The fading legacy of Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

Unless authorities involves more and more local participation, the DHR ( Darjeeling Himalayan Railway ) would remain just a showpiece for Darjeeling GenNext – writes Vivek Ghatani, Senior Editor,
At Kurseong Railway station above 4750 ft, tourists mostly Bengalis from south Bengal stands in queue for a railway ticket to travel in the infamous toy train. Their enthusiasm to board the train upto Darjeeling has no limits. They had heard somewhere in Kolkata that a toy train ride from Kurseong to Darjeeling is picturesque and more of it fun.

The fading legacy of Darjeeling Himalayan Railway
The fading legacy of Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

“Is this the queue for 7 a.m train to Darjeeling,” asked a gentleman not knowing exactly where to stand. Once he was informed that the queue actually is for the 7a.m daily train, a crowd of 7-8 people gathered around.
A middle aged woman finally appeared at the ticket counter bringing relief for the tourists standing in queue. One after another the tourists bought the ticket and boarded the train waiting for it customers. Once the queue finished, the ticket counter woman shut the small window before handing the chart to one of the guard.
A whistle blowed and the two compartment train pulled by a diesel engine one pierced through the congested Kurseong town heading towards Darjeeling. Smiles adorned amidst the passengers as travelling in a small train was a new experience for all.
Soon after the train left the station, I met an old friend of mine. The friend is an employee of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) since many years. Meeting after a long time always opens up chat. Since he is working with the DHR I inquired many things about DHR. It was no shocking to me when my friend whispered, “The DHR is running at a loss every year”.
The fact, the story of DHR running at a loss, is often heard from its enthusiasts while the Indian Railways remains tighlipped may be out of fear of losing the heritage status accorded in 1999 by UNESCO. The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) and its toy train with a steam engine is the only the second such railway to get the status after Festooning Railways in Austria which uses the similar steam engine.
This steam engine train built by the British in 1881 is considered to be a manoeuvring engineering work whose tracks pierces through perky hilly terrain of Darjeeling hills that starts from the foothills of Siliguri. The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway indeed still today a world famous epitome for the Queen of hills.
Inspite of the fact, people from these politically disturbed hills unfortunately has not benefitted the way it should have from this world famous epitome. As I come across meeting many people of the hills asking them has the DHR in reality served the purpose for the people to earn from it? The answers to my knowledge till today has been a big ‘NO’ that has triggered or forced us to conclude that the manoeuvring  work of the Britishers has become a show piece rather than a combination of show piece and earning epitome for the people.
The whole agimony of debate vis-a vis whether people are benefitted directly from DHR draws attention because of the fact that the hill economy is directly depended on tourism. A ‘Gorkha Bhansa Ghar’ (Kitchen of Gorkha cuisines) at Kurseong Railway station, an effort of ex-serviceman to woe tourist visiting hills by travelling on toy train has failed to attract tourists ever since its inception.
A fellow former journalist and a school teacher rightly says people from his locality in Tindharia, known to be a hub for DHR because of the place having the famous Tindharia Workshop, directly depended on DHR. “Ninty percent people from here was an employee of the DHR. Most worked in the Tindharia workshop. But the legacy is no more because of the fact that DHR is not functioning properly. After the old timers retired, there has not been recruitment anymore and the GenNext are now disinterested in toy train except a few,” he says.
People ofcourse here too formed cultural troupes to woe tourists, opened up tea stalls and eateries at various stations before finding that the National highway collapsed bringing closure to the functioning of DHR along Kurseong-Siliguri route.
Likewise many such efforts from the local people have gone in vain right away starting from Tindharia to Darjeeling. The only reason for all this is lack of promotion both of the DHR and local efforts by the Indian Railways. In other words the Indian Railways has not been serious to develop further the world heritage status railway of India.

As a result, the fading legacy of the DHR is putting the real existence in jeopardy with people remaining least interested in toy train and its legacy. The Indian railways may be taking pride while running at a loss, but for the people this marvellous engineering piece would be nothing rather than a show piece for the GenNext of the Darjeeling hills unless the concerned authorities involves more and more local flavours so that it becomes a source of livelihood.

Share this:

Copyright © 2024 Indian Gorkhas Designed by Darjeeling Web Solutions