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The train to Everest

Siliguri, Dec. 19: Guess what role the toy train played in the first-ever expedition to Mt Everest in 1921.

It was this train that ferried the British team’s equipment from Siliguri to Darjeeling, from where the daring attempt to conquer the highest point on earth was launched.

The little untold detail in a chapter from history was unearthed by Terry Martin, the author of two books on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) — Halfway to Heaven and The Iron Sherpa.

Martin was here last week on a fact-finding mission for the second volume of The Iron Sherpa, which should be on the stands by spring.

“I met a lady in the UK, the daughter of the photographer who had accompanied George Mallory in the first expedition to Everest,” said Martin.

“She told me the DHR was used extensively to carry the climbers’ equipment. I’m here to confirm this and a few other facts that I came across at the last moment.”

The Darjeeling toy train winds its way up

Martin, who was accompanied by a photographer and a videographer, organised a joy ride for the students of the local Isabella School between Siliguri Junction and New Jalpaiguri station and a sit-and-draw competition on the DHR.

The retired civil servant recalled how he got interested in India. “My father (Reginald Martin) was posted around the Khyber Pass during World War II when he worked in the motor despatch section of the British army. It was from him that I got to hear fascinating stories about the subcontinent. The moment I got a break from my work, I packed my bags and came to India.”

Describing the DHR as the “Jurassic Park of the railways”, Martin said: “It is undoubtedly one of the hidden wonders of the world. There is more to it than just a train ride. It connects the lives of so many people. A small scratch on the surface of it throws up fascinating tales.”

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