Little children the world over have probably read the story of the `little train that could`. And if you haven`t, well, here it is for you: the story is about a little train that didn`t think it could crest a hill on its own steam. So, it said to itself, "I think I can, I think I can, I think I can". The little train`s determination coupled with encouragement from its friends got it to accomplish the task. And so you see, the little train began singing in joy, "I knew I could, I knew I could, I knew I could".
A brief history
For many years, the toy train was Darjeeling`s prime tourist attraction. Since the early 80s, however, the train lost steam. Impatient tourists, pressed for time preferred the convenience of taxis to the slow, leisurely journey. Simultaneously, the tea industry which used the toy train to bring in most of its supplies and ship the teas into the plains, also shunned the train in favour of faster modes of transportation. Gradually, the train became unviable. Indeed, by the early 1990s there were talks of closing it down permanently.
Luckily, in the mid-1990s, some concerned citizens of Darjeeling and the UK formed a group called `Friends of the DHR` and took active interest in salvaging the train. In December 1999, UNESCO listed the Darjeeling train as a World Heritage property and suggested several changes and improvements to the system. The old steam locomotives, some of them of the 1880s vintage, were restored thanks to dedicated staff who are attached to these tiny engines, more than their children. And now in 2000, the toy train has been dedicated to the nation as a World Heritage Property.
In today`s world, speed is everything. Diesel is the way to go. The Indian Railways, which carries and ferries the most passengers in the world on a daily basis, has no time for its slow paced, anachronistic steam engines. And so a compromise has been reached. The steam locomotives of the toy train will now be diesel. This does not apparently violate the UNESCO restrictions on tampering with a heritage property. Also, with the journey being reduced from 9 hours to a manageable 6, there are more takers.
Where does the toy train go?
The blue three-coach train was opened in 1880. It is pulled by steam locomotives, some of which are over a 100 years old. The train chuffs and puffs its way up the steep gradient, past winding tracks on an 87.4-km long journey. The train first passes through dense jungles in the lower reaches and then wends its way amidst tall pine trees and terraced tea gardens as it gains height.
The toy train takes its passengers through some incredibly beautiful scenery.
At Kurseong, a mid-way town at 4,800ft, the world`s third-highest mountain, the snow capped Kanchenjunga, comes into view. The train then touches Ghoom, which at 7,000 ft, the world`s second-highest railway station. From Ghoom, it heads down to Darjeeling town, at 6,000ft.
Along the winding track, the engine sometimes comically goes into reverse gear, then again forward to negotiate steep gradients. And in three places, the railway spirals up whole loops of 360 degrees to climb high slopes.
This is a once in a lifetime experience. This is the story of a little train that made it despite all odds. The living testament to the romance of train travel.
And so, this is the story of the little steam engine that thought it could do it and did!