Friday, November 07, 2014

Riding the Toy Train

The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is known as the "toy train" since the tracks are only two feet wide and the engines and cars are much smaller than a regular train.


Bureaucracy is frustratingly rampant here. To buy a ticket for the popular "joy ride" requires fighting a crowd to get a form to fill out, with information that you're unsure of, fighting back through the crowd to hand it in, at which point they admonish you for your mistakes. Then the information on your form is hand copied to another paper and then hand copied a second time to your "ticket", a scrap of low quality paper with some indecipherable scribbles on it. And this process goes on hundreds of times a day for this popular tourist attraction.

Next you have to magically intuit which platform you're supposed to board from, where an impatient tourist finally takes the initiative to open the carriage door. We pick seats, only to be evicted a few minutes later by someone who tells us that some of the indecipherable scribble is actually seat numbers.

The overwhelming majority of tourists are Indian and don't seem to find anything frustrating in this whole process. I can only assume they have been living with such systems all their lives. To me it borders on something sadistic.

The train ride itself is an experience. What could be a charming historical nostalgic outing is instead uncomfortable, dirty, and noisy. The windows are so scratched and filthy that you can barely see out. The "scenic" glass roof is black with soot from the coal fired locomotives and doesn't look like anyone has attempted to clean it in recent history. We end up seated on the "wrong" side of the train which means we look out most of the way on what you'd probably best describe as slums.

Nonetheless, it's an interesting adventure and we can now say we've ridden on the historic Darjeeling Himalayan Railway.


PS. It probably didn't help my mood that we got seriously lost on the way to the train station. Which was especially frustrating because in theory all we had to do was go downhill till we hit the main road. We ended up wandering up and down staircases and back alleys getting conflicting directions from everyone we asked!

No comments:

Post a Comment