The "Toy Train" was the first to be built of its kind, and is still considered by UNESCO to be 'the most outstanding example of a hill passenger railway' in the world.
Rather than taking the full bum-numbing eight hour journey from New Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling, I recommend the half day "Joy Ride", a comfortable return journey from Darjeeling to Ghum. We were lucky to purchase a ticket for the same day, but if it's a busy time you may need to book in advance. The 83km journey costs 360rupees each and includes entry to the railway museum in Ghum.
The windows in the first class carriage were enormous, giving us close up views of the mountain on one side and the valley on the other.
We stopped at Batasia Loop, where we were suitably humbled by the memorial to the Gorkha soldier and stunned by the view of Kanchenjunga, India's highest mountain (the third highest in the world).
When we arrived in Ghum it was swathed in a blanket of cloud, illustrating the reason for its nickname of “Gloom”.
We strolled through the small railway museum, and learned all about the history of the mountain railway system. When the driver was happy with the train's health we all piled back into the airy carriage and with another surge of steam, hoots, hisses and chug-a-lugs left Ghum, Ghoom or Gloom.
For the best views of India's highest mountain head to Singalila National Park. At 8,586m Kanchenjunga is the third highest mountain in the world, but you only need to reach 3000m to catch the dawn over this spectacular Himalayan massif.
The first leg is the steepest, but once on the ridge the walk is less strenuous. Tiny wild strawberries littered the trail when we were there in May, but we were too late for the wild rhododendron bushes and orchids which carpet the mountains in April. Renowned for its wide variety of bird life, the park is also home to wild boar, black bears and the beautiful clouded leopard. If you are very lucky you might see its most famous resident, the shy and rare red panda.
In the dark, smoky huts dotted along the trek, try quenching your thirst with 'tongba', a millet beer served in bamboo segments. If you want something stronger then the Himalayan hooch 'rakshi' will warm up hands and heart. After a well-deserved hot evening meal a cosy night's sleep under heavy blankets is all you'll need.
The clearest skies are usually found in November when panoramic views will enthuse budding photographers looking for the perfect image to enter in the Guardian's 'Been there' photo competition.
Guides are compulsory and can be pre-booked in Darjeeling. Apart from showing you the way, they have encyclopaedic knowledge of the area's flora and fauna.
Google map: bit.ly/xXcEk9
If you fancy a overnight trip from Darjeeling, you can get to Kurseong in 90 minutes by shared jeep (about 50 pence each way).
Kurseong has spectactular views of the Himalayan foothills and the plains of north-east India. However, one place not to be missed (even if only for the trip along the mountain ridge to get there) is the organic Makaibari Tea Estate (by shared jeep or taxi from Kurseong Train Station).
I was taken on a personal tour of the factory (and tea tasting session) with Mr SK Banerjee, the owner of the estate.
Mr Banarjee is extremely knowledgeable and entertaining on the subject of tea and believe me, after 90 minutes or so, you will never want to drink teabag tea ever again.
The toy/mountain train from Siliguri to Darjeeling is surely one of the great railway journeys of the world. But, unless you're a real rail enthusiast, nine hours on an uncomfortable train, which travels at less than walking pace, is a little bit too long.
We got a jeep up the mountain from Siliguri to Darjeeling, which cost about 300 Rupees (£4) each. The share jeeps are very regular and, although they're pretty crowded, are way more comfortable than the train.
You can then take the highest altitude part of the great rail journey from Darjeeling to Ghoom, to visit the famous Ghoom monastery. It takes about 45 minutes and is probably more romantic and comfortable than doing the hard 9 hour slog from Siliguri.
Just make sure you book the train on your first day of arrival in Darjeeling. You can't book the train from anywhere else and there is a fair wait for tickets (a few days). There is plenty to do in Darjeeling in the meantime, including the Everest museum, one of the better Indian zoos, Glenary's cafe and lots of trail walking and shopping.
Don't even bother with the tourist ride unless you've money to waste, it's a complete rip-off compared to the Ghoom trip - about 10 times the price.
Nathmulls in Darjeeling has to be the best tea shop in the world. Really helpful staff and a great range of teas to test (local of course!). Well worth a visit when you're up in the mountains.
Get to Siliguri train station, then ask a cycle rickshaw to take you to where the jeeps go from. Then just climb in a jeep and wait for it to fill up.
Nathmulls is in Rink Mall, Darjeeling, next to Cafe Coffee Day.
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