History on wheels

Darjeeling Railway Station
An unforgettable memory is going on a train journey. Munching sandwiches and sipping hot coffee poured from a thermos flask, while watching postcard-pretty scenes of tea estates and waterfalls slide by is etched permanently in our minds, to be pulled and savoured at any time.
Three mountain railways of India are on the UNESCO World Heritage Site for varied reasons.

Well preserved

Being functional and operating smoothly to this day, they are living examples of the engineering skills of the 19th century, especially as they take on the tough terrains of the mountains.
This system of transportation also brought about economic, social and cultural development in the regions as they linked the mountains to the plains. Many communities settled in the mountains, earned their livelihood and spread their culture, as they still continue to do so.
Though over a century old, these railways are well maintained and conserved, retaining their original look and feel. Despite natural threats like earthquakes, forest fires, landslides, rockfalls and heavy monsoon rains, the tracks are regularly checked and maintenance work is done immediately when necessary. 

Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

Located in the foothills of the Himalayas, in West Bengal, Northeast India, the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway began operations in 1881. It is the first and still the best example of a hill passenger railway. It consists of 88.48 kms of two-feet meter gauge tracks, which connect New Jalpaiguri with Darjeeling. It passes through Ghum, which at an altitude of 2258 metres, is India’s highest railway station. It also features the Red Panda service from Darjeeling to Kurseong. The main attraction of the trains are the vintage British-built B-Class steam locomotives. The railway continues to remain an inherent part of the region’s identity and a major tourist attraction.

Kalka-Shimla Railway 

The Kalka-Shimla Railway in Northwest India, was built in mid 19th century. Shimla, being the summer capital of British India and the headquarters of the Indian army, saw the transfer of the entire government from Calcutta to Shimla twice a year by horse and ox drawn carts. Thus, there was a need for an easier and quicker mode of transportation, resulting in this railway line which is a 96.6 km single track. It boasts of having the world’s highest multi arch gallery bridge. At the time of construction, it had the world’s largest tunnel. The line is known for its dramatic views of the region’s hills and villages. During winter, snow cutters are attached to the engine to clear the snow from the track.

Nilgiri Mountain Railway

The Nilgiri Mountain Railway is located in the Nilgiri hills in Tamil Nadu, connecting Udagamandalam (Ooty) and Mettupalayam. The railway was first proposed in 1854 but as it was a particularly difficult mountainous terrain, work began only in 1891. It was completed in 1908. It scales an elevation of 326 to 2203 metres. A unique feature of this train is that it has a rack and pinion track, the only rack railway in India, to help it traverse the steepest track in Asia. The rack rail is a toothed rail that lies between the tracks. Under the carriage are fitted cogs. The Nilgris Railway had steam locomotives. When the officials decided to change it from steam to diesel, the locals led a campaign and demanded the return of the steam locomotives.
The Nilgris Mountain Railway issues Edmonson-style manual tickets for the journey to maintain its World Heritage Site status. At Udagamandalam, many of the equipment that was used during the British Raj is preserved.

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An unforgettable memory is going on a train journey. Munching sandwiches and sipping hot coffee poured from a thermos flask, while watching postcard-pretty scenes of tea estates and waterfalls slide by is etched permanently in our minds, to be pulled and savoured at any time. Three mountain railways of India are on the UNESCO World Heritage Site for varied reasons.

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