how to ride the darjeeling hill railway

How to Ride the Darjeeling Indian Hill Railway and Toy Train

I am covered in soot, it’s in my hair, down the back of my t-shirt and I keep spitting it out of my mouth.   I’m also freezing cold.  So much so that I’ve had to spend 25 rupees on a hat.  But I’m grinning madly.  I’ve just been on the Darjeeling Indian Hill Railway.

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Darjeeling Indian Hill Railway
Darjeeling Indian Hill Railway

This was another bucket list day.

We are in Darjeeling.  And we just rode the Darjeeling Himalyan Railway Toy Train.  It was only a short 2-hour trip from Darjeeling.  We went up to Ghum, the highest railway station in India and the third highest in the world, and back again.  But it was still the Toy Train.

Where to Stay in Darjeeling

There are some great places to stay in Darjeeling– here’s our pick of the luxury places to stay in Darjeeling, mid-range places to stay in Darjeeling, and budget accommodation in Darjeeling.

The Elgin, Darjeeling: The Elgin is located in central Darjeeling. Rooms at this top Darjeeling hotel are equipped with a flat-screen TV, a private bathroom with a bathtub and shower, air-conditioning, a seating area, and views of the city. This five-star Darjeeling hotel has an in-house restaurant, The Orchid Dining Room as well as the Gazebo at the Garden, and the Tea Lounge and Timber Bar. Wellness facilities such as spa facilities are also offered. The Elgin is a luxury hotel perfect to stay at when in Darjeeling. You can check room rates and dates available here.

Ramada by Wyndham Darjeeling, Darjeeling: The Ramada is located near central Darjeeling. This superb Darjeeling hotel has rooms with a flat-screen TV, air-conditioning, a private bathroom, views of the mountain, a wardrobe, and a heating system. This top hotel in Darjeeling has an in-house restaurant and a relaxing atmosphere at the on-site coffee house. This fabulous Darjeeling hotel also has a wellness center with spa treatments, massage sessions, and fitness activities. The Ramada is the ideal place to stay when visiting Darjeeling. Read more reviews and check room rates and dates available here.

Arcadia Heritage Resort, Darjeeling: The Arcadia Heritage Resort is located just a few minutes away from central Darjeeling. Rooms at this heritage Darjeeling hotel are fitted with a seating area, a flat-screen TV, air-conditioning, a private bathroom with a shower, and complimentary toiletries. Breakfast can be served directly in guestrooms. This Darjeeling resort also offers barbeque facilities, walking tours, and a garden/lounge area. The Arcadia Heritage Resort is a fantastic place to stay when you want to immerse yourself in the culture of Darjeeling. You can find out more about the accommodation, room rates, and available dates here.

Indian Hill Railway History

The first of the Indian Hill Railways to be built in 1881, the toy train used to run from Siliguri at 484 feet up to Ghum at 7487 feet, and then down to Darjeeling station.   Darjeeling sits at 6812 feet and the end of the line, 48 miles or 78 kilometers later.   The train takes 7 painstaking hours to run the entire route (when its in operation).

The Indian Hill Railways

Along with the hill railways at Ooty, Matheran and Shimla the railway was declared a Unesco World Heritage site in 1999.  Darjeeling was added in 1999, the others in later years.

The Darjeeling Hill Railway

Since a landslide in 2010 most of the railway has been closed. Teasers appeared in the news earlier in 2015 that the line was about to be opened again. What’s currently open is the line from Kurseong to Darjeeling.  A couple of diesel, two carriage trains run on this route each day.

Darjeeling Indian Hill Railway

Joy Rides on the Darjeeling Toy Trains

The DHR also run up to six “Joy Ride” trains a day that start at Darjeeling Railways Station.  They run up to the Ghum Station, wait for 30 minutes and then return.   During March and April 2015 there are three diesel trains a day and three steam trains.

Darjeeling Indian Hill Railway

Darjeeling Indian Hill Railway Cost

The diesel train will cost a whopping 625 rupees for a seat, the steam 1024 rupees.  The price went up from 400 rupees on either train in February, but still, there are no spare seats.

We, of course, opted for steam.  Hence the soot.   But there is nothing more magical than grinning wildly with black bits of soot sticking to your teeth.  There’s nothing more special than getting wet from the steam as you hang your head out of the window on a corner.  Listening to the whistle and huff and puff of the engine making it up the grade is a dream come true.

Book Indian Train Tickets here: You can book your ticket on Indian Trains online using 12goAsia – check prices, seats, and availability here.

Original Steam Locomotives

All the steam engines currently in use are of a design built by Sharp, Stewart and Company.  This was later the North British Locomotive Company between 1889 and 1925. Thirty four were built – by 2005 only 12 were left.  Some have gone to other railways, and one even back to the UK where it runs on a private railway.

Darjeeling Indian Hill Railway

Engine Trouble in Darjeeling

We leave Darjeeling about 15 minutes late, as they had to change the engine.  Now we’re on the Mountaineer, engine number 769.  It was built in Glasgow in 1904 and one of the door handles on a carriage was also broken, so we also picked up a different carriage.

Darjeeling Indian Hill Railway - Steam Loco

There are just two carriages as we attach to the engine and head out.

The tiny 2 foot (610mm) gauge track runs along the road. Not along just the side of the road, but on the actual road.

Darjeeling Indian Hill Railway

It wends its way across the road and it takes precedence over all the other road traffic.

Darjeeling Indian Hill Railway

Water Stops and the Batasia Loop

We stop after 10 minutes at the Western Water Stop, fill up with water and then we’re off again.  Now to climb up to the Batasia Loop.

Darjeeling Indian Hill Railway - Batasia Loop
Darjeeling Indian Hill Railway

It’s here that you’ll find the Memorial to Gorkha soldiers who died from local villages, and we’ll use the loop on our return to descend more easily.

Darjeeling Indian Hill Railway

After a 10 minute stop we’re off again, climbing to Ghum (or Ghoom, even the railway can’t decide how to spell the name, so it goes with both).

Darjeeling Indian Hill Railway - Ghum Station

This is the end of the line for this train.

Darjeeling Indian Hill Railway - Ghum Stop

Stopping at Ghum

We stop here for 30 minutes just enough time to watch the ashes being scooped out of the tray at the bottom of the engine.  The train staff now move the engine to the other end of the train, so she can pull us home.

IMG_6304

There’s enough time also to visit the small DHR Museum.

Darjeeling Indian Hill Railway - Ghum Museum

The DHR Museum at Ghum

It’s very small a lot is taken up with the process of becoming a UNESCO world heritage site.  There are several walls of old photos – including a look at what Darjeeling station used to look like before they replaced it with the current monstrosity.  And this fab shot of the toy train next to a “real” engine.

Darjeeling Indian Hill Railway

Ghum back to Darjeeling

And it’s time for home.  We seem to have lost half the passengers, which isn’t a bad thing.  This carriage was designed for a different era of thinner hips and poorer (or do I mean better) diets.  There’s more room to breathe on the way back.  We stop briefly for water again and steam into Darjeeling.  I’m still grinning black soot spotted teeth and most definitely freezing.

Darjeeling Indian Hill Railway

As bucket list items go, it was easy to organize..  There wasn’t the adrenalin rush of the plank walk in Huashan, but it’s memory will make me grin for a good long time.

Darjeeling Indian Hill Railway

UNESCO Sites to Visit in India

If you like visiting UNESCO World Heritage Sites, then you’ll love our guides to India’s best World Heritage sites

Travel Tips for Exploring India

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