“Kuuuuu… JhikJhik-JhikJhik-JhikJhik-JhikJhik. Kuuuuuu…”
“The small blue train will take you to the Queen of the hills.”
“It has a steam engine. The original James Watt ones!”
I have grown up listening to the myths about Toy Train, a legendary train that will take you from the mundane plane land to Darjeeling, the queen of the hills. The old steam engine creates such dense smoke that your hair will full with coal. Sometimes, clouds enter the train and create a splash of rain. You can see the entire train when it bends even if you are sitting inside the train. I have visited Darjeeling quite a few times but never rode the Toy Train. The desire came true on my last visit to Darjeeling.
Darjeeling is a busy railway station. Not for the passengers of Toy train, but for the booking counter. Federica and I lined up in a long queue for our ticket to Toy Train. Around half and hour later, we got our ticket. The ticket was expensive, but I rationalized my mind by those stories I heard about Toy Train. It is a two hours return journey. They call it joyride. The train will take us to Ghum and then return.
We reached the station fifteen minutes ago. We wanted to take some photograph to memorize our journey. The station was small. The steam engine of train, the engineers trying to fix the century-old steam engine, the coalman supplying coal to engine to create the cloud of white steam, the coolies carrying excessive load on their back, the nameplate of the station, the school going children with colorful uniform, the enormous fog of the valley, took me to the age of nostalgic hill city of British.
The train announced its journey with its intense whistle “Kuuuuuuu…”. It stated moving slowly with sound that I have heard many times: “Kuuuuu… JhikJhik-JhikJhik-JhikJhik-JhikJhik. Kuuuuuu…”. For first few minutes, it was hard to believe that this antique piece of engineering marvel still works at it was expected to work. It was hard to believe that the train is moving through tiny foot gauge track. However, despite all the unfaithfulness of ours, the scenery outside of our window started changing. We can occasionally see the valley and the mountains through the concrete jungle of Darjeeling city.
When we reached Ghum station, it was halfway covered by fog. The station was solitary than Darjeeling. It was silent and covered by fog. Old men were sitting on the bench chatting with low tone. The occasional visitor was passing through the station accompanied by pets. Sometimes the joyous voice of school going children was breaking the silence of the station. When their voice dissipated into the air, the station ‘Ghum’ went to sleep again.
While coming back, I could not relate to the nostalgia of the train. The train no longer goes to plane land. The journey is much shorter. The scene from the window is not the same what I have heard about. There was no long green stretch of mountains, no occasional tiny fountain coming down from the hills, no bending bridge where you can see the entire train crossing a river. Instead of those, it was a concrete jungle of city. The advertising hoarding between the road and the valley almost covered the visual of green mountains. The toy train was just the shadow of the past. The memories and myths about toy train were scattered by those concretes and hoardings.