Darjeeling Railway Community Support
The idea started, as many do, with a birthday. The chairman of the Southport Model Railway Society decided his 40th birthday should be celebrated with a trip to India, to experience what is known locally as the 'Toy Train', the Darjeeling Railway in the foothills of the Himalayas. This was built 130 years ago to ease the transport of people and goods to and from Darjeeling, at that time used as the Government summer residency. Such is the ruggedness of the terrain that the 2ft gauge line needs many loops and reverses to climb 700ft in 50 miles, using British-built 'Class B' steam engines.
Five members and two of their wives went on a three-week tour in February this year, organised by UK-based Darjeeling Tours. As well as the railway, the tour took in the National Railway Museum at Delhi, a tram ride and river cruise in Kolkata and another narrow-gauge hill railway at Ooty, in the south of India.
A number of special charters were organised on the Darjeeling railway, which at the time was partially disrupted by a landslip that occurred during the 2010 monsoon season. This didn't disrupt our enjoyment however - we had a fantastic time. We rode on elephants, spotted rhino in a game park, and visited one of Darjeeling famous tea gardens.
The tour leaders, David and Val Mead have another interest in the line, as trustees of Darjeeling Railway Community Support, a charity which raises funds for the people who live alongside the railway, often in poor circumstances. The railway is very much part of their lives, and the money raised by UK enthusiasts of the line goes directly to help them.
Some of us had the chance to see at first hand how DRCS is helping to build a new school at Rohini village. The current building is built of corrugated iron and woven leaves, and is unusable in the rainy season. The pupils are polite and smartly uniformed and the teachers work for very low wages. Both are well deserving of better facilities.