India // Kolkata & West Bengal //

The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway: the Toy Train


Completed in 1881, the small-gauge (2ft or 610mm) Darjeeling Himalayan Railway was designed as an extension of the North Bengal State Railway, climbing from New Jalpaiguri, via Siliguri, for a tortuous 88km up to Darjeeling. Given World Heritage status by UNESCO in 1999, the Toy Train (as it’s affectionately called) follows the Hill Cart Road, crossing it at regular intervals and even sharing it with traffic. The Toy Train is no longer an essential mode of transport, and has survived due to its unique historical importance and tourist appeal. Diesel engines now pull the coaches up the full route from Siliguri; if you’re determined to experience the endearingly ancient blue steam engines, some over hundred years old, check the services starting at Kurseong.

Weather permitting, first-class coaches with large viewing windows provide magnificent views as the seven-hour journey from the plains progresses and the scenery gradually unfolds; second class can be fun but crowded. At its highest point at Jorebungalow near Ghoom (2438m), 7km short of Darjeeling, the dramatic panorama of the Kanchenjunga Range is suddenly revealed. Just beyond Ghoom, the train does a complete circle at the Batasia Loop – the most dramatic of the three loops encountered along the way; another method used to gain rapid height are the reversing stations where the track follows a “Z” shape.

Trains leave Siliguri at 9am and finally arrive in Darjeeling around 3pm (2nd class Rs42, 1st class Rs247). Some travellers find this claustrophobic and painfully slow ride a real test of endurance, especially after an overnight journey from Kolkata to Siliguri. An alternative is to take the steam train from Kurseong or take the short ride from Darjeeling to Ghoom, just 7km up the track from where you can visit a few monasteries and either walk, take a taxi, bus or the train back to Darjeeling.

For more information on the Toy Train, contact the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Society (w, or, in India, the Director at Elysia Building, near Himali School, Kurseong 734203 (t0354/200 5734).

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