The Toy Train of Darjeeling, India, which is really called the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, is a historic railroad that runs between the Indian town of Darjeeling and New Jalpaiguri. The railroad was originally built in 1879 but there has been a series of renovations and maintenance since.
Nowadays, the Toy Train is not so much a means of transportation or delivery of goods (there are a few passenger trains that run per day), but instead it’s more of a tourist attraction for taking a leisure ride.
The railroad was declared a UNESCO Wold Heritage site in 1999 and now attracts a share of both foreign and Indian tourists who want to experience a ride on an authentic coal burning locomotive.
The railroad is called the “Toy Train” perhaps because it’s almost as small as a toy; the rail is laid just 2 feet wide and the train cars are likewise accordingly small. While other trains that run along the track are powered by diesel locomotives, the tourist ride is still operated by an old-school British made steam fueled locomotive.
To get a ticket, all you have to do is just head down to the Darjeeling railroad station and purchase a ticket for what’s known as the “Joy Ride.” Note: I think you can also purchase the joy ride ticket online through cleartrip.com, but I bought it in person the day I decided to go, about an hour before departure.
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Our small train left Darjeeling railroad station at 10:40 am, and we huffed and puffed our way along the road, cutting off vehicle traffic occasionally (not with normal train barricades, but with a man waving a flag in the caboose), and winding around the mountain.
Staring out the window, it was impressive to see how close we coasted past giant rocks, homes, and even businesses. Similar to the Maeklong railroad in Thailand, we came dangerously close to hitting fruit and vegetable vendors and people hanging out on the street, but luckily we didn’t come too close to hit anything.
After climbing a number of hills, the locomotive needed a break, so we stopped as the crew added more coal to the furnace. We started off again until stopping at the Darjeeling War Memorial, a site that honors the Indian army. Again we boarded the train, passing though a small village before reaching Ghum station, the turning point.
Positioned at 7,407 ft, Ghum is the highest elevation railroad station in all of India. We stopped off at Ghum for about 30 minutes, walked around the train museum, and drank a quick cup of chai before boarding once again. From Ghum, as the ride was mostly downhill, our locomotive burned less coal and coasted back to Darjeeling with ease as the conductor howled the horn every few minutes.
The touristy Joy Ride took around 1.5 hours roundtrip. It was great to be riding a piece of history while puffing through the rugged Himalayan foot hills.
Both the scenery of the mountain-scape, and the historical significance of riding the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway made the trip a fun and worthwhile experience.
Be sure to check out my full Darjeeling travel guide if you plan to visit.
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