Friday, October 9, 2009

Tea Train

One of the most famous (and oldest running) narrow gauge trains in the world runs through Darjeeling District. The track starts in the city of Siliguri and winds its way up through the Himalayan foothills to Darjeeling. During its run up into the hill stations the train passes through what most consider to be the best tea-growing region in India.The track for this train really is narrow. The rails are only about two feet apart. The train is very small and very slow, (agonizingly slow), but the seats are comfortable and the views are often spectacular.
We just took the "Joy Ride" version of a trip, riding the 8 km from Darjeeling to the next town of Ghoom (sometimes spelled, Ghum). The train ascends about 1,200ft as it travels from the center of Darjeeling over to Ghoom. It is slow going as the train passes beside the main road and winds its way upward past guesthouses, village shops and several Buddhist Monasteries. The train makes a 10 minute stop at the Batasia Loop. Here the train circles around a garden memorial dedicated to all the Gorkha soldiers who have died for their country in past military actions. The Gorkha are considered to be some of the best Special Forces soldiers in the world - known for their courage and incredible abilities in high altitudes. The memorial overlooks the Himalayas and the massive snow-covered peak of Kanchenjunga.
The town of Ghoom is the highest point on the entire 83km line, with an elevation of about 7,400 feet. The top floor of the Ghoom train station has a small museum dedicated to the history of the train. As you can imagine, the track was not easy to build - many workers died during construction of the line which was completed in 1881.
After a 30 minute stay in Ghoom, we all hopped back on the toy train for our return trip back to the city of Darjeeling.

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