Imagine sitting in a mini-coach, pulled by a small steam engine, and catching the views of enchanting hilly landscapes of the Eastern Himalayas. As you travel gently sipping tea, and view thrilling sceneries of tea gardens and small streams, you see children running waving at you. It is a bit chilly and there’s an aroma of something refreshing. This is Darjeeling mountain railways.
The mountain railways of Darjeeling with its sister railways in Kalka-Shimla in the North and Nilgiris in the South are results of human creative genius. These railways were built from 1881 and 1908 and are operational till this date. They are engineering enterprises of the late 19th and early 20th century and at that moment in time, were the most bold and creative engineering solutions to create a rail link in the most difficult but beautiful terrain.
Mountains of India always thrilled the British. They provided a cool atmosphere which was similar to that of Britain. During the summers, it was difficult for them to live in India, therefore, they created hill stations- Darjeeling, Manali, Nainital, Dalhousie and many more. Mainly built for the purpose of leisure and respite, there was a greater issue which they needed to work upon. These places were isolated due to the acute terrain of hills and severe climate made living difficult, so bringing connectivity to those areas were difficult. After a lot of years of planning and proposal, these systems were created. The Darjeeling himalayan railways connected New Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling, through Ghoom, which has an altitude of 2258m. The Nilgiri Mountain Railway showed the latest technology of that period using different arrangements of steel trusses in order to negotiate the steep gradient. Teh railways scaled an elevation from 326 m to 2203 metres. And then the Kalka Shimla Railway connected the highlands of Shimla to the rest of the country, ending the isolation of the people leaving in and around Shimla.
These railway systems made a once dream, a reality through technology and engineering skills which brought prosperity and socio-economic development of the mountain people. They are a source of inspiration for technology today and hence UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Next time, enjoying this ride, take a moment think that this enjoyment of yours is a result of hard work and ingenuity.