For us who grew up in the eastern part of our country, three places made a permanent place in our sensibilities. Digha, Puri and Darjeeling, humorously acronymed as DiPuDa, are the places which Bengalees always find closest to their heart. Any plan for a summer or winter retreats for the travel freaks Bengalees, these three places come in the refrain. And we are never tired of them. I remember the childhood or the days of my early youth when after my exams I would sit with my parents to make travel plans. The name Darjeeling would always ring aloud a thousand chimes in me. A whole world of fairy tales would open up. Scattered images come up in the mindscape –floating clouds, the smell of wet soil, the glistening edges of needle-like pine leaves after a spell of rain, the vast expanse of mighty Kanchanjangha and the ‘toy train’ jigging in the arterial two feet wide rails like the lively little girl,– straight out of the pages of fable.
One can hardly find a Bengali, whose sensibilities have not been touched by the stories of Darjeeling Himalayan Railways told by the elders of their home.
The concept of a ‘toy train’ itself was fanciful. As we were acquainted more with the local suburban railways and inter-state express trains, this two bogey train was like the amusing Lilliputs of the Jonathan Swift novel. And unlike the regular trains which are meant to reduce the travel time, the toy trains were meant to extend it letting me stay more in that wonderland of Darjeeling hills. Such indulgence was bliss in childhood. Everything is so much like a story coloured with the pigment of my childhood fancy. Every time, the train chugged through the foothills, the woods of saal trees, serpentine bends and the loops, I got an escape route from reality.
In my later days, I had to come on and off to Siliguri and Darjeeling for either work or some family-related issues. Most of the time, my car would whiz past the bends and slopes. Still, whenever I would hear the sound of the chugging of wheels and the loud blaring of horns, I would get down from my car and wait to see the blue beauty emerging out of the next bend. The sound keeps increasing, and my excitement soars up. Soon the black fume curls up, and there she comes. She brings with her all the happy feelings, and the spirit of holidaying gets charged up.
Whenever I get time, I try to visit the stations, the sheds, the stationery bogies and meet the people associated with Darjeeling Himalayan Railway. Now more often than not, it doesn’t ply regularly. Sometimes any technical fault lets me down. Often lack of passengers forced them to stop plying because of the excessive cost associated with it. This narrow-gauge railway that started operating before 125 years underwent so many ups and downs. It was the first mountain railway of the country when during the colonial era, the British made Darjeeling a sanatorium for their soldiers. The British left. But a slice of that Edwardian past stayed back. Perched in landslide-prone hills, the functioning of the railway suffered continual hiccoughs. We felt so proud when it was given the heritage status in the year 1999. But because of the lack of proper maintenance, it slumped into stasis repeatedly. There was a risk of its unique status being stripped off. Like many, I also feared that the fairy Angel of my childhood would stop fluttering its wings.
But it overcame the hurdles and like before it could withstand the threats. Following is a series of photographs dedicated to the cherished memories of Darjeeling Himalayan Railway. My desire to know it more and store more memories in my heart never attains satiety. Thus I leave only to come back to it again, visiting the hills time and often.
About Lopamudra Talukdar
Lopamudra Talukdar, a Masters in Zoology from the University of Kolkata, was fascinated by the world of photography ever since she was a kid but never thought of taking it up seriously until she was gifted a Canon 5D Mark II as recently as 2010.
It changed the world around her…. She started looking at the world through a different set of eyes and with accolades and exhibition opportunities coming her way, it also changed how the world looked at her. It helped that she travels around a lot, both inside and outside India but she is particularly fascinated by the diversity of Indian culture and how different it can be from Nagaland to Nagpur! She is currently doing assignment based photo stories for a number of leading magazines including National Geographic Traveller and Femina.
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All the pictures in this post are copyrighted to Lopamudra Talukdar. Their reproduction, even in part, is forbidden without the explicit approval of the rightful owners.