The warning has come peremptory, a few synthetic lines but full of meaning: either the government of India gets in a good buzz and in a few months starts the restructuring of the railway line of the legendary Darjeeling Himalayan Railway or Unesco will see forced to remove that jewel of nineteenth-century railway technology from the list of assets considered a World Heritage Site, of which it has been an integral part since 1999.
A request justified by the fact that in recent years trains and tracks have been somewhat abandoned to themselves, due to the decrease in maintenance operations linked to the economic conditions of the region.
The government has already made it known that the cause of the railway’s decay must be sought in the increasingly frequent landslides that have hit the route, forcing it to carry out emergency interventions, and that it will restore the entire route as soon as possible in order to do justice to its fame: among train enthusiasts in fact the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is one of the reference points of the genre both for its conformation (it is a narrow gauge railway) and for its setting (it connects two towns at the foot of the highest mountain range in the world, with the consequent panoramas that can be seen flowing from the windows).
There is no tourist who goes to the far north of India, in that stretch of land wedged between Bhutan and Nepal, who does not contemplate a ride on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway. About eighty kilometers from Siliguri to Darjeeling during which you pass from an altitude of 150 meters to one of over two thousand, with all the consequences of the case on the speed of travel, on the sinuosity of the path and, above all, on the extraordinary nature of a landscape that it is that, it must be remembered, of the mountains that anticipate the Karakorum range and the highest peaks on the planet.
The railway was designed and built within four years on the impulse of the English rulers starting from 1879, even if the original route, due to exaggerated slopes to be able to be faced safely by the locomotives of the time, created many problems for the traffic. It was for this reason that a few years later four rings and as many zigzags were made, in order to make the ascent easier.
The greatest attraction today is represented by the vehicles that move on those tracks: they are in fact locomotives and wagons dating back to their origins. Of the 34 convoys that made up the fleet at the beginning of the twentieth century, 12 remained operational, but they still operate without major problems, despite the fact that maintenance has been reduced to the bone, and undoubtedly enrich the journey of tourists who often go up to Darjeeling only for the pleasure to have a truly unique experience of its kind.
Needless to say, the evolution of the urban fabric of the towns touched by the route has not affected the route in the slightest, which has remained unchanged since the beginning, to the point that in certain sections locomotives and wagons enter the inhabited centers without any protection and touch houses and shops, which are hit by giant clouds of vapor.
Perhaps the residents struggle to appreciate it, but the tourists, who bring their money up there, always end up being right.