From Nepal we went straight to Darjeeling to find the narrow gauge railway, completed in 1881 – a new addition to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list. The road was magnificent, featuring steep ramps, sharp turns and spectacular views.

There are a total of 12 trains running regularly on the railway: 3 with steam traction in each direction from Darjeeling to Ghum (2,225m elevation, also has a railway museum) and 3 with diesel traction in each direction from Darjeeling to Kurseong. Freight service was discontinued in the mid 70s.

As you can see in the last picture (click it for high resolution) the train used to go all the way to Siliguri (an 86km journey taking around 6 hrs) but only less than half of that is currently in service after a land slide during the 2011 monsoon season. The other part (featuring 3 more loops and all 3 zig-zags) is supposed to reopen sometimes during summer 2012.

The steam train was fully booked but after a short chat with the station manager I was approved for 2 seats usually reserved for officials and staff. The second day we took the diesel all the way to Kurseong.

For the railway enthusiasts: full photo archive and extended cut video.