The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) from New Jaipalguri/Siliguri to Darjeeling was built between 1879 and 1881. This train was added to Unesco's list of World Heritage sites in 1999. Unlike the train from Mettupalayam to Ooty, it doesn't have the extra grooved track down the middle to help with traction.
It climbs from 398ft to 7407ft in 47 miles before dropping slightly to Darjeeling after 51 miles.
Instead of a steam engine, we had a miniature diesel one. It was a pretty smooth ride up and we shared the car with a really nice family (+ grandparents). In order to make it up the steep hill, it snaked its way across the road from one side to the other so we kept cutting off traffic every now and again. We also did a couple of zig-zags for the really steep bits. We would come to a full stop when we came upon another set of tracks that lead up the hill, but in the opposite direction to which we were heading. Then the guy would switch the track over and we would reverse across the road and up the hill. After we went some distance and crossed the other track leading further up the hill (this time in the forward direction), we would stop again and the track would be swtiched for us to continue the climb to Darjeeling.
Unfortunately, when we reached the halfway point in Kurseong, we were all told that we had reached the end of the line for today. A mudslide two days prior had covered the track between Ghum and Darjeeling. Though there were other stations further along, Kurseong was the most significant of these and had a rail yard. So all the trains terminated here until the track was sorted.
So we all piled into a share jeep --the 2 of us, dad and grandpa in the back (actually, what is really the trunk compartment with 2 benches facing each other); mom and baby, toddler and mom of family #2 crammed in the proper back seat; dad #2 some extra guy and the driver in the front; plus one kid standing on the rear bumper, hanging onto the roof rack. Pretty loaded.
Dad #2 had gone and found us a deal for the jeep -all of us in one jeep. However, when we all piled in, those jokers running the jeeps saw that there was room to cram one more body into the front seat. Despite everyone objecting (which then got interesting as they claimed they could also cram one more person in the trunk with the four of us sitting cheek to cheek, knee to knee), thye won. Well, I guess this doesn't only happen to foreigners. At least that was comforting.
We arrived a little squashed and quite happy that we made it alive, frankly! The road was pretty crazy with people passing on blind corners (both heading our direction and in the oncoming direction) and no guard rails even on the hairpin corners. Our driver didn't exactly slow down to take the corners either, so we got tossed around quite a bit. Lammie was a bit more preoccupied by the fact that one cheek was numb and had started to tingle to worry about the hairpins, while Niiigel turned whiter and whiter and had to stop looking out the back of the jeep. Anyways, it was quite exciting!
It was starting to rain and we were still getting the circulation going again when a pair of persistent Tibetan porters (a tiny little old lady and her not too much younger brother) convinced us to hire them. They used a sling to carry the packs. One end cradled the bottom of the backpack while it rested against her back, the other end went around her forehead. Off they went, leading us up the steep and narrow alleyways to our hotel. It was pretty neat. We both really admired them as they were in pretty awesome shape!!!!
When we got to the hotel, we found out that there was a blackout. Actually, this was the third day of the blackout due to the mudslide. The hotel had a generator that they would turn on for a couple of hours in the evening, so that was alright. We have a great room with plenty of windows that look down the valley and over the rest of Darjeeling. From the roof, we had a panoramic view of the hills (we'll, see it when it's not cloudy).
For dinner, we had a Tibetan meal of chicken thugpa (thick, flat noodle soup) and veg momos (dumplings that look a lot like the Shanghai steamed dumplings). Yum.