The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is the most famous narrow gauge railway in the world, earning it UNESCO world heritage status. Never before has there been a full documentary let alone a Driver's eye view of this unique Indian railway.
Recent camera technology has made the previously impossible to become possible, enabling Video 125, in association with Darjeeling Tours, to present a complete view of the line from the front of a steam train running the full length of the line divided into two fabulous video productions. This is the first half, running just about half way towards Darjeeling.
Although the DHR begins at New Jalpaiguri Junction, steam is very rarely seen there nowadays, so in order to see the whole line, our journey begins on board an NDM 6 diesel loco, which takes us over the first 5 miles to Siliguri Junction, alongside India's main line broad gauge track. The narrow gauge crosses the broad gauge on the level and later on is even interlaced to share the single track viaduct over the Mahanada river. At Siliguri Junction, an iconic 'B' class steam engine takes over, hauling our train for the next half hour past the typical hustle and bustle of the busy markets, shops and businesses along the Hill Cart Road.
Following the first signs of the ubiquitous tea plantations, we arrive at our first intermediate stop at Sukna, where we witness the single line token being handed over. Our diminutive 0-4-0 saddle tank takes on much-needed water here, as we leave the plains and head for the hills. Almost immediately, the road traffic seems to vanish as we begin the almost relentless climb over gradients as steep as 1 in 18 into the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains! The line follows the Hill Cart Road most of the way, and our train crosses it dozens of times to ease the gradient or lessen the radius of a curve. In many places, check rails are essential as we run perilously close to the very edge of the hills and squeeze over the narrowest of precipices. This section of our journey includes three 'Z' reverses and the Chunbhati loop, all of which were necessary to further ease the punishing gradients.