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Chai & samosas at Sukna-in-Wales

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By ANURADHA SHARMA LAKHOTIA in Siliguri
  • Published 26.06.05
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Siliguri, June 26: Trust the Indian beer to ?encourage an expansive thought?.

Which other drink would have the general manager of UK?s Ffestiniong Railway (FR) Harbour Station, Paul Lewin, exclaiming, ?What the heck! Take Minffordd station and turn it into Sukna?, after gulping down the third pint?

It was over a drink at a Darjeeling hotel last February that Lewin, who was here with his FR trustee team to seek a Darjeeling Himalayan Railway-Ffestiniong Railway tie-up, and Peter Jordan, the tour manager of DHR Society (DHRS), conceived a ?rather crazy? idea of turning Minffordd into Sukna.

And lo! On the Gala Weekend (April 30 ? May2) they literally had Sukna set up at Minffordd, North Wales, complete with Indian Railways station signs (in Hindi and English), a bazaar, Indian beer, samosas and ?vendors? selling Darjeeling chai, shouting ?chai chai?.

?While discussing how the DHRS could be involved with the Ffestiniong for their 2005 Gala Weekend with Adrian Shooter?s B Class in attendance that we thought of ?converting? Minffordd into Sukna,? Jordan said. Shooter, the managing director of Chiltern Railways, one of the most highly regarded and successful train operating companies in the UK, is the proud British owner of the former DHR B Class Locomotive No. 19, built in 1889 in the UK by Sharp Stewart & Co, Glasgow. A DHRS member, a lifetime narrow gauge enthusiast and former managing director of the Ffestiniong Railway Society, Shooter purchased the Loco No. 778 (the old 19 in the pre-all India renumbering scheme) in the US.

?The Loco No. 778 was the show-stealer,? Paul Whittle, the public relations officer of the DHRS, stated in an e-mail message. ?Now beautifully restored by Shooter, the locomotive and the two replicas of DHR carriages took delighted crowds on a ride to Minffordd station, now transformed into Sukna station,? he added.

The DHR members even had an Indian bazaar, complete with a chai and samosa stalls, a vegetable stall, Barbara Morris? and John Stevens? silk stands and a potted-plants stand at the station.

DHRS? Internet co-ordinator Steve Blackmore and editor of Darjeeling Mail (a DHRS publication) David Charlesworth went to the length of dressing up in Indian costumes and carrying trays of tea up and down the platforms shouting ?chai chai?. They were, however, not the only ones to don the Indian garb.

?Chai at 20 pence per cup sold well, but the samosas were the best,? Jordan said. ?A fascinating magician from Sikkim, a Chinese mystic and enough Buddhist prayer flags to cover most of North Wales completed our line up,? he said.

So delighted were the DHRS members that they have decided to organise such ?Gala Weekends? often and hoped it would add to the DHR?s fan following. ?We were delighted to help the Ffestiniong Railway with such success. Everyone was thrilled with the DHR locomotive and the station.We hope it will inspire a lot of people to go to India to experience the real DHR,? said DHRS chairman David Barrie.

The DHRS was formed in 1997 and now has over 800 members in 20 countries. Comprising rail lovers and steam fanatics, it works in publicising and promoting the DHR and organises regular tours on the Toy Train, apart from selling a wide range of merchandise such as books, videos and DVDs on the little engineering marvel on wheels.