran alongside the road for most of the journey…..
and often it crossed back and forth over the road. The train driver would hoot and any traffic on the road had to stop and wait
Some parts of the track were so steep that the wheels lost traction and started to slip. On these occasions the driver’s mate had to get down and sprinkle sand along the track to provide more grip!
View from the train window as we ascended into the mountains
The train passed right through, around and over many mountain villages
Our lovely new Indian acquaintances were having a great time. They were super friendly, took us under their wing and even shared their rice and dal lunch with us!

The Toy Train proved to be the high spot of our few days in Darjeeling. The town is definitely in decline since it claimed to be “the Queen of the Hills” back in the time of the British. A large proportion of the population now consists of economic migrants from Nepal and the town feels poor and run down. However it is still possible to get a taste of the 1930’s there at the couple of remaining original tea rooms, Glenary’s and Keventer’s which hardly seem to have changed since that time.
We were unlucky (again!) with the weather. In November, Northern Bengal and Sikkim should be sunny, clear and cool, but we had grey skies and heavy cloud across the town and over the mountains for the whole of our stay. This meant that we missed the town’s most famous view of the world’s third highest mountain Kanchenjunga.

View of Darjeeling town with the clouds coming down
This is the stunning view of Mount Kanchenjunga that we should have seen towering over Darjeeling, but didn’t because of the poor weather – boo!!

At the end of four days we were happy to say goodbye to Darjeeling and start our journey down the mountain by 4×4 taxi on route to our next stop – Guwahati, the state capital of Assam.

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