By Colin Tyson
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway has returned to providing a full service from February 1, following last year’s 104-day total shutdown of the heritage line amid the political unrest in the region caused by the pro-Gorkhaland campaign. Gorkhaland separatists (Indians of Nepali origin) want the area around Darjeeling to be split off from West Bengal to create an independent Gorkhaland state.
The DHR stations at Sonada and Gayabari were torched in August, while an arson attempt was also made on the DHR headquarters, the Elysia Building at Kurseong, causing UNESCO to caution that the damage could put the line’s World Heritage status, earned in 1999, in peril.
The troubles started at the beginning of June and the DHR decided to indefinitely suspend all rail services on June 12. “The loss of tourism to Darjeeling was immense, with hotels, banks, food supply, tea production and transportation all affected,” said long-time DHR supporter and photographer John Clemmens.
“Even when the troubles were over, following the monsoon season, the foliage on the permanent way in the forest sections was a metre high in places, which of course had to be dealt with prior to returning to a railway service.”
From February 1, six steam and three diesel trains daily work the Darjeeling-Ghum section tourist ‘Joy Trains’, the full line once a day diesel hauled trains are running, whilst additional services include the Red Panda train between Darjeeling and Kurseong on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays and the weekends only Jungle Safari Train runs Siliguri-Rangtong-Siliguri.
Darjeeling Tours of Doncaster undertook a successful visit in early January, to be followed by two further tours that take in the DHR this spring – for more information visit www.darjeelingtours.co.uk
More images on p22 in Issue 239 of HR – on sale now!