The International Steam Pages
Heritage Steam in India, March 2015
Ray Clayfield reports:
We flew into Kolkata and took a taxi to the Lindsay Hotel. Good price, good location, and good rooms with an excellent open air rooftop bar/restaurant. From there we took a pleasant stroll across Fort William park to Outram Ghat for a ferry across the Hooghly river to Howrah Station and on a few hundred yards to the left to the Railway Museum, it's worth an hour of anyone's time.
Overnight, we took the 'Darjeeling Mail' from Sealdah station to New Jalpaiguri Junction station. Adjacent to Siliguri and the starting point of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway.
After weeks of looking at the situation on the Darjeeling Himalayan railway society's website [with some disturbing news from their newsfeed link, on a website apparently in the name of the famous particle physicist Richard Fenyman?] I was still unsure if any through services from Siliguri to Darjeeling were running or not.
Consultation with the hoards of, as it turned out, truthful taxi drivers NO through services were operating so we took a Jeep to Darjeeling. About a three hour drive for ± ￡20, encountering the 'Joy Train' en route towards the end of the journey.
As it turned out the landslip between Kurseong and Siliguri had not yet been repaired and even though there were a couple of public service trains between Darjeeling and Kurseong each way each day they were diesel hauled. The only steam hauled trains are the four Joy Trains for tourists every day.
We booked a Joy Train ride at the booking office at Darjeeling Station a couple of days in advance. If you try then don't queue twice, get the obligatory forms and fill them in first and you'll need your passport. It costs about £10 for a two hour return trip from Darjeeling to Ghum with a 10 minute break at the Batasia Loop which, thanks to it now being a war memorial, is a bit disappointing, then a half hour at Ghum Station and Railway Museum before returning.
It's about 10km between Darjeeling and Ghum with most of the uphill sections in that direction. Plenty of places to lineside and plenty of whistles to know when a train is approaching. It seems to stop to take on water about 3km from Darjeeling. Also, it's always chimney first on the downhill section.
There are plenty of reasonable hotels available [I booked all of ours through www.booking.com] with many good places to eat and drink. Darjeeling and the area is a great place to wander around and get fit, as none of the roads seem to be at less than 45 degrees. The station has plenty of activity and, when we were there, as well as the engine working the Joy Train, there were four other engines in the adjacent shed, two or which were in steam.
We returned to Bagdogra airport and for £40 flew to Delhi with Jet Airways. Our hotel was the Palm D'or. It's situated within two hundred yards of New Delhi railway station so is perfect if catching trains from there. It's location looked grim initially but the hotel and staff were great, it had another roof top bar and cafe with views over the madness below towards the station. It also had an in house travel service who could help with train tickets etc and, as in our case, organised a car to Rewari.
Through this website I had learned of the Rewari preserved steam centre and their regular two day 'Steam Express' special train. [see the other links in this website's India section]
I had managed to book the three of us on the last section of that special, the leg from Rewari To Delhi Cantonment.
I booked it through JD Enterprises of Wembley, who also booked our other trains by using 24 hour 'Indrail Passes' in which they specialise.
[see their website http://www.indiarail.co.uk/contact.htm] they, unfortunately, cannot book individual train tickets only reservations against Indrail Passes. However after some perseverance they managed to make an exception with The Steam Express. (Real India Journeys http://www.realindiajourneys.com can also help in this respect. RD)
We were picked up at the Palm D'or about 10am for the ± 100km drive to Rewari, our driver eventually managed to find the railway station and then helped verifying the existence of the 'Steam Express' as no one in the booking or enquiry office had any idea of the thing. Eventually our driver found the station supervisor who confirmed that it should be at platform 3 about 14:00. Our Taxi driver then felt we were safe enough to leave behind as he hot footed it back to Delhi.
So with a couple of hours to kill we eventually found our way to the Locomotive Depot come Steam Locomotive Museum. It can be found along a track/path that continues from the end of platform 8. As you look at the platforms from the station entrance that's the furthest platform and the right hand end.
We were greeted with joy by the staff there and given a little tour by Mr Ganpat.
Then, when it was time, he took us back to the station to get our train. Sure enough, about 14:00, to the amazement of the locals, in pulled a beautifully restored WP class Bullet Nosed Pacific with three heritage carriages.
One footplate crew car, followed by our day coach with observation windows at the front and a rear staff car with another observation window wrapped around the end of the train.
It was a three hour journey back to Delhi with lots of attention from locals as we passed through their towns and stations. The staff on board were excellent. Friendly, happy and enjoying the trip as much as anyone. They brought drinks and sandwiches and a small gift for all the passengers on board which, as it happened, turn out to be just the three of us! Yes a preserved Pacific loco three lovely restored coaches and a three hour high speed run through the Indian Sub Continent to New Delhi just for us three! It cost about £40 each.
If you ever get the chance, please support this effort, I think you will find it's well worth the trouble.