Take a dive into the alluring history of Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Society. Discover how its Members and quarterly magazine changed the future for the DHR and created a new perspective for all those who live close to it!  

792 in action by David CharlesworthDarjeeling Himalayan Railway Society

The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Society (DHRS) was formed in 1997 though its origins go back as far as 1988. It is an international group of over 700 Members from 21 countries. The Society promotes awareness, creates interest and supports the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR).

Despite the focus on rail heritage, the DHRS has never been solely a railway society. Through the education group, its social activities and Darjeeling tours, the DHRS has proved that it is much more than just train enthusiasts coming to take photographs and disappearing.

Poster Art (2017) by David CharlesworthDarjeeling Himalayan Railway Society

Everyone can remember how they first came to know of the DHR. For many, it was while serving in the forces, or when ordinary men and women found themselves in an exotic and exciting country they had only read about.

They brought back photographs and stories and they enchanted their children about the most unusual railway of all, the DHR. Some of these people even became early members of the DHRS.

The run-down 1970s (1975) by DHRS ArchiveDarjeeling Himalayan Railway Society

The 1960s and 1970s were a wonderful time to visit the Darjeeling railway, but very few from overseas were able to make the journey. Although the railway appeared run-down to the local population, this unspoiled ‘Jurassic Park‘ of railways was a wonder to behold.

Take a look at how the Darjeeling railway station looks now.

The run-down 1970s (1969) by DHRS ArchiveDarjeeling Himalayan Railway Society

It was already too late to change to the opinions of these children and their parents, photographed at Batasia Loop at the end of the 1960s, but the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Society of the future, would reach out to their children and grandchildren through its funding of school equipment and education programmes.

Most locals wanted the railway closed and the road widened. This would have been a disaster for a local economy that depended on tourism and a tragedy for history.

Landslip area by David CharlesworthDarjeeling Himalayan Railway Society

The DHR has suffered from many landslips and politics, but by 1986 there were images of a decrepit railway with abandoned locomotives.

Sherab Tenduf (1995) by Peter JordanDarjeeling Himalayan Railway Society

In 1989, the Darjeeling Railway Society (DRS), led by Cedric Lodge, a railway engineer and member of the Ffestiniog Railway Society, was formed in the UK with a view to purchasing a discarded ‘B’ Class locomotive. In 1992, bids went in from the DRS for two of them.

A change of policy by Indian Railways was a direct result of the late Sherab Tenduf, a Darjeeling businessman and owner of the Windamere Hotel, raising awareness of the DHR by personally visiting officials at Rail Bhavan in Delhi, because by the end of 1992, the situation on the DHR had got worse with no future. His efforts stopped the sale and put an end to the DRS but its funds were eventually transferred to the new DHRS.

Aided by chance connections with representatives at the Berlin Museum of Science and Technology, who suggested that British railway enthusiasts would be worth contacting, The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Heritage Foundation was formed.

The run-down 1970s (1979) by DHRS ArchiveDarjeeling Himalayan Railway Society

A long freight train is seen in the charge of 782, as it passes near Salbari on its return to Siliguri Junction. Freight trains were gone completely by the end of the 1980s.

This, and the formation of ‘The Friends’ by connected enthusiasts in the UK raised the profile of the DHR, thereby encouraging the very senior and powerful heads of Indian Railways to reconsider, which effectively slowed down the plans for closure.

As a result of the efforts by Sherab Tenduf and the Friends, the plans by Indian Railways to close the line were reversed.

The DHR gaining UNESCO World Heritage status, in 1999, encouraged Indian Railways to finally see the DHR for its true heritage value.

The run-down 1970s (1979) by DHRS ArchiveDarjeeling Himalayan Railway Society

A service train seen running through what appears to be Tung in 1979. These coaches disappeared during the 1990s.

Unaware of the existence of the DHR Heritage Foundation and the efforts already being made, other individuals were also thinking about the future of this remarkable railway.

An advertisement was placed for a exploratory meeting in Waterloo, London, of interested people, and more than 30 individuals showed up.

Darjeeling Mail (2017) by David CharlesworthDarjeeling Himalayan Railway Society

A small meeting was arranged in October 1997, to agree on the establishment of a society to “to promote awareness of, interest in, and support for the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway”.

Five people were round the table: Peter Jordan, David Charlesworth, Marilyn Metz, David Barrie and Tony Doody. Establishing a high-quality magazine was a priority and the five founders made a commitment to fund this for the first year, if necessary.

Tony Doody died before the DHRS was really established but a generous donation from his family helped to finance the first issue of The Darjeeling Mail. This was published in February 1998, and membership grew immediately.

Tindharia Welcome by Bob AveryDarjeeling Himalayan Railway Society

It was February 1999 when the DHRS decided to hire a full charter train and run a tour. It was a huge success and led to the formation of Peter Jordan's Darjeeling Tours Ltd.

Instead of the closed and guarded gates, even Tindharia Workshop now welcomes visitors.

Darjeeling Sign (2017) by David CharlesworthDarjeeling Himalayan Railway Society

Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Society's influence can be found in unexpected places. An illustration by Society Director and Editor, David Charlesworth GRA, suddenly appeared on the new sign at Darjeeling.

The new board at the entrance of Tindharia workshop, commemorating the UNESCO world heritage site of the DHR.

Brighter future by Bob AveryDarjeeling Himalayan Railway Society

It wasn’t just in the UK that the DHR’s plight attracted interest. Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Supporters Association (DHRSA) in Australia was formed and, although the group has now been dissolved, its funds have been transferred to the DHRS for special projects.

In 2001, the late Rajendra Baid, a successful and respected Siliguri businessman, founded the DHR India Group, an initiative that is being continued by his son Vivek Baid.

The DHR is a major tourist attraction in the area, and the change can be attributed to the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Society.

Credits: Story

Written and compiled by David Charlesworth GRA. Editor of The Darjeeling Mail and a Director and founder Member of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Society

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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