India – History and Society – for those who wish to think and learn for themselves
Darjeeling is a beautiful town lying at the foothills of the Himalayas, at the northern tip of the modern Indian state of West Bengal. Darjeeling was a small village until the early nineteenth century lying between the Himalayan kingdoms of Sikkim and Nepal. In 1828, a small group of Britishers came across Darjeeling and considered it to be ideal for a place for recuperation for British soldiers and families. After some skirmishes and then decisive battles with the rulers of Sikkim, Darjeeling was ceeded to the British. It became famous as a place of escape for the British families in the summer months, and also revered world over for Darjeeling tea. Scenic and quaint, with a distinct culture of the Gurkhas with Nepali influences, as well as remnants of British heritage (churches, schools and colleges), Darjeeling retains its charms even in modern day India.
Another of Darjeeling’s attractions is the UNESCO World Heritage Site – Darjeeling Hill Railway (DHR). The DHR was laid between 1879 and 1881 to connect Siliguri in north Bengal with Darjeeling (a distance of 78 kilometres). Prior to the railway being built, visitors had to catch a train from Calcutta to Siliguri and then take horse carriages up the hills to reach Darjeeling, an arduous and not too comfortable journey. From start to termination, the line ascends over 2,000 metres, giving wonderful views of the Himalayas as it loops forwards and backwards through the hills. Due to the constraints of the hills, the line was built to a 2 foot narrow gauge and the line often moves in a zig zag manner with the steam engines pulling or pushing the train in turns, gradually gaining altitude.
The iconic steam engines of the DHR were all built in Britain by the North British Locomotive Company and Sharp, Stewart and Company both based in Glasgow, Scotland. They belong to the B class of steam locomotives (0-4-0). 17 of these still remain on the line, some well over hundred years old. The locomotives have names such as Hill Bird (built 1889, Sharp Stewart), Wanderer (built 1892, Sharp Stewart) and Tusker (1913, North British Locomotive Company). The B class were the result of feedback following the poor performances of earlier engines which did not match the demands of the Himalayas. The endurance and design of the B class has stood the test of time, making them amongst the most instantly recognised steam locomotives in the world.
The DHR has featured in many Bollywood films including the song “Mere Sapnon ki Rani” from the blockbuster Aradhana starring Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore, and the song “Dil Hai Mera Deewana” from the 1992 Shahrukh Khan film Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman as well as the entire film Main Hoon Naa starring Shahrukh Khan, former Miss Universe Sushmita Sen and Amita Rao.
The picture is courtesy of Arne Huckelheim – from Wikipedia – Creative Commons – dated 21st September 2010.