India is one of the most fascinating countries in the world. No other country can offer such stark contrasts between rich and poor, high tech and tradition, glamour and misery. On our way through India we will see all of them and we will experience what other tourist trips can never show you. We will enter deep into one of the poorest states of India: Bihar. You will see incredible things, signs of religions you have never heard of, places of cultural interest which are not mentioned even in the best guide books and people with absolutely no belongings. In contrast we will have an inside look into the Himalayan area with its breathtaking mountain scenery, tea plantations and Buddhist pilgrimage centres. Assam state, with its lush vegetation, its wide tea estates and silent remote villages is another fascinating destination on our tour. Last but by no means least, if you combine the Indian tour with Burma (Myanmar), you’ll also see the amazing city of Calcutta, today called Kolkota. Calcutta is almost impossible to describe. Many visitors are relieved to leave this city quickly. It is noisy, dirty and dusty but full of life, trade and culture. An ancient tram system forces its way through the congested streets. Absolutely incredible!
Indian Railway’s regular steam service finished in 2000. Just two exceptions are left - the famous Darjeeling Himalayan Railway and the Nilagiri Rack Railway. Both railways are reason enough to go to India. However, there are still other interesting railways to be found. We will visit all the places with scheduled steam services and, in addition, we arranged charter steam trains on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (India) and on the Janakpur Railway (Nepal).
|Early morning arrival in Delhi, continue to Kolkata (Calcutta) by air, hotel Kolkata|
|28.11.||Visit to the fantastic odd tramways of Kolkata. Tram ride in one of the scheduled street cars to enjoy one of the most interesting tram feelings in the world.|
|29.11.||Domestic flight to Dibrugarh and continue to Tipong, visit to the stationary steam engine and the remains of four 0-4-0 Bagnall locomotives of Ledo Brickworks, stay at mine's guesthouse at Tipong or hotel in Margarita|
|30.11.||Visit to the narrow gauge line of the Tipong colliery|
|01.12.||Visit to the narrow gauge line of the Tipong colliery, late afternoon continue to Tinsukia, departure 19.30 hrs by overnight train Exp. 5602 to Guwahati|
|02.12.||Early morning arrival in Delhi, continue to Bagdogra (via Guwahati) by air, 9W 601, departure Delhi 10.10, arrival 13.45 hrs, meeting the other group|
|02.12.||07.30 hrs arrival Guwahati, continue by flight 9W 601, dep. 12.55 hrs, arrival Bagdogra 13.45 hrs, meet other group and continue to Siliguri, visit to the depot of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR), hotel Siliguri|
|03.12.||03.12.||Follow our charter steam train from New Jalpaiguri or Siliguri to Darjeeling. For photography you can follow the train by our bus, for leisure you can enjoy a train ride, as you like. Hotel Kurseong|
|04.12.||Chase school train Kurseong - Darjeeling in the morning, Tourist train Darjeeling - Ghum (if running) at noon and the school train Darjeeling - Kurseong in the afternoon, hotel Kurseong|
|05.12.||05.12.||Chase school train Kurseong - Darjeeling in the morning, Tourist train Darjeeling - Ghum (if running) at noon and the school train Darjeeling - Kurseong in the afternoon, in the evening return to New Jalpaiguri, overnight train Lohit/Jammu Express #5651, departure 21.30 hrs|
|06.12.||06.12.||Arrival Muzaffarapur 06.50 hrs, continue by bus to Jaynagar with a brief visit to the closed sugar mill at Sakri, afternoon charter steam train in Nepal and the Janakpur Railway between Jaynagar - Janakpur Dham with photo stops and runpasts, arrival Janakpur Dham in the evening, hotel (basic) Janakpur|
|07.12.||07.12.||Morning charter freight train back from Janakpur Dham to Jaynagar, photo stops and runpasts, arrival around noon, continue by bus to Sitamarhi, hotel Sitamarhi|
|08.12.||08.12.||Visit to the sugar mill Riga, evening continue to Raxaul, hotel Raxaul|
|09.12.||09.12.||Satyagarha Express, departure Raxaul 09.55 hrs|
|10.12.||10.12.||Arrival Delhi Jn. 11.25 hrs, hotel Delhi for having a shower, visit to the railway museum, hotel Delhi|
|11.12.||Early morning departure Delhi, arrival Europe same day around noon|
Riga Sugar Mill is the last known sugar mill in India with its own active steam locomotive which is also the last known active Hudswell, Clarke locomotive in the world. This 0-8-0 saddle tank hustles and bustles inside and outside the yard, between lorries and oxen carts, people and animals. In addition to the steam loco, Riga also owns a very interesting 0-4-0 diesel loco for light shunting work.
With the planned re-gauging of the state railway in 2006, the time for the last Hudswell is running out. Once the state railway has changed to broad gauge there is no further use for Riga's metre gauge line and its locomotives. So this trip will be one of the last chances to experience this locomotive in service.
As there are no daily trains to the sugar mill, the locomotive might be not in steam. If this is the case, we'll arrange to fire it and travel the one kilometre track to the railway station. Even though the countryside is flat, there are dozens of good photo opportunities with ox carts and many people around.
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway with its gauge of 610 mm (two foot) has UNESCO World Heritage status. Despite this, new diesel locomotives are in use on the lower section but the mountain section between Darjeeling and Kurseong still sees two steam trains on most days. One of these trains is the school train which runs in the best morning light and the perfect late afternoon light. This train stops at every station and is ideal for chasing. Added June 2005: The most recent development is very sad. Indian Railways planned to replace the steam locos on the scholl train by diesel. Only the tourist train Darjeeling Ghoom will remain a steam train! So we decided to charter a steam hauled train New Jalpaiguri/Siliguri Darjeeling and ordered steam for the school trains as well.
Changes, June 2005: The most recent development on the Darjeeling-Himalayan is very sad. Indian Railways plans to replace the steam locos on the school train by diesel. Only the tourist train between Darjeeling Ghoom will remain a steam train! So we decided to charter a steam-hauled train over the entire route between New Jalpaiguri/Siliguri and Darjeeling, and ordered steam for the school trains as well.
The scenery is outstanding with many Z-reversals, loops and small bridges and a background up to the third highest mountain in the world (always snow capped). The tiny locos and the blue trains, good road access and kind people make for superb shots of a superb railway.
The Tipong Colliery use the smallest active (non-tourist) steam locos in the world. These A class 0-4-0 saddle tank locos are of the type which were used on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway many years ago. The last serviceable A class locomotive is ANNAPURNA, currently carrying the name plates "DAVID". This locomotive is used for shunting duties in the coal mine area. ANNAPURNA was used in Ledo before but when the Ledo brickworks closed their line to the clay yards it was sent to Tipong. Here it replaced a small diesel locomotive in the coal mine area. One of the small diesel locos is still used in the mine whenever ANNAPURNA is not available.
The main duties at the Tipong Colliery are done by second hand locomotives of the larger B type, purchased from the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway. These are of the type still in use on the Darjeeling line. The line starts in a valley near the former Indian Railways metre gauge station and follows it (and the road) towards the mine, passing through a tunnel and over several bridges. On the way there are many nice photo positions with lush vegetation, straw and bamboo huts as well as timber houses. Sometimes, you will feel that the only intrusion in this pleasant area is the parallel dirt road. The line is about two kilometres "short". In 1998 it was planned to replace the railway by road transport and it is a matter of some surprise that the railway still exists. But how long it will last is uncertain. Serious problems with a lack of spare parts for the locomotives have already caused two B-class locos to be cannibalised and then scrapped.
The Calcutta tram is a mystery in itself. How a tram can operate in this crowded city, passing the frequent traffic jams, travelling on such bad tracks without constant derailment and using cars which seem to get no maintenance is a puzzle! However, the trams do still work (despite the city council wanting to get rid of them) and employ many people in a city with a high unemployment rate. In addition, it does not produce any of the terrible pollution which seems to be permanent feature of the city. Although the line over the impressive Howra bridge to the train station was closed down years ago, the lines offer various photo spots along the way. The Calcutta trams use the - in India - unusual gauge of 1,435 mm - the European standard gauge.
The Janakpur Railway is a 2ft gauge line which connects Jaynagar in India with the pilgrim centre in Janakpur. The big temple here is an interesting site and an important place of pilgrimage. As there is no parallel road the railway is still the only way to get there from Jaynagar.
The line is flat and runs almost dead straight towards the north-west to Janakpur. As the lowlands to the foot of the Himalayan mountains see floods every monsoon season, there are many bridges along the line. However, by far the most interesting sights on this railway are their trains. There are many different styles of passenger coaches, for example a two axle wooden first class coach. Also the railway is almost always short of passenger stock, so usually a passenger train also includes some freight wagons. Flat wagons and box cars are normally full of passengers as well as the locomotive itself.
Speed doesn’t matter here, so it is easy to jump off the train while it’s running, sprint in front of it, take a picture and jump back on the train again. As there are several small ponds and rivers alongside, you should always watch your step while taking pictures of the train. All the passengers on the train will find it most amusing if you make a fool of yourself! If you’re not able to run alongside the train and jump on and off (as the locals usually do), you can use one of the frequent stops to leave the train, go a short way beyond the station and wait for the train there. Then you can jump back on the train as it passes. Speed seldom exceeds 15 km/h, so it’s not too difficult to jump on. However, always take great care not to miss your step when jumping back on board.
We have also had to make changes to the planned Nepal itinerary. We had to charter a train on the Janakpur Railway as the railway management fears that if rebels became aware of tourists staying for a long time, they might be an easy target for kidnapping. This is the only reason why they will not let us run our planned tour with several days on this line. So we’ll charter an afternoon freight train, have a one night stay, and then run another charter in the morning. With these trains we’ll have many photo opportunities and still capture the charm and character of this wonderful little railway.
India requires that you pay attention to some rules if you are to avoid running into trouble. To stay healthy you should NOT eat unpeeled fruits or uncooked dishes. Drinking water is obtainable at nearly every shop. However, check carefully that the cap is an original one and the bottle has not been refilled after a previous use. Stomach problems are very common in India and your “travel pharmacy” should contain the appropriate tablets.
We are travelling in the dry season. However, Malaria is a permanent problem in most parts of India. Protection is essential and you should take either a combination of the common tablets Resochin (Chloroquine) and Paludrine or the newer Lariam. These medicines have to be taken for two weeks before you go to India and four to six weeks after you leave. Please consult your doctor, Malaria is a terrible sickness and should be avoided at all costs. The best and most effective way to avoid mosquito bites is to wear long clothes from dusk onwards and use a mosquito net during the night.
Although in Bihar and Assam we can expect temperatures around 25 degrees Centigrade, in the (near) Himalayan mountains the temperature can drop below zero after sunset. Please do not forget warm clothes as well as T-shirts for the warmer days.
On the tour we will use reasonable hotels with a medium standard as well as guest houses with a lower standard. The cleanliness of some berths may be doubtful, so I recommend carrying a (very) thin (sheet) sleeping bag. It is highly recommended to read a guide book about India in advance to prepare yourself for the tour. India is another kind of culture, a different way of life and definitely a strong experience if you’ve never been there before. Our partner in India is “Special Tours of India” who use the slogan “We will show you the real India” and, believe us, we will see the real India. We do not make a tourist spotting tour out of a Thomas Cook catalogue, we will go to places the “Lonely Planet” has never reported on. Please expect one of the most interesting tours you’ve ever joined!
The tour is planned with the dedicated photographer and video filmmaker in mind. The itinerary is designed for those who think it more important to get the perfect shot in the morning sun rather than a substantial breakfast. Lunch will mostly be pre-packed. The train rides are AC 3-tier sleeper class (first class) if available. Day-trains are mainly booked non AC sleeper or second class.
The chartered buses offer a local standard which will usually not come up to European standards. India is often not as clean as you may like it, so please be prepared. Carrying a bar of soap and a bottle of drinking water in your photo bag is not a bad idea.
Although we arrange, confirm and re-confirm the mentioned trains and locomotives well in advance, we cannot guarantee that everything will work as planned. India is always surprising and taking money from foreigners without offering an adequate service is uncommon but does sometimes happen. The reliability of the state railway in this matter is open to doubt. It’s quite a challenge offering steam hauled trains in India with everything that happens or does not being far beyond our control. The only thing we can guarantee is that we have done and will do our very best to make the tour a success. The people involved on our side are reliable and have encouraged us to include the “Plandampf” in the itinerary.
Nepal: Conditions in this region may not be as stressful in reality as they sound. We’re visiting Nepal in the dry season, which means that we’ll have mostly sunny weather. Beer is available. But, one thing is for sure - the railway is a real delight and will make you forget all the inconvenience you’ve suffered. Although there are very few lights around at night, we’ll do our best to set up some night shots. So don’t forget your tripod. The hotel in Janakpur is very basic and requires a good mosquito net.
Due to the flight booking situation we might have to choose a flight back to Europe one day later. As Delhi offers plenty of tourist attractions you won’t be bored by an additional day in this amazing and fascinating city.
Single rooms are not on offer in all the hotels we’re using.
|Steam in India & Nepal||2.560 Euro|
|26.11. to 11.12.2005||single room supplement||220 Euro|
|Steam in Nepal & India||1.990 Euro|
|01.12. to 11/12.12.2005||single room supplement||135 Euro|
Land Only (without flight Europe - Delhi): please deduct 545 Euro from the above prices.
Minimum number of participants: 6
Maximum number of participants: 20
Registration period expires August 31st, 2005. After this date we'll accept bookings according to the market price of intercontinental flights.
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Not included are:
Prices are based on a block booking with the airline, which is limited to a fixed number. Early booking is recommended.