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29 Jul 2017

Burnt here, 'alive' in UK

AVIJIT SINHA, TT, Siliguri, July 28: The tinned walls are smeared with soot and piles of ash lie on the floor. The tottering structure of Gayabari Toy Train station in Darjeeling bears testimony to the arson attack on it on July 13.
The Unesco world heritage property, run by the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR), is in tatters. But some 7,500km away in Oxfordshire, a British national has kept the structure "alive".
DHR enthusiast Adrian Shooter, who had visited Darjeeling and experienced a Toy Train ride back in 1986, was mesmerised by the hill railway.
"I first visited the DHR in 1986. I fell in love with it and have visited it many times since. I have heard the sad news that Gayabari and other stations have been torched and all services have had to be suspended," Shooter wrote in a mail to The Telegraph.
Back home after the 1986 trip, the DHR enthusiast took the task of developing a private railway hear his house in Steeple Aston, Oxfordshire.
"In 2002, I heard that a locomotive, DHR No 19, was for sale in the US. I went and bought it for the railway that I was building in my garden. The engine was sold by Indian railways back in 1962," Shooter wrote.
He also managed to get two original and two replicas of the carriages used by the DHR that were drawn by the engine in his "private station".
"My railway at home is only about 600 yards long but it has gradients and curves which match those of the DHR. I have also tried to make the vegetation similar to some DHR sections," Shooter said.
Shooter has named his project Beeches Light Railway. The DHR enthusiast and his team often run the engine and the carriages in the narrow gauge route that is in the shape of eight - with a loop at both ends.
More importantly, there is one station along the route called Rinkingpong Road, named after a road in Kalimpong. The building is modelled on the Gayabari station in Darjeeling.
The station not only bears a close resemblance to Gayabari, it also carries an interesting signboard warning passengers of penalty in Indian rupees if found travelling without tickets.
"The station has similarities with Gayabari. I did like Gayabari because it was such a neat, compact station which summed up the spirit of the DHR as a line that serves (or used to serve) the local people," said Shooter.
Also, the station's name is written in Bengali, Hindi and English, like any station of the DHR in Darjeeling.
This is the first time in recent years that at least three properties of the DHR, all heritage structures, were attacked by Gorkhaland supporters.
Other than Gayabari, the Sonada station was torched on July 8 and an arson attempt was made at Elysia Building, the DHR headquarters in Kurseong.
Unesco, which had certified DHR as a world heritage back in 1999, has expressed deep concern over the attacks.
Partha Pratim Roy, who is associated with travel industry in the hills and works with DHR enthusiasts, said: "DHR has brought in people like Adrian Shooter to Darjeeling who was so enchanted with the Toy Train that he set up a private railway at his place, with a station similar to the one at Gayabari. But it is unfortunate that the original Gayabari station has been badly damaged."
Shooter is not the only Toy Train enthusiast in the UK. The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Society, based in the UK, was formed in 1997 by Toy Train enthusiasts and has 800 members from 24 countries. The society works for conservation and promotion of the DHR.

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