The Romance of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR)
The minute I think of the Darjeeling Toy train, I think of Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore flirting coquettishly to the song ‘Mere Sapno ki rani kab aaogi tum’. Darjeeling definitely is a magical land where the heart rules the head. Almost every person you meet here is more romantic and less practical. Their heart and guitar strings are attuned to one-another and they need no excuse to break into a soulful melody.
The hills are alive with the sound of music and the hooting of the DHR, as it chugs up and down, adds to this symphony. Normally, such a large piece of machinery would jar against the natural harmony, but the Darjeeling toy Train seems to be embedded into the history and psyche of Darjeeling. It seems to remind you that life is for living and enjoying not just for mechanical breathing in and out.
It was Franklin Prestage who saw opportunity in the face of adversity. The cost of transport between Siliguri and Darjeeling was huge. Rice which was sold at Rs 98 a ton in Siliguri was sold at Rs 238 in Darjeeling. Don’t forget that the main mode of transport in those days was the horse cart. Prestage pointed out that a railway could reduce the cost of transport quite a bit. It would obviously be of use to the British Tea Trade as tea could be transported easily from the lofty hills to the plains.
Consequently, a marvel in engineering unfolded and the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway became the first mountain railway in India. The 2 feet gauge rail-line became the gateway to the mysterious, majestic and magnetic Himalayas. As the smoke from the steam engine mixed with the mist of the hills, human experiences and emotions intermingled with life changing results.
The train journey is in no way boring. There are many twists and turns in the story as it manoeuvres the curves, loops, Z’s and steep grades criss-crossing the road. It is like a well written novel and you may find yourself travelling back and forth in your own life-story reflecting on ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’.
You may even mistake the tiny 4 wheeled steam locomotive of the 19th century for a time machine which takes you back to a quaint past. As you gaze out of (not at) a window screen, your imagination may conjure up large-brimmed hats, parasols, crocheted shawls, great overcoats, boots and top hats. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself humming some unknown tune as you reconstruct the mystique and romance of life in a bygone era. No wonder the UNESCO World Heritage Committee has declared the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway as a world heritage site.
Just as tea comes in the category of slow food, the train also tells you to slow down, breathe and enjoy life moment by moment, sip by sip and not gulp by gulp.
The DHR image was the most obvious and natural choice for the Dorje Teas Packet. It is about continuing with tradition yet connecting to the modern world. Most importantly it transports the essence of Darjeeling in the form of Darjeeling Tea to other parts of India.
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Thank you Simon for the amazing picture. Brings back memories of all the good times spent together!